Mother-Daughter Relationship Affects Sexual Behavior in African-American Girls

Strong mother-daughter relationships provide many positive psychological benefits for teen girls. For African-American girls with mental health problems, this relationship may also serve to prevent risky sexual behavior that could lead to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). “Relative to other ethnic groups, African-American girls tend to initiate sex earlier, report higher rates of sexual activity during adolescence, and they account for the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea,” said Erin Emerson of the Department of Psychiatry, Community Outreach Intervention Projects at the University of Illinois. “African-American girls in psychiatric care are at even greater risk because teens with mental health problems report more sexual risk-taking than do their untroubled peers.” Emerson recently led a study to identify what factors would influence sexual activity in this segment of the population. She said, “Guided by a social-personal framework, this study explored three mechanisms that may be associated with sexual behavior among African-American girls in psychiatric care: attachment to mothers, attachment to peers, and perceived peer norms.”

Emerson and her colleagues evaluated 262 African-American teen girls who were receiving outpatient care for mental health problems. Of all the participants, nearly one third had engaged in some form of sexual activity, half before the age of 13. Emerson found that one of the strongest influences on sexual behavior was the relationship between the girls and their mothers. “This study identified two patterns that can guide prevention programs for this at-risk population,” said Emerson. “First, both family (mother– daughter attachment) and peer (peer norms and peer attachment) factors were correlated with self-reported sexual behavior of African-American girls in psychiatric care, and second, mother– daughter attachment patterns helped explain the relationship of peer norms and girls’ risky sex.” She added, “Our results underscore the benefit of strengthening mother– daughter relationships, which may in turn help girls choose peers and romantic partners that engage in healthy, rather than health-compromising behaviors.”

Emerson, E., Donenberg, G. R., & Wilson, H. W. (2011, December 19). Health-Protective Effects of Attachment Among African American Girls in Psychiatric Care. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026352

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  • carmen


    January 3rd, 2012 at 4:42 PM

    Don’t you think that stronger parent/child relationships as a whole lead to delayed sexual activity in young girls? I happen to think that the stronger the relationship is between the child and any meaningful adult in their lives, then the better prepared they are going to be to say no and make better decisions regarding sex. They have to know when they are reay and not when they are simply trying to fill some kind of void in their lives that they do not have when they have not connected with their families.

  • Jenn


    January 4th, 2012 at 1:56 PM

    Those of us who are moms have to realize that our kids mimic and pick up on every single thing that we do. Why would we veer want them to be promiscuous? We don’t except that when they see us behaving in that way then that is exactly what they are going to think that it is ok to be.

  • DB


    January 4th, 2012 at 2:27 PM

    There’s a lot to benefit from any close relationship like this. Not only advice and guidance but just the bonding gives youngsters a lot they can use to help themselves. Active parenting is the need of the hour. Put aside work for once and spend time with your kids and family. It may result in a loss of some money but the bonding is priceless.

  • Andrew


    January 4th, 2012 at 11:17 PM

    a mother’s suposd to be d first teacher.n for a girl a new teacher in adolescence.the right direction from a mother cue potentially save a girl frm risky it’s good to know things like these r goin out to everybody.

  • Josephine


    January 5th, 2012 at 1:58 PM

    This is not exclusive to any one community as I think another reader also pointed out.
    Yes this may have benefits in the african american community but I guarantee that if you study any culture you will find the same results.
    If a child feels like there is strong communication between her and her mom or dad then that kid is bound to make better life decisions as a whole.
    I think that most of us can remember what a comfort it was knowing when we were adolescents that a parent was there are home waiting for us and caring about the things that we were going through. And that that parent could be counted on through thick and thin. Any kid wants that out of life. And every kid is going to benefit from that too.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on