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The University of Southampton

Research grant award: Early sexual socialisation and sexuality education; parental perspectives

Published: 25 March 2011

Researchers Roger Ingham and Nicole Stone, in the Centre for Sexual Health Research, have been awarded £106k from The Leverhulme Trust for a two-year project to explore the ways in which parents respond to young children’s questioning about bodies, reproduction and sex.

Professor Roger Ingham said “This is a very exciting project that will help us to understand some of the barriers to, and opportunities for, open and honest communication between parents and their children. We know that – for many young people – the whole area is mystified and avoided, and we suspect that this could lead to negative implications later on in terms of sexual health”.

The work will involve carrying out interviews and focus group discussions with a wide variety of parents of children aged between 4 and 7 years old. Co-applicant, Dr Nicole Stone, said “The pilot work revealed a wide range of reasons that parents used to evade direct answers to questions such as ‘How are babies made?’, ‘Why do (or don’t) I have a willy?’, ‘What does gay mean?’ and so on. Although all parents agreed on the need for honesty, there were also very strong feelings of uncertainty of quite when this should commence!”

Roger Ingham has recently ended a ten year stint as research advisor to the previous government on teenage pregnancy and sexual health. He says “The coalition government apparently still regards sexual health as very important, but is cutting back on expert advisory groups and local funding initiatives”.

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