Academic journal article Family Relations

Sibling Influences on Adolescents' Attitudes toward Safe Sex Practices*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Sibling Influences on Adolescents' Attitudes toward Safe Sex Practices*

Article excerpt

We examined the role of older siblings in protecting adolescents from engaging in unsafe sexual practices. Participants included 297 midwestern high school students who were approximately 17 years old and who responded to questionnaires assessing their attitudes toward sexual intercourse, self-efficacy for engaging in safe sex, and discussions with their older siblings and parents about sex. Results suggested that sibling discussions about safe sex, in conjunction with parental discussions, predicted better attitudes toward safe sexual practices for adolescents. Perceptions of sibling relationship quality were more closely associated with sibling discussions about safe sex than were older siblings' general attitudes toward safer sexual intercourse. Thus, sibling relationship quality may serve a protective function by facilitating more frequent sibling discussions about safe sex.

Key Words: adolescence, sexuality, sexual risk taking, siblings relationships.

(Family Relations, 2004, 53, 377-384)

Although the number of adolescent pregnancies in the United States has dropped over the last decade and reported condom use has increased, adolescents' risky sexual behaviors continue to warrant attention. 60% of high school seniors report having had sexual relations, and 40% of these adolescents report that they did not use condoms at last sex (Kann, Kinchen, Williams, Ross, Lowry, Hill, Grunbaum, Blumson, Collins, & Kolbe, 1998). Approximately 1 million adolescent girls become pregnant each year in the United States, more than in any other developed country (Moore et al., 1998), and 66% of births to adolescents are unintended (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2001). In addition, between one half and two thirds of cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea in the United States involve adolescents (Alan Guttmacher Institute).

Because the educational, social, medical, and economic costs are high for adolescents who become pregnant or contract sexually transmitted diseases, research has examined the factors associated with unsafe and responsible sexual behaviors in adolescents. Several of these studies reveal the importance of sibling influences on adolescents' resiliency and vulnerability to risky sexual behaviors (East, Felice, & Morgan, 1993; East & Shi, 1997; Rowe & Gulley, 1992). Older siblings are potentially powerful agents of socialization (Cicirelli, 1995) and may model relatively mature behaviors and attitudes that shape their younger brothers' and sisters' sexual behaviors and attitudes (East, 1996; Rogers & Rowe, 1988; Tucker, McHale, & Crouter, 2001; Widmer, 1997). The purpose of our study was to extend this research by examining sibling discussions about safe sexual practices and the extent to which these discussions influence adolescents' attitudes toward safe sex, their self-efficacy for refusing sex, communicating about condom use with partners, and buying and using condoms.

Older Siblings' Influences on Younger Siblings' Sexuality

Sibling relationships are potentially the longest relationships that individuals experience more than in their lives and have characteristics of both peer and family relationships (Cicirelli, 1976; Dunn, 1996). Because siblings generally live in the same household and have frequent contact, they are likely to be powerful influences on one another (Goetting, 1986). In addition, when compared to parent-child relationships, siblings have relatively symmetrical and reciprocal relationships, are generally age peers, and have equal status as children within the family (Dunn). Thus, siblings often share similar experiences and perspectives and may be more likely to understand each other's viewpoints than those of adults. Because of the unique nature of sibling relationships, brothers and sisters can be important role models.

Researchers find that older siblings influence their younger siblings' attitudes and behaviors regarding sexuality through modeling and by serving as comparative references. …

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