Longitudinal Effects of Mother-Daughter Relationships on Young Women's Sexual Risk Behaviors
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Among adolescent and young adult women, sexual risk behaviors represent a critical public health concern. This study used Waves I, II, and III of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health to compare two theories of maternal influence on daughters' sexual risk behaviors: parenting style versus social learning theory. Associations between maternal parenting style (based on Wave I warmth and control) and mother-daughter communication about sex (based on Wave I comfort and frequency of communication about sex) and adolescent and young women's sexual risk behaviors (Wave II and III inconsistent condom and contraceptive use and multiple partnerships) were examined. Further, this study examined whether these associations were mediated by socioemotional characteristics (sexual self-efficacy and risk-taking behaviors) or by sexual knowledge (sexual health knowledge and perceived barriers to contraception), respectively.
Controlling for covariates, results indicated that in adolescence: 1) authoritarian and permissive parenting were associated with an increased risk of inconsistent condom use, though this association was attenuated by socioemotional and sexual knowledge risk characteristics, whereas infrequent, uncomfortable communication about sex was associated with a decreased likelihood of inconsistent use; and 2) authoritarian parenting was associated with an increased risk of inconsistent contraceptive use, also attenuated by the addition of socioemotional and sexual knowledge risk characteristics to analyses. Results further indicated that in adulthood: 3) parenting style was not associated with inconsistent condom or contraceptive use, but may have an indirect effect on inconsistent condom use, and that uncomfortable communication about sex was associated with a decreased likelihood of inconsistent contraceptive use; and 4) parenting style was not associated with lifetime sex partnerships, but authoritarian and neglectful parenting were associated with higher numbers of past year partners.
These findings indicate that both parenting style and mother-daughter communication about sex may serve as predictors of girls' sexual risk-taking in adolescence and young adulthood and should be areas of focus when implementing sexual health prevention and intervention programs. In particular, this study provides support for utilizing parenting styles in understanding how mothers influence daughters' sexual risk-taking behaviors, however future research should examine the ways in which other variables mediate and moderate these effects.