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“Always Use Protection”: Communication Boys Receive About Sex From Parents, Peers, and the Media

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Abstract

Although parents are often thought to be the primary communicators of sexual information, studies have found that many adolescent boys report receiving little or no parental communication about sex. Instead, boys report learning about sex mostly from their peers and the media. However, little is known about the content of these communications, from any source. Using a sample of 286 male undergraduates, this study employed a mixed-method approach to examine the amount and content of sex-related communication boys received from their parents, peers, and the media. Results indicated that adolescent boys report receiving less sexual communication from their parents than from peers and the media. In terms of content, parental messages focused on abstinence and contraception while peer and media messages were significantly more sex-positive. Analyses of ethnic group variation showed that African American adolescents reported receiving the most parental communication and Asian American boys reported the least, with further variability in the content of the messages. Findings also document considerable diversity of message content, both within and across source, highlighting the utility of comparative and multi-method approaches.

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Notes

  1. The first round of participants tested were only asked to report about parents and peers.

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Acknowledgment

The authors would also like to acknowledge the contributions of Allison Caruthers and Jerel Calzo to collecting data and coding responses for this project.

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Correspondence to Marina Epstein.

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Marina Epstein is a doctoral candidate in the Combined Program in Education and Psychology at the University of Michigan. Her interests include adolescent gender and sexual socialization, sexual decision-making, and masculinity.

L. Monique Ward is an associate professor in Developmental Psychology at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on gender and sexual socialization, and the contributions of parents, peers, and the media to these processes.

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Epstein, M., Ward, L.M. “Always Use Protection”: Communication Boys Receive About Sex From Parents, Peers, and the Media. J Youth Adolescence 37, 113–126 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-007-9187-1

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