The Weird Way Dads Influence Their Daughters’ Sex Lives

A healthy father-daughter relationship makes girls less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors later in life.
A healthy father-daughter relationship makes girls less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors later in life. (Photo: Getty Images)

It seems odd that your father would influence your sex life, but scientists have determined that dads play a role in when girls first start having sex, and how safe they are about it. While previous research has chalked this up to genes, a new study has found there might be more to it.

In the study, which was published in the journal Developmental Psychology on May 8, scientists analyzed the sexual behaviors of 101 pairs of sisters, ages 18 to 36, whose parents had separated or divorced while they were growing up, and their childhood relationship with their father. Scientists found that a dad’s presence and behavior can have an impact on his daughter’s sexual experiences — especially if it was his older daughter.

Older daughters received higher “doses” of a father’s behavior, simply by being around longer than their younger sisters, and researchers found that made a difference. Older sisters who received high-quality fathering and had a father who monitored her activities (i.e., knowing what she was doing, who she was hanging out with, and how she spends her time) were less likely to be friends with people who engaged in sexually risky behavior during their teens compared with their younger sisters. But older sisters who had dads who weren’t good fathers and didn’t monitor their activities were more likely to associate with sexually risky people and engage in it themselves.

“These findings suggest that higher-quality fathering may decrease daughters’ engagement in risky sexual behaviors by increasing the amount of parental monitoring that they receive and decreasing their affiliation with peers who promote risky sexual behaviors,” researchers concluded.

Licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow, owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago, isn’t shocked by the findings. “Regardless of gender or sexual orientation, attachment is very powerful between a parent and child,” he tells Yahoo Beauty. “A lot of initial relationship patterning gets shaped from those early experiences, and it can follow that as the child ages their sex life will be impacted by that as well.”

Clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Beauty that daughters may be influenced by their dads when it comes to sexual behavior due to modeling — that is, the daughter sees how her father is with her mother or other female partner and wants to model that behavior. As a result, Mayer says, “a father should model a healthy, respectful, mutual, equal, and safe sexual relationship” with his partner.

It’s hard to know exactly why daughters of men who were absent or somewhat absent and didn’t monitor their activities were more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, but Klow says it may be simply a case of the daughter looking for love elsewhere if she’s not finding it at home. “With adolescents, their distress is usually higher than adults, and their coping skills are lower,” he explains.

While dads may have a greater impact on a daughter’s sexual behaviors as a teen, experts say it’s ultimately on both parents to have a healthy presence in their child’s life. “Children learn about all aspects of life, including and especially sexuality and gender relationships from both parents,” Mayer says.

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