Applied Psychology OPUS

Discussing Sexuality with Children

Christine Campo

Despite efforts to promote abstinence and delay sexual initiation, adolescents are initiating sexual activities earlier than ever before. Parent-child conversations about sexuality prior to adolescence might be one way to address teen’s increased risk for negative outcomes associated with sex, like unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. However, these important dialogues are often stifled because parents are uncomfortable talking to their children about sexuality-related topics. The purpose of this exploratory study was to examine the comfort level of American parents with discussing sexuality-related topics with their children. A survey on various sexuality-related topics and behaviors was sent to members of parenting LISTSERVs based in Northeastern urban region of the U.S. who have children zero to seven years; 134 female caregivers responded. Results showed that contemporary American parents are more comfortable discussing sexuality-related topics than was previously found (See Roberts, Kline, & Gagnon, 1978; Gagnon, 1985). Parents were most comfortable discussing normative, age-relevant sexuality-related topics like, the physical differences between men and women and pregnancy. Parents were least comfortable discussing future-oriented, sexuality-related topics, like dating, sexual exploration in adolescence and spermarche; and age-relevant, deviant topics like rape and molestation. Parents most commonly cited reasons for discomfort were age of child and not knowing how to accurately convey the information to their child. Lastly, older parents reported feeling significantly less comfortable discussing certain sexuality-related topics, specifically those that are future-oriented. This trend might show that attitudinal changes toward sexuality and discussing sexuality with children are currently occurring among today’s younger parents.