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Adolescent sexual health is enhanced by talks with parents—but most studies focus only on the adolescents

By focusing on parents, new study gives insight into sexual health topics parents and their adolescents talk about
Father talking and spending time with his son.

Sexual and gender minority (SGM) adolescents and young adults (13 to 24 years of age) acquire sexually transmitted infections at a higher rate than their heterosexual peers. In the United States, for example, this group experiences higher rates of syphilis, human papillomavirus infections, hepatitis and HIV.

Knowledge about healthy sexual practices helps reduce the risk of infection, and for this age group, communication with parents about sexual health and preparation is a major driver in their decision to practice safer sex.

The vast majority of research on this type of communication to date, however, focuses on the SGM adolescents rather than their parents. But now, a study published in the American Journal of Sexuality Education gives new insight into the perspective of parents of SGM adolescents. The study, led by Christopher Owens, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, surveyed 54 parents of cisgender sexual minority males and transgender adolescents in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.

Owens and his colleagues—Morgan J. Grant and Kaileigh Carter from the Texas A&M School of Public Health, Matt Hoffman from the Texas A&M School of Nursing, and Randolph Hubach from the Department of Public Health at Purdue University—found that most parents surveyed discussed generic topics about HIV, such as how HIV is transmitted or the importance of using condoms. Fewer parents, however, talked to their teen about behavioral topics, such as how to use condoms.

In addition, the researchers found that more parents of cisgender sexual minority males discussed these topics than parents of transgender males and transgender females. Owens said this may not be surprising, given that these parents have reported in past studies that they felt uncomfortable or didn’t knowing how to initiate a discussion of sexual health with their transgender teen, while transgender adolescents and young adults report being unprepared for sexual encounters because the information they get from their parents or schools is cis-normative.

“Given these findings, future research is necessary to develop programs that give parents the knowledge, skills and comfort of talking to their teen about HIV prevention topics,” Owens said.  “Parents should advise how these programs are created. They should be created by parents for parents.”

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