According to a study published in Paediatrics magazine, women and girls who have closer relationships with their mothers are likely to lose their virginity later in life. Of the 3,000 women questioned, 44 per cent who reported having a ‘high quality relationship’ with their mothers also reported having sex for the first time after the age of 16.
The obvious explanation is that having a healthy mother-daughter relationship gives you a stronger start in life. A parent who educates their child about sex, in an open and honest way, has been proven over and over again to have more sexually secure children.
Sex therapist Vanessa Marin explains: “This study is yet another piece of proof that it’s important for parents to talk to their children about sex and sexuality throughout a child’s entire life. There are age appropriate ways to talk about sex at every stage of a child’s development. The more information a child has the better prepared they are to make healthy designs for themselves.”
Anecdotally, the evidence certainly seems to stack up. When I asked friends, their answers seemed to echo my experiences: those who weren’t particularly rebellious waited until they had left school or even until after university for their first sexual experiences. While those who had screaming rows with their mums, did it earlier. After all, having sex is the ultimate two fingers up to your parents, right?
Stephanie, 24, told me: ‘I was 14 when I lose my virginity, and I wasn’t very close to my mum. We certainly clashed a lot in my teens. I’m not entirely sure about the connection but I think there was an aspect of misbehaving. Also, from a young age most of my closest and most trusting relationships were outside of my family, which made me feel very grown-up and independent. Looking back, I see a very vulnerable and silly girl – though I don’t especially regret when I started having sex.’
Emancipation is a big deal for teens. Whether they’re dying their hair pink, getting forbidden piercings or having sex – the motivation is largely the same. Its about distancing oneself from childhood and pushing parental boundaries.
It’s no surprise, then, that if you’re not close to your mother the temptation to take that road would come earlier.
That process of emancipation has been heralded as a bad thing. Being a ‘wild child’ is something to worry about – a sign that parenting has gone wrong. That you’ve failed.
But is that really the case? We’re concerned for teens who experiment with sex or alcohol, but is it really any healthier to cling on to your childhood?
Alexandra, 32, told me that she lost her virginity aged 23. “As the youngest child of the family, I think that my relationship with my mum was a big part of why I lost my virginity relatively late. I didn’t want to make her sad by ‘growing up’. I really think that was a huge issue for me.
“It wasn’t that I thought it would disappoint her morally, but that I was somehow worried it would break our bond. It felt like [by having sex] I was bringing about change and getting closer to growing up and apart from her.”
Alexandra’s experience was as a result of a close and happy relationship with her mum, but a deep connection between mothers and daughters isn’t always positive.
“I grew up very close to my mother,” Emma, 31, told me. ” She taught me that sex was a special, sacred thing between a man and woman who loved each other. She also taught me that a certain type of woman has multiple sexual partners, and that those women would probably end up in hell. She taught me and my sisters that sex was something that women had done to them by men.
“So I waited to have sex until I was engaged, and even then I felt like I’d failed her. We’re still close, but if I’m honest, I resent the way that she treated sex. It made me lose my virginity later, but it didn’t make me happy.”
In researching this article, I had a moment of clarity about my own experience. My mother took a prosaic attitude towards teenage sex, keeping the lines of communication open and regularly offering me contraceptive options. But I didn’t start having sex until I was almost 19.
Why did I wait? I saw losing my virginity as an ending – severing my attachment to being a child and taking me away from my mother.
I have written before about how harmful the concept of ‘virginity’ is. But this article is the first time that I’ve really questioned how the concept affected me personally.
Years later, I now know that ‘losing your virginity’ is no bigger milestone than, say, finishing your university degree or taking your first solo trip abroad. Yes, it’s an exciting new experience, but it’s not a ‘loss’ of anything. It’s just having tried something new for the first time. Looking back, I feel angry on behalf of my teenage self who was so scared that by giving in to perfectly natural instincts she would be forfeiting her maternal relationship.
Women who are closer to their mums may well have sex later in life. But it doesn’t add up to having got it right – anymore than having a daughter who had sex in her early teens means you’ve got it wrong.
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