Parents play a critical role in HIV prevention by talking to youth about sexuality. When parents and adolescents communicate openly about sex, adolescents are more likely to use condoms and less likely to become pregnant (DiIorio, Pluhar, & Belcher, 2003
). However, the process of communication and topics discussed between youth and parents with HIV may differ from communication in non-affected families. Knowing a person with HIV may increase adolescents’ fear of contracting HIV (Boone et al., 2003
), and in turn, their desire to talk with parents about sex (Carroll et al., 1999
). In one study, 60% of mothers with HIV did not discuss HIV prevention with their children but they were more likely than uninfected mothers to have these discussions (O'Sullivan, Dolezal, Brackis-Cott, Traeger, & Mellins, 2005
These findings provide a snapshot of prevention discussions in families of parents with HIV. Family systems theorists emphasize the interdependence and reciprocal nature of relationships and that family members affect one another directly and indirectly (Minuchin, 2002
). Thus, parental difficulties resulting from chronic illness (like HIV) may extend to other parts of the family system so that family members take on new responsibilities. Siblings, for example, influence each other's sexual health behaviors (East & Khoo, 2005
) but no studies have examined sibling communication in families of parents with HIV. The perspectives of fathers with HIV and adult children of parents with HIV are also understudied.
We conducted qualitative interviews to examine HIV-related discussions between youth (including reports from children who are now adults) and their mother/father with HIV, and communication between siblings. Participants were drawn from the HIV Cost and Services Utilization Study (HCSUS), a representative sample of people receiving care for HIV in the United States. We hypothesized that emergent themes would reflect participants’ comfort talking about HIV-related topics, parental warnings about unsafe practices, and that topics would include risk behaviors, transmission, and protection. We also expected themes unique to families affected by HIV (e.g., lessons learned from observing a parent living with HIV) to emerge.