Mostly, the conversation that dare not speak its name, the most excruciating 25 minutes of either a parent or an offspring’s life, The Talk, is left to Mom. Make lunch, do laundry, figure out where the thing is that goes on that other thing, tell kids about sex. But a new study from New York University suggests that young women could actually use a little more talk about intimate matters from their dads.
Yes, I know, eeeew. Previous studies have concluded that girls who have open communication with their fathers — about everything — tend to have intercourse later in life and also have fewer sexual partners, both of which can be very good for sexual and mental health. But do they actually have to talk about sex to have this effect? (More on Time.com: 5 Little-Known Truths About American Sex Lives)
While young women are still mostly influenced and informed on this subject by their mothers, Katherine Hutchinson, associate professor at the NYU College of Nursing, wanted to figure out whether fathers had a role to play. As part of a larger study examining family influences on adolescent sexual risk, she asked a representative sample of 250 or so women aged 19 to 21 what kind of impact their fathers had on their sex education.
The answer was: very little. And, surprisingly, a lot of the women, most of whom were sexually active, wished their fathers had told them more. Specifically, they wanted to hear stuff only guys would know, about how to communicate with men and what the carnal landscape looked like from a male’s vantage point. “They felt that if they could have been more comfortable talking with their fathers about issues around sex, they might have been more comfortable talking to boyfriends or potential sexual partners about them,” says Hutchinson, whose study was published in the Journal of Family Issues. “And they wanted to know how to negotiate intimacy issues with men.” (More on Time.com: Study of American Sex Habits Suggests Boomers Need Sex Ed)
So does this mean dads should be the ones sitting down and explaining where we all come from? “I’m not a big proponent of The Talk, whether it’s from a mother or a father,” says Hutchinson. “It takes away from the normalcy of sexuality.” She advocates instead for ongoing communication with kids about their bodies, sexual development and sexual issues, so that the subject is not so fraught. But she feels dads could weigh in on how to politely tell a guy you don’t want to have sex with him, or that you’re not ready for sex with anyone right now, or that you want him to wear a condom.
One note of warning to dads: probably best not to bring the subject up while the guy your daughter likes is in the room. Awkward.
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