Parent-child communication about sex and relationships can protect adolescents from risky sexual behaviors, but few studies investigate how family talk may change over the course of development from adolescence to emerging adulthood.
This study explores continuity and change in perceived talk with parents about sex and relationships, following a sample of 15 adolescents in the U.S. over three time points: early adolescence (age 13-14), middle adolescence (age 15-16), and emerging adulthood (age 20-21). The researchers analyzed participants’ experiences of talk with their parents about sex and relationships in terms of their comfort and engagement, as well as the content of that talk, including dating and relationships, pregnancy and parenting, protection, STIs, and sexual behavior.
Their findings show that family communication about sex and relationships extended from early adolescence to emerging adulthood, but changed in content to reflect shifts in adolescent and emerging adult development. Further, while positive engagement and comfort with talk about sex remained relatively high over time, participants’ discomfort and negative engagement appeared to increase, highlighting challenges for ongoing family communication.
These findings suggest a meaningful, ongoing role for parents in family communication about sex and relationships as their children develop, and suggest some opportunities and challenges that parents may face through this process.
Research reported in this publication was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under award number R03 HD095029-01A1. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.