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CONTEXT:Although parent-child communication about sex can significantly affect children’s sexual behavior, many parents do not talk to their children about sex. Qualitative research can elucidate parents’ attitudes toward and experiences with communicating with their children about sex.

METHODS:In 2007, 16 focus groups were conducted with 131 mothers and fathers of children aged 10–12 in three cities in different regions of the United States. Separate groups were conducted for mothers and fathers, and for black, white and Hispanic parents. Content analysis was used to identify core themes and patterns.

RESULTS:Parents believed it is important to talk to their children about sex and believed that doing so can be effective, but many had not done so. Primary barriers were parents’ perception that their children are too young and not knowing how to talk to their children about the subject. Parents found it easiest to talk to their children about sex if they had a good parent-child relationship, took advantage of opportunities to talk and began having the discussions when their children were very young. Some differences were noted by parents’ race, ethnicity, gender and location.

CONCLUSIONS:Interventions aimed at encouraging parents to talk to their children about sex should enhance parents’ understanding of the stages of children’s sexual development and focus on the parents of young children. In addition, interventions should support parents in a range of strategies that complement discussions about sex.