Encouraging Parental Sexual Communication with Teen Sons: A Social Norms Experiment

Katrina L. Pariera, Evan Brody

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Parent-child sexual communication is associated with myriad positive sex-related outcomes for young people, but these conversations tend to be infrequent and limited in scope. Using the Social Norms Approach, we hypothesized that learning that other parents talk with their children about sex-related topics would motivate parents to talk about more sex-related topics with their son. In an online experiment, parents in the United States (N = 378) with a son aged 13–16 were asked how many of 30 sex-related topics they had discussed with their son after exposure to one of the two SNA messages or a control. A 30-day follow-up study repeated these questions. The experiment revealed no significant differences between the three conditions, but all three conditions resulted in greater intentions to discuss more topics with their son in the future. Regardless of condition, parents who identify their sons as gay or bisexual talked about more sex-related topics than parents of sons who identify their sons as straight. The results from this study suggest that social norms messages are not more effective at increasing parents’ communication intentions. Parents in all conditions planned to discuss more sex-related topics with their son, suggesting that simply bringing these topics to parents’ attention may be enough to increase intentions to have these conversations. Findings are discussed in light of motivating and equipping parents to handle these conversations and tailoring educational materials for parents based on their child’s sexual and romantic orientation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1395-1403
Number of pages9
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication


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