National Post

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Thursday, July 08, 1999

Daughters need fatherly support: sexual study

Tom Arnold
National Post

Canadian scholars investigating the impact of fatherly support on the emotional and sexual development of daughters have found that attention and affirmation from dads makes daughters less fearful of intimacy and more comfortable with their own sexuality, but has no direct impact on their later ability to achieve sexual gratification.

A study of female students at St. Jerome's University, a Roman Catholic publicly funded academic institution in Southwestern Ontario, federated with the University of Waterloo, measured their perceptions of their father's unconditional, positive regard for them, his feelings about their mother, as well as their own self-esteem, views on intimate relationships, comfort with womanhood and sexuality.

The research concludes that the impact of fathers on the emotional, social and sexual development of their daughters is very significant.

The topic of normal father-daughter relations has been the subject of little scientific research. Of all family ties, the father-daughter relationship is considered the least understood.

The findings, compiled by Peter Naus, a now-retired psychology professor, and Tanya Scheffler, at the time of the study a researcher working on her thesis, are published in the current issue of The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality.

Women's comfort or discomfort with their sexual experiences is related to their perceived affirmation by their fathers, the findings suggest. It concludes the two "go hand in hand." Still, in one of the study's most provocative tests -- on one's ability to consistently reach orgasm during sexual relations -- it concludes that "women who feel affirmed by their father were not more likely to indicate that they reached orgasm consistently in sexual interactions."

"If anything, this study shows the importance of the role of the father in the psychosexual development in women," Dr. Naus, a social psychologist who specializes in human sexuality, said in an interview. "Where the father has been looked at and studied in recent years is as an abuser. I think there is a lot more to say about the role of the father than within the specific context of abuse."

Fifty-seven female university students, aged 20 to 24, completed exhaustive questionnaires on a host of topics for the study.

The authors speculate that fathers who withdraw from their daughters as they enter puberty -- no longer playing sports with them or showing physical affection toward them -- may cause their children to grow up feeling uncomfortable with their sense of themselves as women and with their sexuality.

The study also found that women who perceived their fathers as being warm and supportive have higher self-esteem and are less fearful of intimate relationships. Fathers who are intimidating or distant, aloof and avoid intimacy, engender insecurity and a fear of emotional and sexual closeness in their children, it concluded. Previous research has found that unconditional regard and support from mothers is only weakly related to the self-esteem of their daughters.

"Being affirmed by one's father is associated with feeling good about one's self, being less afraid of close relationships and being more at ease with one's sexuality," Dr. Naus said of his research findings.

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