The Apron String's Tied to Teen Sexuality

Close relationship with mom can delay sexual activity in teens

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HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Sept. 6, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- You've told your teenagers many times they should abstain from sex. You explained the dangers, they nodded their heads.

So that's one thing you don't have to worry about, right?

Don't count on it, say researchers at the University of Minnesota's Center for Adolescent Health and Development, whose new study on teen sexuality appears in the latest issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Just warning teens about the dangers of sex or telling them they shouldn't have intercourse doesn't keep them from becoming sexually active, says Dr. Robert Blum, the center's director and lead author of the study.

However, close relationships with parents, especially mom, can often delay the start of a teen's sexual activity, Blum notes.

Teens who feel close to their mother, especially young teens, are less likely to start having sex. And children whose parents know their kids' friends and have conversations with their friends' parents also delay becoming sexually active longer, Blum says.

These findings emerged from interviews Blum and his team conducted as part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The researchers looked at reports submitted by mothers and their 14- and 15-year-olds over the course of a year to determine how the maternal relationship affected sexual behavior among teens who said they were virgins. During the year, almost 11 percent of the boys and about 16 percent of the girls in the sample said they had sex for the first time.

It turned out that many of the mothers surveyed were out of touch with what was happening in their teens' lives. When the children reported that they had not had sexual intercourse, their mothers almost always knew they hadn't. However, when teens reported they'd begun to have sex, only about half of the mothers were aware of it.

Parents have a natural reluctance to talk about sex with their children, Blum says. They also have a kind of blindness about what their children are doing sexually, coupled with a tendency to have difficulty letting go of the notion that they do know what's going on.

The absence of a close relationship between mothers and their older adolescent daughters seems to increase the likelihood of sexual intercourse, Blum says.

The new findings support evidence that has been accumulating for more than a decade about teens' relationships with their mothers, and the link to youthful sexual behaviors and attitudes.

Maxine Weinstein, Distinguished Professor of Population and Health at Georgetown University, and her colleagues studied mother-child relationships in the context of adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors in the late 1980s.

"We found that children with a close maternal relationship are more likely to hold attitudes about sex and exhibit sexual behaviors that are consistent with their mothers' own attitudes than do children with more distant relationships with their mothers," Weinstein explains.

"Our findings were entirely consistent with those emerging today," Weinstein says. "It seems clear that adolescents' sexual attitudes and behaviors and their relationships with their mothers are associated with one another, even if we don't yet know precisely how."

What To Do

Information for parents about teenage sexuality can be found at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and the Campaign for Our Children.

SOURCES: Robert Blum, M.D., Ph.D., director, University of Minnesota, Center for Adolescent Health and Development; Maxine Weinstein, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Population and Health, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; Sept. 4, 2002, Journal of Adolescent Health

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