Mom, Can We Talk? African American Mothers' and Daughters' Misperceptions on Communication about Sexual Health and Intimacy

By Berger, Michele T. | Journal of Colorism Studies, March 30, 2018 | Go to article overview

Mom, Can We Talk? African American Mothers' and Daughters' Misperceptions on Communication about Sexual Health and Intimacy


Berger, Michele T., Journal of Colorism Studies


Introduction

What do African American mother and daughter health narratives reveal about the nature of communication regarding sexual health and intimacy? What are the kinds of issues pertaining to sexual health, sexuality and relationships that some African American daughters would most like to learn about from their mothers and adult female figures? Who do they turn to when they have questions about sex and intimacy? What gaps might exist between mothers' perceptions of their communication about sex with their daughters and how daughters receive those the messages? Scholars know little about the lived health experiences of African American mothers and how those experiences are communicated to their daughters, especially in the area of sexual health and well-being.

This paper presents exploratory themes from five focus groups with African American mothers (biological and non-biological caregivers) and their adolescent daughters (ages 12-17), in North Carolina. Themes about communication regarding sexuality, sexual health and intimacy are discussed. This paper highlights the tensions, gaps and misperceptions between mothers and daughters regarding sexuality and intimacy. Research was conducted in partnership with a local community organization as part of a larger community needs assessment. The goal was to understand patterns of communication between African American mothers and daughters to help develop a pilot program that offers a holistic and intergenerational approach to HIV/AIDS reduction for both mothers and daughters.

Background and Literature Review

The health realities of African American women and girls are not uplifting ones. By almost every measurable standard of mental and physical health, African American women and girls lag behind their white counterparts and experience worse health outcomes. African American women and girls share high rates of diabetes and exercise less frequently than their white counterparts. African American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the U.S. About four out of five African American women are overweight or obese. During 2007-2010, African American girls were 80% more likely to be overweight than Non-Hispanic White girls (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011).

Turning to African American women's and girls' sexual health, particularly concerning HIV/AIDS, the statistics are especially alarming. Despite a recent dip in 2010, the overall rates of HIV infection for African American women remain high. African American women account for fifty-seven percent of new HIV infections among women although they constitute just twelve percent of the female population in the US. African American girls like other minority girls also face high rates of HIV infection (Centers for Disease Control 2012). The situation is dire for African American women and girls in the Deep South, which, during 2008-2011, had the highest rates of HIV and AIDS diagnosis in the U.S. New trends suggest that one third of all people living with HIV are in the south (Centers for Disease Control 2012).

Scholars in various fields including sociology, history, public health, nursing, social work and women's and gender studies have argued that this dramatic health picture for African American women and girls reflects long standing patterns of structural inequality and the intersecting effects of racism, classism and sexism, also referred to as intersectionality (see Collins, 1991). There remains more work to be done to understand how these factors shape African American mothering practices in relation to communicating about health issues (see Hill 2005).

Stephens & Phillips (2003) have explored the often complex and negative cultural scripting of sexual roles for African American women and girls. We also know that African American mothers employ gendered and sexual 'scripts', in conversations with daughters, but we do not know enough about how these scripts operate in families and affect daughters' perceptions and ultimately behaviors (see Stephens & Phillips, 2003; Arnowitz, Rennells, & Todd, 2005; Townsend, 2008; Dennis and Wood 2012). …

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