Daughters who grow up with fathers who disappointed them are more likely to interpret the intentions of other men as sexual when they grow up, new research suggests. The study is the latest installment from a team of researchers who have previously studied how fathers impact their daughters’ odds of risky sexual behaviors and the particulars of so called “daddy issues”. But this is the first time scientists have demonstrated that—even when daughters with present dads dwell on memories of how their fathers disappointed them—they may be primed for promiscuity.
“This research underscores an important psychological change — perceiving greater sexual interest among men,” study coauthor Danielle J. DelPriore of the University of Utah said in a statement. “That could increase a woman’s likelihood of engaging in unrestricted or risky sexual behavior in response to growing up with a disengaged father.”
DelPriore and colleagues previously studied the unique affect fathers have on daughters by analyzing sisters from a specific type of broken home—in each case, one sister grew up with an involved father, while the other did not. Results revealed that the girls who were exposed to high-quality fathers were less likely than their sisters to engaged in risky sexual behaviors as teens. This trend holds through other studies, which have repeatedly linked absentee dads to poor relationship outcomes for daughters, including high rates unplanned pregnancy and divorce. There’s an apparent relationship between a dad’s behavior and his daughter’s sexual and social development.
For this new study, DelPriore and colleagues asked a large sample of women to remember a time when their fathers missed an important life event, and then asked them to guess a man’s sexual interest based on either described behaviors, photographs, or interactions with men via video chat. Meanwhile, a control sample of women were asked to remember a time when their fathers were present, or a time when their mothers were absent. Across five trials, the trend held. Women who dwelled on their disappointing dads were more likely to perceive sexual interest from men.
What is most disturbing about this study is that the women who dwelled on their disappointing dads did not necessarily have absentee fathers—just regular dads, who presumably did their jobs well most of the time but missed an important recital. The results suggest that every moment counts, and that the father fails that your daughter internalizes could be cause for long-term concerns. All the more reason to make good memories—or, at least, more good ones than bad ones.