Primary Sources: Do Fathers Play a Role in Youth Sexual Health?

A son embracing his father.

Paternal Influences on Adolescent Sexual Risk Behaviors: A Structured Literature Review” (abstract). Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, Alida Bouris, Jane Lee, Katharine McCarthy, Shannon L. Michael, Seraphine Pitt-Barnes, Patricia Dittus. Pediatrics, Vol. 130, No. 5 (November 2012).

What it’s about: The authors wanted to investigate the influence that fathers have on their adolescents’ sexual behavior. After going through 30 years’ worth of archives in six different databases, the researchers found and reviewed thirteen relevant studies, some of which were devoted to both maternal and paternal influence.

Why read it: In surveys about adolescent sexual health and pregnancy, teens report that parents have a deep impact on their knowledge, values and choices when it comes to sex. But while the field of adolescent-health research has long paid attention to the role of mothers and families in youth sexual behavior, there is a much smaller body of knowledge related to the role of fathers in this aspect of teenagers’ lives. Understanding the effect fathers have can help sexual health educators find positive ways to involve fathers in teen pregnancy prevention programs.

Biggest takeaways for family and youth workers: On the whole, closer relationships with fathers led to adolescents taking fewer sexual risks. Several of the studies reviewed found that a healthy father-child emotional connection correlated to the young person’s delaying sexual behavior. Others found that positive relationships with fathers led to less sexual activity among younger teens but increased sexual activity among older teens.

The authors say that “the most consistent finding across reviewed studies … was the significant association between father-adolescent communication and adolescent sexual behaviors such as increased condom use and abstinence from sex.” More plainly, better communication with dad equals safer sexual behavior.

Other potential correlations were less clear. For example, there was no identifiable connection between fathers’ strictness about sex and their children’s chance of becoming pregnant.

The chief message of this study is the difference between mothers and fathers in terms of their parenting and effect on children’s lives. While the findings have been so far mostly tentative, the authors claim that there is reason to believe that fathers have their own significant role to play in their teens’ lives, independent from mothers. Supportive relationships with fathers had a greater effect on girls’ sexual behavior than equivalent relationships with mothers, for example.

At the very least, this study points out that fathers have their own independent role to play in children’s lives, and that service providers should seek out opportunities to increase or otherwise improve that role.  The authors call for greater research to identify new ways of including fathers in youth and family work, specifically the creation of new interventions based specifically around dads. 

Additional references: Find abstracts of other literature on fathers and father involvement in our digital library

Previous studies have looked at ways to break the generational cycle of teen fatherhood and the effect of paternal behaviors on African-American teens. The National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse is a federal resource for programming, advice and research about fatherhood.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children & Families.

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