Date Approved

11-17-2011

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Psychology

Committee Member

Carol Freedman-Doan, Ph.D, Chair

Committee Member

Stephen Jefferson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Heather Janisse, Ph.D.

Abstract

Between 50 and 70% of young people are first sexually active between the ages of 15 and 17, and almost 90% by age 18. This early sexual debut puts adolescents at high risk for sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy if they are uneducated about safe sex. For this reason, it is important to determine the variables that contribute to early sexual debut. One factor that researchers have explored is the communication between parents and their children concerning sex. Researchers have found that the communication about sex is influenced by parents’ own beliefs, experiences, and comfort level discussing sexual topics. It is important to evaluate factors that increase communication because research has shown that increased parental communication about sex is correlated with more consistent condom use, later sexual debut, and fewer sexual partners among adolescents. Although there have been studies that address the factors that influence parental communication, few studies address the effect of parents’ own sexual experiences on communication with adolescents. The purpose of the following study was to evaluate how parental beliefs and experiences influence their communication and comfort level with their teenagers about sex. Local Parent-Teacher Organizations, churches, synagogues, and clinics for teenagers were contacted to participate in the study. Participants were parents of adolescents in these organizations. Results showed that parents’ religious beliefs and participation and their beliefs about their own teenager’s behavior was related to the sexual topics parents discussed with their teenager. Parents’ previous sexual experiences were not significantly related to parent-teen communication, but more information is needed in order to determine the specific relation to these conversations.

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