Parentechild sex communication; Sexual risk; Longitudinal mixture model; Adolescence


Purpose: Parents can be effective and consistent sex educators of their children, but research suggests that most parents only engage in a one-time talk about sex with their children. That being said, we know little about the potential variability in trajectories of parent-child sex communication over time. Thus, the present study took a person-centered approach to parent-child sex communication about sexual risk and explored predictors and outcomes of varying trajectories.

Methods: Participants included 468 adolescents and their parents who took part in a longitudinal study every year from ages 14e18 years (52% female, 67% white, and 33% single parents).

Results: Growth mixture modeling suggested four different trajectories of parent-child sex communication using child reports and two different trajectories using mother and father reports, with the majority of parents displaying low and stable levels of communication over time. Predictors and outcomes suggested that varying trajectories were in part a function of child behaviors (i.e., early sexual debut and externalizing behaviors), and mothers who reported trajectories of moderate-stable levels of communication had children who reported safer sex practices at age 21 years.

Conclusions: The discussion focused on the benefits of longitudinal, person-centered approaches at identifying variability in parenting and the implications of findings for those concerned about the need for parental education on the importance of sex communication across adolescence

Original Publication Citation

Padilla-Walker, L. M., Rogers, A., & *McLean, R. (2020). Is there more than one way to talk about sex? A longitudinal growth mixture model of parent-adolescent sex communication. Journal of Adolescent Health, 67, 851-858

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Journal of Adolescent Health




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor