Girls who have good relationships with their fathers tend to wait longer to have their first sexual intercourse experience, according to a new study by a University of Texas at Austin sociologist. In a study published in this month’s Journal of Family Issues, Dr. Mark Regnerus reports that girls who claimed to have very low quality relationships with their fathers were nearly twice as likely to lose their virginity over the course of a year than girls who reported very high quality father-daughter relationships. No similar correlation was found between girls and their mothers, or between boys and either parent.
“This shows us that it is not enough for dads to be merely present,” says Regnerus, an assistant professor of sociology at The University of Texas at Austin. “They need to be active in their daughters’ lives. There are hints here that girls who have poor relationships with their dads tend to seek attention from other males at earlier ages and often this will involve a sexual relationship.”
Regnerus reviewed data gathered from about 10,000 seventh through 12th grade students living in two-parent households. The data came from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a study designed to analyze the causes of health-related behaviors in teenagers. While the parent-child relationship did not have a strong effect on boys, the number of an adolescent’s romantic partners did affect the probability of both sexes having intercourse for the first time. “For each additional partner reported, the odds of a boy losing his virginity increase by 88 percent,” notes Regnerus.
The biggest shift for girls was between those who weren’t actively dating and those who had one dating partner. “For girls, it’s not dating around that adds much risk, but whether they date at all,” says Regnerus.
The study also showed that anticipation of guilt curbed the likelihood of both boys and girls having sex for the first time. Two other factors that delayed girls’ sexual activity were religious service attendance and their mothers’ education level. Girls whose mothers had college degrees were 64 percent less likely to lose their virginity compared to girls whose mothers did not. Researchers have previously studied the sexual behavior of adolescents who come from broken homes or live with stepparents, but this study is unique in that it examines teenagers whose biological parents are still together.