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Reprod Health. 2010 Dec 14;7:31. doi: 10.1186/1742-4755-7-31.

Mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters: gender differences in factors associated with parent-child communication about sexual topics.

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  • 1RTI International, 3040 Cornwallis Road, PO Box 12194, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA.



In the United States, nearly half of high school students are sexually active, and adolescents experience high rates of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Parents can have an important influence on their children's sexual behaviour, but many parents do not talk with their children about sexual topics. Research has shown significant differences in parent-child communication about sexual topics depending on the gender of both the parent and the child. Little is known, however, about the reasons for these gender differences. The purpose of this paper is to describe how factors associated with parent-child communication about sexual topics differ by gender.


Data are from a nationwide online survey with 829 fathers and 1,113 mothers of children aged 10 to 14. For each of the four gender groups (fathers of sons, fathers of daughters, mothers of sons, mothers of daughters), we calculated the distribution of responses to questions assessing (1) parent-child communication about sex-related topics, and (2) factors associated with that communication. We used chi-square tests to determine whether the distributions differed and the false discovery rate control to reduce the likelihood of type I errors.


With both sons and daughters, fathers communicated less about sexual topics than mothers did. Fathers also had lower levels of many characteristics that facilitate communication about sex (e.g., lower self-efficacy and lower expectations that talking to their children about sex would have positive outcomes). Compared with parents of sons, parents of daughters (both mothers and fathers) talked more about sexual topics, were more concerned about potential harmful consequences of sexual activity, and were more disapproving of their child having sex at an early age.


Using a large national sample, this study confirms findings from previous studies showing gender differences in parent-child communication about sexual topics and identifies gender differences in factors that may influence parent-child communication about sexual topics. Interventions designed to support parent-child communication about sexual topics should emphasize to both mothers and fathers the importance of talking to sons as well as daughters. Fathers need particular support to overcome the barriers to communication they encounter.

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