Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Larry Caillouet, Carl Kell, Randall Capps

Degree Program

Department of Communication

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Public concern about teenage pregnancy and the threat of sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS make sex education information vital for today's teenagers. A 1986 Harris survey of 1,000 teenagers cited parents as their primary source of sex education information, but 42% said they would be too nervous or afraid to bring up the subject of contraception or birth control with their parents. States like Kentucky have mandated sex education courses for all public schools to provide necessary instruction for teenagers.

This study identifies communication barriers which teenagers say prevent communication with their parents about sex and sex-related topics. Questionnaires were administered to 249 high school sex education students. The majority of teenagers (71%) said they could communicate freely with their parents about most topics, but only half (52%) said they could communicate freely with their parents about sex or sex-related topics. Thirty percent of the teenagers said they could not talk comfortably with their mothers about sex as compared to 47% who said they could not talk with their fathers. Results showed gender differences in the ability to talk with fathers about sex. Fifty-eight percent of the females reported closed communication with fathers about sex topics as compared to 33 percent of males.

Teenagers cited 13 main reasons why they could not talk with their parents about sex or sex-related topics: embarrassment (20%), poor communication in general (11%), different values about sex and dating (11%), avoidance of conflict (10%), teenager chooses not to discuss it with parents (10%), it's a topic simply not discussed (9%), parents might accuse them of being sexually active (7%), parents think they are too young (5%), they are too busy to talk about it (5%), parents don't want to discuss it (4%), parents are overprotective (4%), teenager is not close to parents (3%), and parents wouldn't understand (2%).

Items which teenagers say would make it more comfortable to discuss sex topics with parents include: parents being more understanding, non-accusing, not embarrassed, willing to listen, closer in age, less old fashioned, more informed about today's teens, open minded and less judgmental.


Communication | Education | Educational Methods | Interpersonal and Small Group Communication | Medicine and Health Sciences | Public Health | Public Health Education and Promotion | Secondary Education | Social and Behavioral Sciences