A thematic framework of observed mothers' socialization messages regarding sexual orientation

Audrey Harkness, Tania Israel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


All youth are exposed to a variety of messages about sexual orientation, which shape their beliefs and values regarding sexual orientation. Parents are powerful contributors to this process of sexual socialization. However, the majority of existing research on parents' socialization messages regarding sexual orientation relies on retrospective self-report. This study included 23 mother- child dyads, in which both members of each dyad identified as heterosexual. Participants were given standardized prompts to discuss relationships and sexual orientation. Each conversation was video recorded and transcribed. Qualitative content analysis was used to identify mothers' sexual orientation messages observed during these video-recorded conversations. Observed sexual orientation socialization messages were organized into seven categories: (a) factual information and stereotypes, (b) opinions about sexual minority rights, issues, and organizations, (c) degree of support for and comfort with sexual minority people, (d) relationship of sexual orientation to character or personality, (e) origins and stability of sexual orientation, (f) how to interact with sexual minority people, and (g) implicit messages. Within each category, the observed messages ranged in valence from positive to negative. The results of this study provide an in depth view of how mothers communicate with their heterosexual children about sexual orientation and sexual minority people, across a range of topics. With this new empirical framework, future research can now examine the potential influence of these messages on youths' attitudes regarding sexual minority issues. Implications for research, training, and parent education are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)260-272
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • LGB
  • Parent- child communication
  • Sexual minority youth
  • Sexual orientation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Psychology(all)


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