Academic journal article Family Relations

Patterns of Parent-Teen Sexual Risk Communication: Implications for Intervention

Academic journal article Family Relations

Patterns of Parent-Teen Sexual Risk Communication: Implications for Intervention

Article excerpt

Patterns of Parent-Teen Sexual Risk Communication: Implications for Intervention* M. Katherine Hutchinson** and Teresa M. Cooney

This study describes current patterns of parent-teen sexual communication and examines the influence of such communication on the sexual attitudes and behaviors of late adolescent females. Data were collected from a statewide sample of young women, ages 19 and 20 years. Overall, rates of parent-teen sexual risk communication were low. African Americans reported higher rates than Caucasians. Sexual risk communication with mothers was associated with greater condom use self-efficacy and sexual communication with partners.

Key Words: adolescent sexuality, high-risk behaviors, parent-child communication, sexual communication, sexually-transmitted diseases.

Premarital coitus and pregnancy have long been recognized as "sexual risks," being unwanted and undesirable outcomes of premarital sexual activity among adolescents and young adults. However, in the last 15 years, the sexual risk milieu has changed dramatically. In addition to pregnancy, sexually active adolescents and young adults are now faced with risk for a variety of life-altering and life-threatening sexually-transmitted diseases. Recent reports have documented that the incidence rates for STDs including chlamydia, herpes, syphilis, and human papilloma virus (HPV), have increased dramatically in recent years (Hersch, 1996; Spence, 1993; Younkin, 1995), with adolescents and young adults exhibiting some of the highest rates of STDs of any age group (Bell & Hein, 1984; Hersch, 1996). One of the most common bacterial STDs, chlamydia, frequently goes undiagnosed and may result in pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility in young women (Fuerst, 1991; Strauss & Clarke, 1996). HPV, an incurable viral STD, places women at increased risk for cervical cancer at younger ages (Fuerst, 1991; Younkin, 1996). Sexual transmission has also become a significant source of exposure for infections like cytomegalovirus and hepatitis B virus, not traditionally considered "venereal diseases" (Killion, 1994). Furthermore, undiagnosed syphilis, cytomegalovirus, or herpes infections in pregnant women may result in devastating congenital infections in their newborns (Hutchinson & Sandall, 1994; Killion, 1994). The same behaviors that place adolescents and young adults at risk for a variety of STDs also put them at risk for infection with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the subsequent development of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Although the number of AIDS cases among adolescents has remained relatively low compared to those of older adults, 13- to 24-year-olds who contract HIV through heterosexual contact represent the most rapidly increasing subpopulation of AIDS cases (CDC, 1991; Strauss & Clarke, 1996). In 1990, the incidence rate of AIDS among adolescent women increased by over 67% (Hersch, 1991). AIDS now ranks among the leading causes of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24 (Hein, 1992). Given the long incubation period prior to the onset of AIDS, many more individuals may actually be becoming infected with HIV during their teens and early twenties and developing AIDS at later ages. The highest incidence rates of AIDS are seen in the late twenties and thirties age groups (CDC, 1995).

Within the U.S., recent prevention programs have included mass media campaigns targeted to adolescents and young adults warning of the risks for STDs and HIV and promoting condom use. While these individually-based approaches are vital to include in prevention programming, multi-targeted approaches which include the parents and the family may also be important and yet, to date, have largely been ignored. It is widely recognized that families, and parents in particular, play a critical role in the socialization of children, preparing them to assume and perform their various roles in societies. Gecas and Seff (1990), in their review of research on adolescents in the 1980s, noted the important shift to include families as a social context within which adolescent development occurs. …

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