Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Education Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Kristen P. Mark


Parent-child sexual health communication (PCSHC) can have a positive impact on adolescents’ sexual health choices, outcomes, and capabilities for communicating with others about sexual health. Many parents are hesitant and feel unprepared for and uncomfortable with communicating about sexual health with their children. Other parental factors as well as child factors can impact the quality, frequency, coverage, and effectiveness of PCSHC. Some adolescent sexual health outcomes have improved, however, teen birth rates in the United States are elevated compared to other developed countries and half of all sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnoses are made to adolescents and emerging adults. This emphasizes the importance of PCSHC as a protective factor for children and opportunity for them to develop understanding and skills for good sexual health decision-making. While challenging to recruit and retain participants, parent sex education programming designed to promote PCSHC can instill a sense of parental necessity and responsibility, and equip parents with knowledge and skills to confidently and successfully engage their children.

The theory of planned behavior (TPB) provided the framework for this mixed methods study designed to learn more about PCSHC, differences in PCSHC based on gender of children, parental beliefs about PCSHC, intentions for and actual engagement in PCSHC. Included in the literature review for this study is a systematic review of literature focused on parent education programming designed to improve PCSHC. Parents of children in grades 4 – 11 completed a pencil/paper or an electronic Qualtrics baseline survey containing questions about their perceptions of and engagement in PCSHC. The quantitative data collection instrument included items measuring TPB constructs of behavioral, normative, and control beliefs, intentions for and actual engagement in PCSHC and condom use instruction delivery, communication openness, communication ability, sexual health topics discussed with children, and respondents’ demographics Many of the respondents (N = 205) were residents of the program target community, Winchester/Clark County, Kentucky, and were eligible to participate in parent programming, as were all residents that were parents of children in grades 4 – 11. The program, I’ll Have a Side of Sex Education, was designed as a six-week series of 50 minute lunch time sessions with the intention to improve parents’ sense of comfort, confidence, and skills in communicating with their children in general, and particularly about sexual health. Of the 205 parents who completed the baseline survey, 50 enrolled in and attended some or all of one of five offerings of the six-week parent education series and were invited to complete a post-program and six-week follow up surveys. Post-program data were collected with a paper- pencil survey and six-week follow up data were collected with a Qualtrics survey.

The systematic review of parent sex education literature provided insight into components of programming related to successful program delivery and positive parental outcomes. The systematic analysis of the baseline data including examining PCSHC factors from the parental perspective and how these related to the gender of children and determining the usefulness of the TPB constructs for understanding PCSHC Results of Chi-square tests of mean differences showed a significant difference in parents actually providing their children with instructions for correct condom usage, χ2(2, N = 203) = 6.96, p = 0.03, and MANOVA results revealed the degree to which parents address certain sexual health topics with their children related to the gender of their children. Results of logistic regression showed behavioral beliefs having the greatest predictive power of parents’ intentions to give condom use instructions (p < 0.01) and actual delivery of condom use instructions (p = 0.04) and engagement in PCSHC, generally (p = 0.03).

The current study contributes to the greater body of literature addressing parental and child factors related the promotion, delivery, and effectiveness of PCSHC and parent education programming designed to improve the quality, frequency, and impact of PCSHC. Its findings expand our understanding of how gender of children and parental beliefs relate to PCSHC and lend themselves to the consideration of the greater social influences impacting parents’ ability and motivation to engage their children in communication about sexual health. Differences in communication based on gender of children signal to a double standard in the messaging about sexual health and behaviors related to gender and these discrepancies leave adolescents and emerging adults, both males and females, vulnerable at worst to poor sexual health choices and outcomes and at least to being undereducated about sexual health topics. Although these findings give little support for the overall TPB model contributing to the understanding of parental intentions and behavior related PCSHC, the relationship between behavioral beliefs informed by attitudes about the value of PCSHC and parental intentions and behaviors does provide insight to health promoters and educators. Assessing parental attitudes toward PCSHC and tailoring messages and educational opportunities that may improve these attitudes and motivate parents to engage in and seek support for effective PCSHC holds promise. The piloting of a parent education program adapted from a previously evaluated parent sex education programming and the summative evaluation offered by participants gives support for efforts on the part of health promotion and education professionals to invest time, energy, and resources into program design and delivery and recruitment and retention of parents.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)