Date of Completion


Embargo Period



parent-adolescent, mother-daughter, sexual communication, sexual risk behaviors, race/ethnicity, family factors, cultural context

Major Advisor

Stephanie Milan, Ph.D.

Associate Advisor

Michelle K. Williams, Ph.D.

Associate Advisor

Preston A. Britner, Ph.D.

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Sexually transmitted infections and adolescent childbearing disproportionately affect adolescents of color. Research suggests these negative health outcomes may be due in part to potential cultural differences in how families approach adolescent sexual behavior. Using a diverse urban sample of 13- to 17-year-old girls (N=194), this study explored potentially important aspects of mother-adolescent sexual communication by asking: 1) How does mother-daughter sexual communication (i.e., frequency, tone, embarrassment) relate to adolescent sexual risk when communication is considered dyadically? 2) What are the racial/ethnic differences, if any, in mother-daughter sexual communication and concordance in reports of communication? Is the relation between communication and sexual activity the same across dyads? 3) How do family factors (i.e., values/attitudes, parenting practices, mental health risk) relate to communication?

Across racial/ethnic groups, mothers and daughters differed significantly in their perceptions of sexual communication with mothers reporting more frequent and positive communication and less embarrassment than their daughters. Mother and daughter reports were modestly related. There were few racial/ethnic differences in communication, including Black mothers reporting less frequent sexual communication than Latina or White mothers. Using polynomial regression approaches recommended for testing parent-adolescent reporting discrepancies results indicated that the interaction between mother and daughter perceived frequency of communication was predictive of adolescent sexual risk behavior. Adolescents reported engaging in the most risky sexual behavior when they were in dyads in which the mother reported high frequency but the daughter reported limited frequency. Due to these findings, four dyadic groups were created based on different patterns of perceived communication frequency (high/high, low/low, high mother/low daughter, low mother/high daughter).

MANCOVAs demonstrated that groups differed on several other characteristics, including tone, embarrassment, sex norms, religious practices, parental monitoring, maternal warmth, and maternal history of sexual abuse. In particular, the discordant group associated with highest sexual risk behavior (high mother/low daughter) differed in mothers’ attendance of spiritual services and mothers’ report of parental monitoring. Findings highlight the importance of measuring both mothers’ and daughters’ perceptions of communication in research on adolescent sexual behavior and provide some insight into family characteristics that may be important targets for sexual health promotion programs for adolescent girls.