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October 25, 2012

Fathers can influence teens' sexual behavior, researchers say

Fathers' attitudes toward teen sex and the emotional closeness of their relationship with their teens have a sizable influence on their teens' sexual behavior, separate from the influence of moms, a new review of studies suggests.

The review showed that dads' attitudes toward teen sexual behavior were linked to the age at which teens first had sex. Teens whose dads approved of adolescent sexual activity tended to start having sex earlier than teens whose dads did not approve, according to studies in the review.

In addition, teens who were close to their fathers tended to start having sex later, the studies showed.

The findings "suggest that fathers may distinctly influence the sexual behavior of their adolescent children," said study researcher Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, a professor of social work at New York University. "Fathers may parent in ways that differ from mothers, and therefore represent an additional opportunity to support adolescent health and well-being," he said.

A better understanding of the role dads play in their teens' sexual behavior and reproductive health could help researchers identify which parenting practices have the biggest impact on teens and lead to better intervention strategies that include both moms and dads, the researchers said.

A 2011 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 47 percent of high school students had ever had intercourse, and 40 percent of those who were sexually active did not use a condom when they last had sex.

Adolescence is generally a time of increased risk-taking, and with sexual activity, such risk-taking can be bad for teens' health, Guilamo-Ramos said. It can lead to sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.

Previous studies have linked positive parent-teen relationships with teens' sexual behavior. For example, researchers have shown that parents who monitor and discipline their teens and communicate with them reduce the risk of their teens' being involved in sexually risky behaviors.

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