Parent-Adolescent Communication about Sex: Retrospective Reports by Latino College Students

By Raffaelli, Marcela; Green, Stephanie | Journal of Marriage and Family, May 2003 | Go to article overview

Parent-Adolescent Communication about Sex: Retrospective Reports by Latino College Students


Raffaelli, Marcela, Green, Stephanie, Journal of Marriage and Family


Latina female (n = 97) and Latino male (n = 69) college students (M age = 21.4 years) completed self-report surveys regarding family of origin experiences, including sexual communication with parents while growing up. Latino parents of this comparatively highly educated sample tended to use direct rather than indirect strategies for communicating about sexuality with their children. Young women reported higher levels of sexual communication with mothers while growing up than did young men, and respondents reported less communication with fathers than mothers. Among young women, sexual communication with mother was positively associated with non-Mexican origin and negatively associated with having older brothers living at home. In contrast, maternal education was positively associated with mother-son communication about sex. Paternal education and the absence of older brothers positively predicted communication with both sons and daughters. The analyses provide novel information regarding sexual communication in Latino families and suggest directions for future research.

Key Words: Latino families, parent-child communication, sexuality.

The issue of how to promote responsible sexuality among American youth has moved to the forefront of the nation's attention (Satcher, 2001). After decades of research, it is clear that there are no simple solutions: adolescent sexuality has been linked to personality, biological, demographic, social, and cultural influences. At the same time, scholars emphasize the key role of parents as primary agents of sexual socialization (Katchadourian, 1990). Much of the research on how parents affect adolescent sexual behavior has focused on communication, examining parents' explicit attempts to transmit values and share information (Miller, Benson, & Galbraith, 2001). This body of research reinforces the role of parent-child communication in shaping adolescent sexual attitudes and behavior. At the same time, much remains to be learned about how parents communicate with their children about sexual issues, particularly in ethnically diverse families.

Latinos (individuals of Latin American origin or descent living in the U.S.) currently make up 13% of the U.S. population but are expected to comprise one quarter of the population by the Year 2050. Unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections pose considerable risk to Latino teens (Child Trends, 2001). Because Latinos have been understudied relative to other U.S. ethnic groups (McLoyd, Cauce, Takeuchi, & Wilson, 2000), including in the area of sexual communication (O'Sullivan, Jamarillo, Moreau, & Meyer-Bahlburg, 1999), limited information is available for scholars and practitioners working to address issues of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among Latino populations.

Parent-child communication about sexuality has been linked to Latino adolescents' attitudes and behavior. In several studies, pregnant Latina teens reported lower levels of sexual communication with parents than did nonpregnant teens (Adolph, Ramos, Linton, & Grimes, 1995; Baumeister, Flores, & Marin, 1995). Thus, family communication may be an important factor to consider in risk reduction efforts with Latino populations. Prior research, however, suggests that Latino parents are less likely to communicate with their adolescents about sexual issues than parents from other ethnic groups (e.g., Hovell et al., 1994). In telephone surveys with 1,600 unmarried 18- to 49-year-old Latinos in 10 states, half of the respondents said their parents had never talked to them about sex (Marin & Gomez, 1997). Smaller-scale studies (most including only female participants) also reveal low levels of discussions regarding sexual topics in Latino families (Baumeister et al., 1995; Raffaelli & Ontai, 2001). It has been suggested that Latino parents may prefer to use indirect communication strategies, such as making comments to other people in the child's hearing or telling children to "be careful" without going into details (Marin & Gomez; Villaruel, 1998). …

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