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Health Psychol. 2008 Nov;27(6):760-9. doi: 10.1037/a0013833.

Parent-adolescent communication about sexual intercourse: an analysis of maternal reluctance to communicate.

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  • 1School of Social Work, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, USA.



A unified theory of behavior was applied to parent-adolescent communication about sexual intercourse to understand why some mothers speak less often with their children about not having sexual intercourse. According to the theory, parental decisions or intentions to engage in such conversations are a function of expectancies, social norms, self-concept, emotions, and self-efficacy.


Data were collected from a random sample of 668 mother-adolescent dyads recruited from middle schools located in the Bronx community of New York City. Data were collected via self-administered surveys.


Mother and adolescent reports on the frequency of parent-adolescent communication about sexual intercourse were obtained. Adolescents and mothers reported how often the mother had discussed 21 topics related to sexual behavior.


Results supported the utility of the framework for understanding parent-adolescent communication about sexual intercourse. Significant maternal correlates included (a) expectancies about lacking knowledge, being embarrassed and encouraging children to think maturely and focus on school; (b) self-concept and perceiving that mothers who didn't talk with their children about sex were irresponsible; (c) emotions about feeling relaxed and comfortable; and (d) self-efficacy about the ease of talking with one's child. Implications for family based prevention programs are discussed.

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