Mothers’ Influence on Teenage Sexual Behavior: Connections That Promote Postponing Sexual Intercourse

The Center for Adolescent Health and Development at the University of Minnesota recently published a monograph examining mother-teen relationships to determine how mothers affect sexual behavior among teens who are not yet sexually active.

The monograph is based on two studies that utilized data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The two studies looked at over 5,000 adolescents and their mothers for one year. None of the teens reported having had sexual intercourse at the time of the initial interview.

Conclusions/Recommendations for Parents

Using the information from the two studies and from existing literature, the authors of the monograph developed the following conclusions and recommendations for parents.

Caring, connectedness, consistency, and clarity with teens are important -- especially for younger teens.*

  • When mothers reported satisfaction with their relationships with their daughters, their daughters were more likely to report that they had not had sexual intercourse. Similarly, high levels of mother-child connectedness are independently related to delays in sexual intercourse among eighth and ninth grade boys and girls as well as among tenth and eleventh grade boys. The effect of connectedness appears to diminish for older girls.

  • Teens who feel that their mothers disapprove of their having sexual intercourse are more likely to delay intercourse. However, simply stating this disapproval is not enough. Parents must clearly explain and reinforce this message.

*Connectedness was defined as adolescents’ feeling close to their mothers, knowing that their mothers cared for them, having open communication with their mothers, and feeling satisfied in their relationships with their mothers.

Parents need to involve themselves in their teens’ daily lives by knowing their friends and the parent of their friends.

  • Mothers who report regularly talking with the parents of their daughters’ friends had daughters who were less likely to have initiated intercourse during the one-year study period.

To successfully provide guidance, parents need to be more aware of what is going on in their teens’ lives.

  • Most parents of teens who had not yet had sexual intercourse (97%) accurately assessed that their teens were not sexually active. However, approximately 50% of parents whose teens were sexually active were unaware that their teens were sexually active.

There are no simple answers for parents when it comes to talking with kids about birth control. Parents need to provide consistent messages, behaviors, and values.

  • Findings on the topics of birth control are conflicted. One study found that teens whose parents recommended contraception were more likely to have intercourse but were also more likely to use contraception. The second study found that parent recommendations of contraception diminished teens’ perception of mothers’ disapproval but that such recommendations were not associated with greater likelihood of having sexual intercourse.

Recommendations for Programs and Policies

The authors also made recommendations about how youth-serving organizations can assist parents in helping their teens delay sexual intercourse.

Simply encouraging parents to talk more with their teens about the risk of early sex without becoming more involved in their lives is unlikely to have much impact.

  • Young people would benefit if adolescent health services included programming that encourages and facilitates positive parent involvement in the lives of their adolescents.
  • Youth-serving agencies need to develop strategies that promote high levels of parent-child connectedness and encourage parent-child relationships.

For More Information

  1. Blum, R.W., 2002, Mother's Influence on Teen Sex: Connections That Promote Postponing Sexual Intercourse. Center for Adolescent Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.