Family Factors Linked to Teen Sexual Activity

Several different studies all point to similar family factors that play a role in either encouraging or discouraging sexual activity for teens.

Parenting Style May Affect Sexual Risk-Taking for Teenagers

Teenagers say that parents most influence their decisions about sex, dating, and relationships according to statistics published by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. But what exactly is that parental influence? What parenting style is associated with more or less teen sexual activity? Which family factors are linked with teens and early sexual intercourse?

Family Factor: Controlling or Democratic Parenting Style

Parents usually have strong opinions about the benefits of the parenting style they choose, whether it be a controlling, democratic or permissive one. Some parental attempts at preventing early sexual activity in teens may have an opposite effect than intended.

Many parents maintain an extremely strict parenting style as a strategy for deterring teen intercourse. But a study by the Center for the Advancement of Health suggests that a democratic parenting style, “in which parents do not use negative and psychologically controlling behaviors” works best to lessen teen sexual activity.

Closeness to Mother

The United States’ largest adolescent survey ever found that whether teens have a close relationship with their mom proves to be a telling family factor regarding sexual activity and teens. The University of Minnesota and the Adolescent Journal of Health reported that a close, caring relationship between mother and teen helps delay the age of teen sexual intercourse for younger teens and older teen boys. Mothers who adopt a parenting style that is warm and that invites a healthy level of closeness to have more influence over their teen’s decisions about sex and relationships.

Eating Family Meals Together

One’s parenting style encompasses a variety of factors concerning daily interactions with children and establishing everyday routines. Even family dinner patterns affect teen intercourse statistics. Frequently eating family meals together prevents many high-risk behaviors among teens including risks associates with sexual activity revealed a study published in the September 2006 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. Teens who frequently ate meals with their family engaged in less sexual activity and had fewer sexual partners than teens who didn’t sit down to family meals on a regular basis.

How to Focus Parenting Style on Protective Family Factors

So how can parents provide a family atmosphere that will delay sexual activity for teens or postpone the age that teens begin sexual intercourse? The research mentioned in this article as well as other research in the field of teen sexual activity points to some common family factors that influence teens to make healthier decisions about sex and relationships. Teens tend to engage in less sexual activity if:

  • Parents use a democratic rather than a strict or controlling parenting style
  • Mothers are warm, caring, and engaged in a teen’s life
  • Family meals are a consistent part of a teen’s life

Many variables determine the sexual decisions of teens but parenting style is one of the variables that parents can change. Parents of teens can focus their daily habits of parenting on protective factors that have been proven to influence teens and teen decisions about sexual intercourse. Parents of younger children can start early to establish a democratic parenting style, a close relationship with their child, and the habit of eating family meals on a regular basis.


  • The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy Survey Results. “Kiss and Tell: What Teens Say About Love, Trust and Other Relationship Stuff.” September 2007
  • Center for the Advancement of Health. “Freedom’s Just Another Word For Less Sexually Active Teens.” ScienceDaily 25 July 2008. 6 April 2009
  • The University Of Minnesota. “Closeness To Mother Can Delay First Instance Of Sexual Intercourse Among Younger Teens.” ScienceDaily 11 September 2002. 6 April 2009
  • Dr. Rebekah Levine Coley of Boston College. Journal of Adolescent Health. “Family Dinner Meal Frequency and Adolescent Development: Relationships with Developmental Assets and High-Risk Behaviors.” September 2006
  • Is Parenting Associated with Teenagers’ Early Sexual Risk-Taking, Autonomy And Relationship with Sexual Partners? Alison Parkes, Marion Henderson, Daniel Wight, Catherine Nixon
    Perspect Sex Reprod Health. 2011 Mar; 43(1): 30–40. Published online 2011 Jan 10. doi: 10.1363/4303011

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