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Older Siblings Play a Significant Role in Teens’ Attitudes About Sex


Few parent-adolescent discussions elicit as strong a reaction from both parties as the discussion about sexual activity. Yet research has shown this to be a critical discussion among parents and children. New research from the University of Missouri-Columbia suggests that when it comes to “the talk,” older siblings can play a vital role in helping adolescents make safer sexual choices.

Amanda Kolburn, assistant professor of human development and family studies at MU, examined the role that older siblings play in protecting teens from engaging in unsafe sexual practices. Kolburn, along with Lynn Pike of Mississippi State University, conducted a study on the sexual attitudes and behaviors of more than 1,000 adolescents from 20 midwestern high schools.

“Siblings often share similar experiences and perspectives and may be more likely to understand each other’s viewpoints than those of adults,” Kolburn said. “Because of the unique nature of sibling relationships, brothers and sisters can be important role models.”

Kolburn found that older siblings who openly discussed sex with their teenaged siblings were more likely to encourage safer decisions about sexual activity among their brothers and sisters. In addition she discovered adolescents were more likely to feel comfortable talking about sex when they had a positive relationship with their older siblings.

“We found that when both parents and older siblings discuss safe sex with adolescents, those adolescents reported less risky attitudes about appropriate sexual behavior for people their age,” Kolburn. “They also were more likely to talk to their partners about condom use.”

Additionally, Kolburn said that older siblings don’t necessarily have to maintain conservative stances on sex in order to have a positive influence on adolescent brothers and sisters. Even when older siblings do not follow cautious sexual practices, their protective instincts might prompt them to encourage appropriate sexual behaviors in adolescents.

The study will be published in the July issue of Family Relations.

A copy of the study is available in electronic form. Please contact Jeremy Diener if interested.

Jeremy Diener | newswise
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