By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

OTTAWA, October 30, 2009 ( – A new study by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) suggests that parental influence over teenage sexual behavior begins during childhood, and that parental attitudes and behaviors significantly influence sexual choices in the teen years.

Research by IMFC's Dr. Frank Jones, based on Statistics Canada data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth which compared responses from parents and their children age six to eleven and then again eight years later as teens, found that parental lifestyle choices influence children's future sexual activity.

The data reveals that 39.9 per cent of teens age 14 to 19 have had consensual sexual intercourse, which differentiated by gender is 41.6 per cent of girls and 38.1 percent of boys.

“Considering the risk of disease, unexpected pregnancy and emotional upheaval, most parents would prefer their teens delay sexual activity,” said Peter Jon Mitchell, Research Analyst with the IMFC.

The study looked at four aspects of parental lifestyle that deeply influence teens' perception of themselves and the consequent risks they are willing to take as they grow to adulthood.

Looking at parental substance abuse, the study found that children of parents who drank to excess two or more times a year were more likely to be sexually active as teens. This was particularly true for girls who were 38 per cent more likely to be sexually active than the national average. Similarly, children of smokers were 22 per cent more likely to be sexually active as teens.

Previous studies have suggested teen sexual activity is often accompanied by drug and alcohol use, and teens often take their cues on substance use from their parents.

The study found that strong relationships between parents and children act a protective factor against risk behaviors. Boys and girls who reported having a close relationship with their father were less likely to be sexually active as teens.

“A large body of research reveals that a parenting style that is warm, communicative, supportive, and involves supervision and setting limits, protects teens against risk behaviour, and helps young people develop into healthy, autonomous adults,” the report states.

The aspect of community involvement by parents, especially commitment to a faith community or ethnic community, was found to shape a child's future sexual activity.

Parents who were devoted to volunteerism and attended weekly worship with their children were correlated with having teens who were 40 per cent less likely to be sexually active compared to the national average. Boys who attended weekly worship during childhood were 29 per cent less likely to be sexually active in their teen years, while girls who worshiped weekly during childhood were 22 per cent less likely to be sexually active as teens.

The research finally focused on family structure. Married biological parents have been called “the gold standard for insuring optimal outcomes in a child's development,” by Rutgers sociologist David Popenoe.

“When our analysis held other factors constant, living with two biological parents, rather than one, influenced a decreased likelihood of sexual activity,” the report said.

“Strong correlations between teen sexual behavior and growing up with common-law parents were observed among boys, while correlations between sexual activity and growing up in divorced or separated homes were observed among girls.”

The report concludes with the encouraging proposition that “While it may seem daunting to see correlations between family behaviors years ago and sexual activity in your children today-the news is positive. Teens do listen and want to listen to their parents, as indicated by the surveys and polls.”

The full text of the IMFC research report is available here.