Study of sisters helps explain dad's influence on risky sexual behavior

May 16, 2017 by Brooke Adams, University of Utah
Credit: University of Utah

What is it about a father that affects his teenage daughter's likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behavior?

Researchers have long shown links between father involvement and daughters' sexual behavior, with the standard explanation attributing that influence to shared genes that impact both a father's behavior and relationships and his child's problem behavior, including engaging in risky sex and affiliating with delinquent peers.

But a new study led by a University of Utah researcher and published online in Developmental Psychology suggests that even though genes likely play a part, they may not be the whole story.

By using pairs of sisters who spent differing amounts of time living with their , the study was able to control for inherited genes and environmental conditions, such as socioeconomic status or religious background, to isolate the effects of fathering quality on daughters.

The results suggest a causal relationship between a father's behavior and his daughters' experiences: Different amounts of exposure to fathers of high or low quality changes daughters' social environments—the monitoring they received and the peers with whom they affiliated—in ways that can impact their sexual behavior.

"It's not enough for a dad to just be in the home," said Danielle J. DelPriore, a post-doctoral fellow in the University of Utah's department of psychology and lead author of the study. "The quality of a father's relationship with his daughter has implications for both the overall monitoring she receives from her parents as well as her likelihood of affiliating with more promiscuous or more prosocial friends."

The study compared the outcomes of older and younger full biological sisters who experienced the divorce or separation of their parents while growing up, and thus spent differing amounts of time living with their fathers. In divorced/separated families (including those in which the parents never married), the parents stopped living together before the younger sister turned age 14. Biologically intact families provided a control group in that the sisters in these families each lived with both parents into adulthood. The age difference between sisters in each group was at least four years.

The researchers theorized that in divorced/separated families, a father—and how he behaved—was likely to have exerted a stronger influence on an older daughter than a younger daughter since older daughters systematically received larger "doses" of dad's behavior.

That proved to be the case, for better or worse. The study found that older sisters with greater exposure to their fathers were strongly influenced by the quality of fathering they received. When fathering was high quality, was increased and older sisters were less likely to affiliate with sexually risky peers during adolescence compared to their younger sisters. The opposite effects were found for older sisters who spent many years living with a low-quality father.

Parental monitoring refers to parents' supervision over their children's lives, including their communication and knowledge about what a child is doing, who she is hanging out with, and how she spends her time and money. Research has shown that low parental monitoring is associated with increased drug and alcohol use, delinquency and other behavior problems.

The new study was co-authored by Bruce J. Ellis of the University of Utah and Gabriel L. Schlomer of the University of Albany, SUNY. Previous research by Ellis and Schlomer suggested a causal effect of fathering quality on daughters' risky sexual behavior, but did not examine how or why differences in quality translated into differences in a daughter's sexual behavior.

"We wanted to look into that 'black box' to see how a father's behavior might change ' environments in ways that promote or protect against risky sexual ," DelPriore said.

The findings suggest that the most effective programs for reducing adolescent females' might include components that both promote engagement with prosocial peers and aim to improve parenting skills, including parents' ability to effectively communicate with their teens.

"There is a lot of emphasis on the effects of divorce and parental separation on children, but this research shows that what may be more important, at least in this case, is what dad is doing while he is in the home," DelPriore said.

Explore further: Note to dads: Good parenting makes a difference

More information: Danielle J. DelPriore et al. Impact of Fathers on Parental Monitoring of Daughters and Their Affiliation With Sexually Promiscuous Peers: A Genetically and Environmentally Controlled Sibling Study., Developmental Psychology (2017). DOI: 10.1037/dev0000327

Related Stories

Note to dads: Good parenting makes a difference

June 14, 2011
Father's Day this Sunday is a chance to recognize dads for putting up with all manner of nonsense that kids manage to cook up on the way to adulthood.

Relationship quality affects siblings' mental health, risky behaviors

September 30, 2015
Latinos are the fastest-growing ethnic minority group in the United States, and most are of Mexican origin, previous research has shown. The Latino culture, more than others, places a high value on the family unit; yet, little ...

Overnights at dad's home benefit divorced mothers, fathers and their babies

February 2, 2017
In the aftermath of a separation or divorce there are real choices that need to be made about where the children will spend the night.

Adolescent depression in girls offset by presence of 'boomerang father'

August 2, 2016
A study of the impact of "boomerang fathers"—those who cycle in and out of their children's lives—yielded surprising results for researchers. "Boomerang fathering" provided a type of stability in a daughter's life that ...

Fathers independently influence teen sexual behavior

October 15, 2012
(HealthDay)—In addition to mothers, fathers also have an independent influence on adolescent sexual behavior, according to research published online Oct. 15 in Pediatrics.

Family key to helping teens avoid obesity

July 1, 2016
(HealthDay)—Having a stable family and a good relationship with mom and dad makes young people more likely to develop healthy habits that may protect them against obesity, a new study suggests.

Recommended for you

Can we really tell if it's love at first sight?

May 25, 2018
Long-term and short-term relationships are obviously different from each other. Some people are the type you'd want to marry; others are good primarily for the sex.

Depression speeds up brain aging, find psychologists

May 24, 2018
Psychologists at the University of Sussex have found a link between depression and an acceleration of the rate at which the brain ages. Although scientists have previously reported that people with depression or anxiety have ...

People with family history of alcoholism release more dopamine in expectation of alcohol

May 23, 2018
People with a family history of alcohol use disorder (AUD) release more dopamine in the brain's main reward center in response to the expectation of alcohol than people diagnosed with the disorder, or healthy people without ...

Why we fail to understand our smartphone use

May 23, 2018
Checking your phone dozens of times a day indicates unconscious behaviour, which is "extremely repetitive" say psychologists.

Study confirms that men and women tend to adopt different navigation strategies

May 23, 2018
When navigating in a known environment, men prefer to take shortcuts to reach their destination more quickly, while women tend to use routes they know. This is according to Alexander Boone of UC Santa Barbara in the US who ...

Early life trauma in men associated with reduced levels of sperm microRNAs

May 22, 2018
Exposure to early life trauma can lead to poor physical and mental health in some individuals, which can be passed on to their children. Studies in mice show that at least some of the effects of stress can be transmitted ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

BubbaNicholson
1 / 5 (2) May 17, 2017
Pheromones are passed in innocent kissing of the father's face by the teenagers.
250mg of healthy adult male facial skin surface lipid pheromone taken by mouth alleviates delinquency instantly. The same amount diminishes sexual-thrill seeking both inappropriate heterosexual and homosexual, as well as diminishing criminal thrill-seeking and chemical thrill-seeking.
The pheromone emits an emotionally toxic vapor, "zenite gas". The vapor causes superstition, suspicion, arrogance, and stupidity as well as jealousy. Osculation partners of pheromone treated people inevitably become jealous. Isolate pheromone treated patients for 40 days--the time it takes for the pheromone to wear off the saliva.
Use oscillating fans to break up reeking zenite gas plumes. Package the facial skin surface pheromone in sealed containers with activated charcoal dunnage packs. Staff should wear supplied air respirators.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.