African-American youth suffer disproportionately from sexual risk consequences including unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Parents educating young people about sex may be one approach to reduce sexual risk behaviour among this population. The purpose of this study was to determine young people's perceptions of parents' attitudes about sex and assess whether these perceptions affect sexual risk. Data were collected from 560 African-Americans, aged 9-19 years. Most (73.4%) thought their parents would be unhappy if they got someone pregnant/got pregnant, with more girls feeling this way than boys (p = 0.013). Sexually active boys who thought their parents would be unhappy if they got someone pregnant reported fewer sexual partners within the past year (p < 0.01) and fewer sexual encounters in the past 3 months (p = 0.01) compared to those whose parents would think otherwise. Our research illustrates that parents' explicit and unstated attitudes are apparent to their offspring, and young people's perceptions can impact their risk behaviour. As such, early and often sex education communication between parents and young people should be encouraged. Sexual health interventions encouraging parents to educate about sex and its consequences could enhance the health of young African-Americans. © 2014 © 2014 Taylor & Francis.