Parental & Secondary Source Sexual and Reproductive Health Communication with Adolescents

In Patterns and Correlates of Parental and Formal Sexual and Reproductive Health Communication for Adolescent Women in the United States, 2002–2008, published in The Journal of Adolescent Health, authors Kelli Stidham-Hall, et al, sought to investigate patterns and correlates of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) communication among adolescent women in the United States between 2002 and 2008.

The authors argue that comprehensive sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information is needed for informed sexual decision-making, risk behavior reduction, and health promotion across the lifespan. The authors note that communication from informal sources, including parents, as well as from informal sources, such as schools and churches, has been linked with positive SRH outcomes including delayed sexual debut, fewer sexual partners, greater contraceptive and condom use, and negative views of unintended pregnancy.

The authors utilized data regarding adolescent girls ages 15-19 from the National Survey of Family Growth from years 2002, and 2006 through 2008 in order to investigate the effects of these sources on positive SRH outcomes.

Results indicated that nearly all adolescents received SRH communication from either a formal or informal source (97%).  Of the 75% who had received parental communication (75%), information was provided on abstinence (60%), contraception (56%), sexually transmitted infections (53%), and condoms (29%).  9% received abstinence-only communication. Formal communication (92%) included abstinence (87%) and contraceptive (71%) information.  66% received both, whereas 21% received abstinence-only education.  Age, sexual experience, education, mother’s education, and poverty were positively associated with SRH communication.

The authors suggest that “increasing parental-provided SRH communication between 2002 and 2006–2008 may reflect increasing awareness or acceptance of adolescents’ sexual behavior.” In contrast, an increasing focus on abstinence alone “may illustrate the influence of recent conservative strategies on parents’ knowledge and attitudes or reflect changes in conservative values.” At the same time, the authors observe that “differences in SRH communication patterns noted across socioeconomic groups, which may reinforce SRH inequalities among young, minority, undereducated, and poor women, complicate the picture even further.”

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