The Sexual Communication Scale: A Measure of Frequency of Sexual Communication between Parents and Adolescents

By Somers, Cheryl L.; Canivez, Gary L. | Adolescence, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

The Sexual Communication Scale: A Measure of Frequency of Sexual Communication between Parents and Adolescents


Somers, Cheryl L., Canivez, Gary L., Adolescence


Frequency of sexual communication between parents and adolescents has been studied over the past several decades. In a review of the literature on parent-adolescent communication about sexuality, Miller (1998) reported that results varied widely over a 20-year period (1980-1998). Some studies have found no relations for sexual communication, while other studies have indicated that the construct of parent-adolescent communication about sexual topics is important in understanding a variety of adolescent outcomes, including sexual attitudes and behaviors. However, few researchers have rigorously investigated the measurement of this construct. Researchers have typically created their own measures, but in general have failed to present psychometric information. This shortcoming poses a problem for those who want to utilize well-established instruments with sound psychometric properties.

For example, Noller and Bagi (1985) created a detailed measure of communication regarding 14 topics, including social issues, sex roles, philosophy, rules of society, sexual information, and sexual attitudes. Participants provided such information as how frequently communication occurred and who initiated it. This instrument was also used in later research (Noller & Callan, 1990), although in both studies no psychometric information was made available. Others have also developed sexual communication instruments to answer their research questions. Raffaelli, Bogenschneider, and Flood (1998) created a measure of parents' perceptions of parent-child communication about three sexual topics (whether it is okay for teenagers to have sex; the dangers or risks of getting AIDS, HIV, or STDs; and birth control). Adolescents' reports of parent-adolescent communication about sexuality were also obtained; using the same five-point scale, they rated whether they had "one good talk with either or both parents in the past ye ar" regarding each of the three topics about which parents were asked (p. 323). The researchers coded responses to reflect the presence or absence of such discussions, a format that did not allow an examination of how much communication occurred. In another study by Raffaelli et al. (1999), they created an 18-topic instrument that used a five-point scale. However, no psychometric information was included, and the authors suggested that there is a need for more reliable and valid ways of measuring parents' and adolescents' perceptions of sexual communication.

Others have created Likert-type measures of frequency of sexual communication, with internal consistency/reliability (Cronbach's alpha) reported (e.g., Bynum, 2001; Jaccard, Dittus, & Gordon, 2000; Lefkowitz, Romo, Corona, Au, & Sigman, 2000; Raymond & Silverberg, 1997). Perhaps the study most closely related to the current study was that conducted by Rosenthal and Feldman (1999), in which Australian, tenth-grade, middle-SES adolescents' perceptions of frequency and importance of communication with parents about 20 sexual topics were explored using a four-point response system. Multiple factors emerged from factor analyses, suggesting that parents and adolescents may report patterns of conversations that vary by topic.

There have been a variety of instruments created, using a host of formats. However, the lack of psychometrically tested instruments has been somewhat problematic. Therefore, the purpose of the present study was to report on the psychometric properties of the Sexual Communication Scale. This instrument was created to measure the frequency of communication about sexual matters between adolescents and either or both of their parents. It is a broad yet relatively brief measure that can be used by researchers and practitioners. The instrument was created for an earlier study (Somers & Paulson, 2000) in which parent-adolescent communication about sexuality was found to be related to certain adolescent sexual outcomes, such as more conservative attitudes toward premarital sexual intercourse. …

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