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Summary: Latino Mothers Generally Delay Talking to their Adolescents about Sex

Latino-American children talk less about sexual topics at home than European-American adolescents.  Mothers who were more worried that their children had come into contact with HIV talked more about sexual intercourse and contraceptives with their children than did mothers who did not share these concerns.

  • There is reason to believe that many Latino families in particular find parent-adolescent discussions about sex to be especially difficult. Latino-American adolescents reportedly talk less about sexual topics at home than European-American adolescents. Furthermore, Latino-American adolescents, especially girls, have lower levels of knowledge about sexuality, as compared to adolescents from other ethnic groups. Parental concerns about their children’s sexual involvement may be a major determinant of the extent to which they bring up sensitive sexual topics in discussions with their adolescents. Parents who believe that their children’s safety is at risk, whether the risk is directly or indirectly linked to sexual behavior, may feel motivated to communicate about self-protective behaviors. Latino mothers, especially those from lower socio-economic status backgrounds, may be particularly worried about their adolescents’ risk for HIV infection. High teenage birth rates and incidence of HIV infection within some low-income Latino communities would serve to heighten maternal concerns. According to this article, a study of 120 Latino mothers and their adolescents (ranging in age from 11-16 years old) was conducted in order to investigate the associations between maternal perceptions of their adolescents’ risk status and the extent of communications about sexuality with observations of mother-adolescent conversations about dating and sexuality. The major hypothesis tested was that Latino mothers of adolescents would talk more to their children about sexuality if they were concerned about the adolescents’ exposure to HIV and drug use. The researchers of this study found that maternal concerns about their adolescents’ well-being motivated mothers to discuss sexual behavior and self-protective practices. The researchers of this study and many others strongly advocate the need for mothers to open the lines of sexuality communication early in their child’s life. Greater parent-adolescent communication about sexuality is linked to less adolescent sexual behavior, especially if that communication includes messages about beliefs and values, advice about protective behaviors, and warnings about potential consequences of teenage sexual activity. Research suggests that mothers tend to underestimate their children’s involvement in sexual activity and substance abuse.. If mothers wait until they believe they have a reason to worry about their children’s safety before they talk to them about self-protective behaviors, the chances are high that many of their adolescents will not get these messages before a dangerous and life-altering choice is made.1

1Determinants of Mother-Adolescent Communication About Sex in Latino Families, Adolescent & Family Health, Summer 2001, pp. 1-16.

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