Extensive research has explored the relationship between parenting and teenagers’ sexual risk-taking. Whether parenting is associated with wider aspects of teenagers’ capacity to form satisfying sexual relationships is unknown.
Self-reported data were collected in 2007 from 1,854 students, whose average age was 15.5 years, in central Scotland. Multivariate analyses examined associations between parenting processes and sexual outcomes (delayed first intercourse, condom use and several measures reflecting the context or anticipated context of first sex).
Parental supportiveness was positively associated with all outcomes (betas, 0.1–0.4), and parental values restricting intercourse were positively associated with all outcomes except condom use (0.1–0.5). Parental monitoring was associated only with delayed intercourse (0.2) and condom use (0.2); parental rules about TV content were associated with delayed intercourse (0.7) and expecting sex in a relationship, rather than casually (0.8). Frequency of parental communication about sex and parental values endorsing contraceptive use were negatively associated with teenagers’ delayed intercourse (–0.5 and –0.3, respectively), and parents’ contraceptive values were negatively associated with teenagers’ expecting sex in a relationship (–0.5). Associations were partly mediated by teenagers’ attitudes, including value placed on having sex in a relationship.
Parents may develop teenagers’ capacity for positive and safe early sex by promoting skills and values that build autonomy and encourage sex only within a relationship. Interventions should promote supportive parenting and transmission of values, avoid mixed messages about abstinence and contraception, and acknowledge that teenagers may learn more indirectly than directly from parents about sex.
Alison Parkes is investigator scientist, Marion Henderson is senior investigator scientist, Daniel Wight is program leader and Catherine Nixon is predoctoral fellow—all with the Sexual Health and Families Team, Medical Research Council Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, Glasgow, Scotland.