Year Published: 2018

Authors: Jennifer Grossman, Ph.D., Amanda Richer, M.A., Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D. Ineke Ceder, B.A., and Sumru Erkut, Ph.D.

Source: Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Science

Family communication about sex can protect teens from risky sexual behavior. However, most studies on this topic focus exclusively on the parent–teen dyad; few capture the broader context of teens’ family communication. The goal of this study was to explore how teens talk with extended-family about sexuality and compare it with how they talk with parents about this topic. 

Researchers used a mixed-methods approach to recruit a convenience sample of 22 teens from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. In interviews, these teens were asked to identify family members with whom they talk about sex and relationships, the topics they discuss, messages shared, and the teens’ comfort talking about sex and relationships. The researchers used thematic analysis to explore participants’ shared meanings and experiences.

Eighty-six percent of teens reported talking with both parents and extended family about sex. Teens were more likely to report that parents, rather than extended family, shared messages about delaying sex and avoiding teen pregnancy and gave advice or information about sex. Teens were more likely to view extended family, rather than parents, as easy to talk with and as having shared life experiences. Some teens reported that they avoid talking with parents about issues related to sexuality due to feeling awkward or fearing a negative reaction.

The findings from this study suggest that extended family may play a somewhat different role than parents in teens’ sexuality communication, but family members showed a largely common set of family values. Extended family members may be a valuable resource for sexuality communication, particularly when teens feel uncomfortable talking with parents.

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