Resources for Teens’ Health: Talk with Parents and Extended Family about Sex

Abstract

Communication with family members about sex can protect teens from risky sexual behavior, but most research focuses on teens’ communication with parents. Extended family members may also be a source of sexual socialization to support teens’ health, but teens’ perspectives on communication with extended family about sex have been little explored. The current study aims were to examine similarities and differences in the frequency and content of teens’ communication with extended family and parents about sex and to assess whether the content of this communication differs based on teens’ gender. This cross-sectional study used structural equation models (SEM) to analyze survey data from 952 11th and 12th graders (55% Female, 52% Latinx) in the US. The study assessed three types of family talk about sex: communication about Risks of Sex addresses negative consequences of sex, communication about Protection involves ways teens can guard against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections and Relational Sex communication addresses sex within the context of a close relationship. We found that teens were as likely to report talk with extended family members as parents about sex. Teens’ conversations with parents were more focused on sexual risk and protection while conversations with extended family focused on relational sex topics. Girls were more likely to engage in protection and relational sex communication with extended family, while boys talked more often with parents about these topics. These findings highlight the potential of extended family to support teens’ healthy development.

Highlights

  • Teens were just as likely to talk with extended family as parents about sex.

  • Extended family members were more likely than parents to talk with girls about protection methods and relational aspects of sex.

  • Parents may not give teen girls a full range of information about sex, often sharing traditional gendered sexual socialization messages.

  • Including extended family in sex education programs can be a resource for teens, especially girls.

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Funding

This research was funded by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD): R21 HD088955. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Health.

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Correspondence to Jennifer M. Grossman.

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Informed consent forms were distributed to parents/guardians of all adolescents in participating schools. Consent forms were translated into families’ home languages.

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Grossman, J.M., Lynch, A.D., DeSouza, L.M. et al. Resources for Teens’ Health: Talk with Parents and Extended Family about Sex. J Child Fam Stud 30, 338–349 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-020-01896-x

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Keywords

  • Adolescent sexual health
  • Family communication
  • Extended family
  • Parents
  • Gender
  • Sexual socialization