The impetus for the proposed study rests on the need to understand what makes parent- child conversations about sexuality effective in promoting sexual health. Current research shows mixed findings as to whether conversations about sex between parents and teens have protective effects of reducing adolescents'and emerging adults'risky sexual behavior. We propose that the heterogeneity of parents'approaches to sexuality communication can help to explain these inconsistent findings. The proposed work will create profiles that reflect the variation in parents'approaches, based on differing levels of (1) approval of teen sex, (2) motivation to talk about sex, and (3) comfort in talking about sex. This work will examine whether specific elements of these profiles not only shape whether parents talk about sex with their children, but also how effective these conversations are at reducing risky sexual behavior. This study will also examine the special case of teen parents (identified as "early parents" in this proposal), and whether they show unique approaches to sexuality communication compared to parents who were older when they had children ("later parents"). The proposed study will use secondary analysis of the Add Health dataset to 1) identify profiles of parent approaches to sexuality communication;2) longitudinally examine associations among parent approaches to sexuality communication, the content and frequency of parent talk about sex, and adolescents'and emerging adults'sexual behaviors;and 3) longitudinally investigate whether associations between parent approaches to sexuality communication, content and frequency of parent talk about sex, and sexual behavior are similar or different for early and later parents. Profiles will be identified through confirmatory factor analysis and latent profile analysis. Associations among parent profiles, sexual communication, and adolescents'and emerging adults'risky sexual behavior will be assessed through regression analyses within a latent variable mixture modeling framework. The proposed study will produce recommendations for how pediatricians and other health care providers, as well as educators, particularly in the context of teen sex education programs, can support parents in communicating effectively with their children about sex by (1) identifying which parent approaches to sexuality communication reduce youth risky sexual behavior;and (2) targeting supports for early parents'sexuality communication that capitalize on utilizing their own experiences to reduce their children's sexual risk-taking behavior.

Public Health Relevance

This study addresses the harmful consequences of risky sexual behavior for adolescents and early adults and the potential of family communication about sex to promote sexual health. Recognizing the variety in how parents approach talking about sex with their children, this study focuses on what kinds of approaches are most effective in reducing sexual risk behavior. This work will provide recommendations for how pediatricians and other health care providers, as well as educators, can support parents, particularly teen parents, to effectively talk with their adolescents about se and relationships.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Small Research Grants (R03)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Developmental Biology Subcommittee (CHHD)
Program Officer
Newcomer, Susan
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Wellesley College
Organized Research Units
United States
Zip Code