2013 - 2016

Project Director: Jennifer Grossman, Ph.D.

Funded by: National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Child Health and Human Development

Project Overview:

This investigation longitudinally explored continuity and change in how teens and their families talked about sex, dating, and relationships throughout teens' transition to high school. This study extended parent-teen dyadic studies of family sexual communication to encompass broader family networks, like extended family members. It also investigated the potential of teen-family sexuality communication to protect teens against the unhealthy consequences of early sexual initiation. The role of teen and adult family member gender was also considered in shaping sexual communication and its influence on teen sexual behavior.

Findings:

In an analysis of why teens talk with extended family about dating, sex, and relationships, this study identified three themes: (1) teens felt a good connection with an extended family member, like an older sibling, (2) teens felt they could learn from an extended family member's knowledge or experiences, and (3) teens didn't want to talk with a parent. 

In looking at extended family communication, this study found that for sexually active teens, talk about protection methods was associated with fewer sexual partners and talk about risks of sex was associated with more sexual partners regardless of teen gender and the generation of the extended family with whom teens talk. Results suggest that talking with extended family about sex may influence teens' sexual behavior independent of communication between teens and their parents. However, the direction of the effect depends on the content of the conversations. These findings suggest the need to explore whether and how extended family could be included in health prevention and intervention programs because programs which include family largely focus on parents.

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