Weighted Topics Measure of Family Sexual Communication

Weighted Topics Measure of Family Sexual Communication

TERRI D. FISHER,The Ohio State University at Mansfield

The Weighted Topics Measure of Family Sexual Communication (WTM) was developed to enable researchers to assess quickly and objectively the amount of communication about sexuality that has occurred between parents and their adolescent children. This scale combines a relatively objective measure (number of topics discussed) with a more subjective one (extent of discussion).


This measure asks respondents to indicate the extent to which nine specific sexual topics have been discussed,

using a scale of 0–4, with 0 corresponding to None and 4 corresponding to A Lot. Possible scores range from 0–36, with higher scores indicating greater amounts of communication. Adolescents may be asked to give separate reports for communication with the mother and the father.

Response Mode and Timing

Respondents indicate the extent of communication about each topic by indicating which of the five possible ratings mentioned above best corresponds to the amount of communication experienced. This measure takes no more than 2 to 3 minutes to complete.


To score the WTM, simply add up the weights for each topic.


In a study of 129 male and 234 female unmarried college students between the ages of 18 and 24 (Fisher, 1993), the Cronbach alpha reliability coefficient was .89 for males reporting on communication with mothers, .91 for males reporting on communication with fathers, .90 for females reporting on communication with mothers, and .91 for females reporting on communication with fathers. Among the 336 mothers, the Cronbach alpha coefficient was .87, and for the 233 fathers it was .89. More recently, in a study of college students aged 18–21 (Clawson & Reese-Weber, 2003), the overall reliability coefficient was .91 for communication with fathers and .88 for communication with mothers.


In a validity study (Fisher, 1993) of nine measures of sexual communication using 129 male and 234 female college students between the ages of 18 and 25, the WTM was significantly correlated with general family communication as measured by the Openness in Family Communication subscale of Olson and Barnes’ Parent-Adolescent Communication Scale (Olson et al., 1982). Correlation coefficients ranged from a low of .28 based on fathers’ reports of communication to a high of .53 based on sons’ reports of communication with their mothers. The WTM was not significantly correlated with a measure of social desirability responding (Strahan & Gerbasi, 1972). The correlation between the various measures of sexual communication and the validity measures were generally non- significant, but this was largely due to the use of Bonferroni corrections to account for the very large number of cor- relation coefficients that were calculated. In general, for most analyses, the WTM appeared to be the strongest of the measures.

Recently, Zamboni and Silver (2009) compared the WTM with Warren and Neer’s Family Sex Communication Quotient (FSCQ; 1986). The WTM for communication with mothers was highly correlated (.64) with the com- fort subscale of the FSCQ. For WTM reports of communication with fathers, the correlation with the comfort

subscale of the FSCQ was .40 for females and .44 for males. Correlations of the WTM with the Value subscale of the FSCQ ranged from .22 to .46. Zamboni and Silver provided support for the concurrent validity of both the WTM and the FSCQ and concluded that “Because of these conceptual strengths and because the instruments have good psychometric properties, future studies might consider using these instruments to assess family sex communication” (p. 71).

Other Information

Previous studies with the WTM have consistently indicated that, when families are categorized as “high communication” and “low communication” families by means of a median split using this measure, adolescents and parents in the high communication families have sexual attitudes that are much more strongly correlated than those in the low communication families (Fisher, 1986, 1987, 1988). The WTM was also used to determine predictors of parental communication about sexuality (Fisher, 1990).

Address correspondence to Terri D. Fisher, The Ohio State University at Mansfield, 1760 University Drive, Mansfield, OH 44906; e-mail: [email protected]

Weighted Topics Measure of Family Sexual Communication Using a scale from 1 to 4 with 0 = None and 4 = A Lot, please indicate how much discussion you have had with your child about the following topics.

None 0 1 2 3 4 A Lot‌





        Sexually Transmitted Disease [originally Venereal Disease]

        Birth Control





Clawson, C. L., & Reese-Weber, M. (2003). The amount and timing of parent-adolescent sexual communication as predictors of late adoles- cent sexual risk-taking behaviors. The Journal of Sex Research, 40, 256–265.

Fisher, T. D. (1986). An exploratory study of parent-child communication about sex and the sexual attitudes of early, middle, and late adoles- cents. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 147, 543–557.

Fisher, T. D. (1987). Family communication and the sexual behavior and attitudes of college students. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 16, 581–595.

Fisher, T. D. (1988). The relationship between parent-child communica- tion about sexuality and college students’ sexual behavior and atti- tudes as a function of parental proximity. The Journal of Sex Research, 24, 305–311.

Fisher, T. D. (1990). Characteristics of mothers and fathers who talk to their adolescent children about sexuality. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 3, 53–70.

Fisher, T. D. (1993). A comparison of various measures of family sexual communication: Psychometric properties, validity, and behavioral correlates. The Journal of Sex Research, 30, 229–238.

Olson, D. H., McCubbin, H. I., Barnes, H., Larsen, A., Muxen, M., & Wilson, M. (1982). Family inventories. St. Paul: University of Minnesota.

Strahan, R., & Gerbasi, K. C. (1972). Short, homogeneous versions of the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 28, 191–193.

Warren, C., & Neer, M. (1986). Family sex communication orientation. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 14, 86–107.

Zamboni, B. D., & Silver, R. (2009). Family sex communication and the sexual desire, attitudes, and behavior of late adolescents. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 4, 58–78.