Academic journal article Family Relations

Sibling Conversations about Dating and Sexuality: Sisters as Confidants, Sources of Support, and Mentors

Academic journal article Family Relations

Sibling Conversations about Dating and Sexuality: Sisters as Confidants, Sources of Support, and Mentors

Article excerpt

Involvement in romantic relationships and sex- uality development are normative aspects of adolescence (Collins, Welsh, & Furman, 2009; Tolman & McClelland, 2011), and the devel- opment of sexuality primarily occurs within the context of a romantic relationship (Furman & Schaffer, 2003). Fifty-five percent of adoles- cents (age 12-18) have experienced a romantic relationship (Carver, Joyner, & Udry, 2003) and, notably, 75% of adolescents' first inter- course occurs with a romantic partner (Manning, Longmore, & Giordano, 2000); therefore, exam- ining romantic relationship involvement and sexuality development is important. This is par- ticularly true for adolescent girls as researchers have found that they believe it is normative to engage in sexual behaviors within the context of a romantic relationship and non-normative to engage in sexual behaviors outside the con- text of a romantic relationship (O'Sullivan & Meyer-Bahlburg, 2003). Given the benefits of engaging in healthy romantic relationships (e.g., development of social competencies such as communication and conflict resolution skills; Barber & Eccles, 2003) and the harmful effects associated with risky sexual behaviors (e.g., sex- ually transmitted infections), gaining a greater understanding of the roles and functions of socializationagentsofadolescentgirls'romantic relationship experiences and sexuality develop- ment is critical for the design of prevention and intervention programs promoting healthy relationships and positive sexuality.

Older siblings are important socializing agents of adolescent girls' sexuality (East & Jacobson, 2001; McHale, Bissell, & Kim, 2009; Rodgers & Rowe, 1988), but less attention has been given to siblings as socializing agents of adolescent girls' romantic relationships. Com- munication between siblings is an understudied mechanism by which siblings may socialize one another's romantic relationship involvement and sexualitydevelopment.Thepurposeofthisstudy was to investigate dating and sexual commu- nication between adolescent sisters using an observational methodology. Specifically, as a first step to understanding sibling communica- tion about romantic relationship experiences and sexuality, we were interested in the roles enacted by sisters during these conversations.

According to role provision theory, individ- uals seek social provisions from one another (Furman & Buhrmester, 1985; Weiss, 1974). Put another way, individuals seek certain types of social support from specific relationships. Extant research has shown that siblings self-disclose (e.g., Howe, Aquan-Assee, Bukowski, Lehoux, & Rinaldi, 2001), provide support (e.g., Tucker, McHale, & Crouter, 2001), and give advice (e.g., Tucker, Barber, & Eccles, 1997) to one another. With regard to romantic relationship and sex- uality development, adolescent girls may seek opportunities for intimate/confidant (e.g., disclo- sure), nurturance/social support (e.g., support), and guidance/mentorship (e.g., advice) provi- sions from their older sisters.

Although older brothers may play important (and potentially different) roles in their younger sisters' romantic relationship experiences and sexuality development, there are several reasons why adolescent girls' relationships with their older sisters are important to highlight in studies of romantic relationships and sexuality. First, adolescents may be more comfortable talking with their sisters than their parents (or brothers) about issues related to dating and sexuality (Kowal & Blinn-Pike, 2004) because parents' hierarchical role could lead to punishment and the mixed-sex nature of brother-sister relationships may make such conversations awkward or even taboo. Second, because romantic relationships (Collins et al., 2009) and sexuality development (Tolman & McClelland, 2011) are significant issues during adolescence, older sisters may be important sources of support, advice, and information about this topic because of their more recent experiences. …

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