Communication about sexual issues: mothers, fathers, and friends.
OBJECTIVE: To identify the content, characteristics, and comfort level of discussions about sexuality held between mothers and their early adolescent children and to determine the extent to which the conversations predicted sexual values and initiation of sexual intercourse of the adolescent. METHODS: This was part of a larger study to evaluate the impact of personal family characteristics on human immunodeficiency virus risk-reduction behavior among low-income predominately African-American adolescents, ages 13-15 years. Adolescents attending a metropolitan community-based afterschool program and their mothers were invited to participate in a 1-hour interview. Mothers and adolescents were interviewed separately. The interview included questions about the type of information related to sexuality that adolescents discussed with mothers, fathers, and friends; in addition, mothers were asked what topics they discussed with their adolescents. Four hundred five adolescents and 382 mothers participated. Some mothers had more than one adolescent in the study. RESULTS: The results showed that both male and female adolescents were more likely to discuss sexual topics with their mothers than their fathers. Male adolescents were more likely than female adolescents to discuss sex-based topics with their fathers. Both male and female adolescents were less likely to discuss sex-based topics with their friends than with their mothers, but more likely to discuss these topics with their friends than their fathers. Content of conversations of male adolescents was fairly consistent among mothers, fathers, and friends, and sexually transmitted disease/acquired immune deficiency syndrome and condom use were popular topics of discussion. Female adolescents tended to talk about the menstrual cycle with their mothers, sexual abstinence with their fathers, and sexual intercourse with their friends. Adolescents who reported a greater number of topics discussed with their mothers were more likely not to have initiated sexual intercourse and to have conservative values, whereas adolescents who reported a greater number of topics discussed with their friends were more likely to report the initiation of intercourse and more "liberal" sexual values. Both male and female adolescents were most comfortable discussing sexual issues with their friends. Male adolescents were less comfortable talking to mothers, but more comfortable talking to their fathers than were females. Mothers were likely to report feeling very comfortable talking about almost all discussion areas. Fathers' comfort level was not measured, as they were not directly questioned. CONCLUSIONS: Early adolescence (13-15 years old) is characterized by more sex-based discussions with mothers than friends or fathers. Daughters and sons discuss different topics with their fathers, although discussion by both genders with fathers is limited. If an adolescent talks more with the mother about sexual issues than with friends, he/she is less likely to initiate sexual intercourse and more likely to have conservative values. This points to the importance of fostering good communication and comfort between parents and adolescents about sexual issues.
DiIorio, C; Kelley, M; Hockenberry Eaton, M
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