July 14, 2021, Durham, NC- Decades of research point to parents having a major influence on their child’s sexual health. High quality parent-child communication has been repeatedly shown to reduce adverse sexual health outcomes. Despite the critical role of parents, research on parent-adolescent sexual health communication (SHC) overwhelming focuses on mothers with little known about the role of fathers.  Furthermore, research on SHC is typically conducted with either parents or adolescents, but not on both simultaneously. New research from iRT scientists investigates both of these blind spots.

Authors Scull, Carl, Keefe, and Malik published the results of this research in a new paper, entitled “Exploring parent-gender differences in parent and adolescent reports of the frequency, quality, and content of their sexual health communication,” in the Journal of Sex Research. This paper reports on data collected from over 300 parent-adolescent dyads and included the study of both mothers and fathers. In fact, numerous differences in SHC attitudes and behavior were found between mothers and fathers.

Mothers rated parent-adolescent SHC as being more important than fathers did. In addition, mothers reported talking to their children about SHC more frequently and broadly than fathers, as well as being more comfortable with these conversations. Analysis of responses between adolescents and their parents also revealed that children and mothers tended to agree more in their reports of parent-adolescent SHC than children and fathers — suggesting that fathers may be less in touch with how their children experience their shared communication.

“It’s important to emphasize that none of the findings imply that fathers are inherently worse, or less important, with respect to parent-adolescent sexual health communication than mothers,” said first author Dr. Tracy Scull. “It does suggest that fathers may need additional resources to help them confidently engage in this very important form of communication with their child.”

Read the full study: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34114908/