Dads Kill Porn
By Tim Rarick, PhD
One evening about two years ago, my family and I were enjoying a delicious dinner at home together when my then 8-year-old daughter, blurted out, “What’s porn?”
My wife and I have four children, and this child is number three of the four. Her older sister (age 10 at the time) turned to me in surprise and anticipation of how I was going to respond. My son (age 13 at the time) practically choked on his food.
My first thought was that she had heard about “porn” at school, or worse yet—online. Then I realized that she was staring at my Fight the New Drug “Porn Kills Love” t-shirt. Two things quickly became apparent to me at that moment.
*In a Fight the New Drug video, the narrator asks “when was the last time you had a dinner conversation about the good old topic of porn? Yeah, it just doesn’t happen right?” I realized that it actually happens in my home!
*The other realization was that I had not spoken with this daughter about pornography. We had discussed intimacy, anatomy, and other related topics in a developmentally appropriate way. But not pornography.
Do Daddy-Daughter Relationships Matter?
You are probably wondering at this point how my wife and I responded. I’ll get to that in a moment. But I want to pose a different scenario for you. What if my wife were wearing the t-shirt (she does own one) and I wasn’t around? What if I were too busy with work or hobbies? Or worse yet, what if I had simply left after my daughter was born? In short, if my daughter were like the nearly 20 million children in the United States growing up without a father in the home, would my wife’s answer suffice? The answer is both yes and no.
Let’s ask the question in a different way: Does a father offer a unique contribution to his child’s sexual, romantic, and moral development?
All of the scientific evidence appears to answer a resounding: “YES!”
Dad’s Bit of Magic
Dr. Vaheshta Sethna claims that “even good mothering, for all its many benefits, [isn’t] a substitute for dad’s added bit of magic” (Sethna et al., 2017). Here is a sample of the research illustrating some of that magic:
- The earlier father absence occurs, the earlier onset of puberty (Culpin et al., 2014)
- Greater father-daughter warmth and cohesion predicts later pubertal development (Ellis, 2004) (Chisholm et al., 2005)
- Better marital quality is associated with later pubertal development in daughters (Ellis, 2004)
- Father absence after puberty increases risky sexual behaviors and teen pregnancy (Alvergne, Faurie, & Raymond, 2008)
In sum, a dad’s warmth and consistent presence appear to have a protective impact on his daughter’s sexual development and activity. Conversely, a fatherless daughter may experience sexual development that can far outpace her emotional, social, and neurological development.
To make matters worse, our over-sexualized (i.e. pornography) culture offers a terrible roadmap for navigating such sexual and emotional drives. But that is not all! We dads have an enormous impact on our daughter’s self-esteem, body image, and romantic relationships with men (Sarkadi et al., 2008). (Just think about how all of those areas are related!)
Professor Linda Nielsen summarized this in one profound declaration:
“The father has the greater impact on the daughter’s ability to trust, enjoy, and relate well to the males in her life.”
An Unhealthy Substitute for the Fatherlessness
I recently conducted a qualitative review of the stories of many women who call themselves “survivors” of the porn industry—women who, for many years, helped create sexually explicit material and have since managed to walk away. It was striking to see that the vast majority of these women come from father-abusive or father-absent homes. Most spoke of the love and attention they had always wanted from men and felt they finally had found it in “performing” for men. Now, these are some of the more extreme examples; even so, several studies have discovered there is an empty spot in a girls heart made for dad, and when he or other positive father-figures do not fill it, she is likely to go to other sources of connection and intimacy to fill it for her (Weisfeld & Woodward, 2004).
So, does this mean that moms don’t have an impact on her daughter’s understanding of boys, sex, or intimacy? Absolutely not! Mothering and fathering are like a well-balanced meal where each offers essential but different nutrients for healthy social, physical, cognitive, and relationship development. (Popenoe, 1999). And if you are a single parent—mother or father—raising a daughter, be assured that these studies aren’t giving an inevitable life sentence to your daughter. But it is important to be aware of this information in order to be better prepared to address any potential issues or deficits.
Still, this is a Father’s Day article after all, and in our world today, father’s are often viewed and portrayed as the inferior, optional parent which is certainly not the case!
Advice for Dads
Let’s bring this back to answering my daughter’s question. What is porn? How can my daughter really understand any answer my wife and I give if she has never felt real love, true connection, and healthy intimacy from my wife and me? My answer at the dinner table won’t matter all that much if I’m lacking any of the following:
- Integrity, authenticity, and unconditional love
- A healthy relationship with my wife in public and private
- A strong connection and relationship with my daughter
- An ability to listen to others and recognize my own shortcomings
- Developmentally appropriate and evidenced-based information such as 30 Days of Sex Talks that can enable a dialogue rather than simply “the talk”
Dads, let’s be more proactive about addressing these sensitive issues. Plan and go on daddy-daughter dates. Hug your daughters. Tell her about your hopes, dreams, and fears and listen to hers. Overcome any pride or awkwardness to equip your girls with the best chance to form healthy relationships with boys and men. Studies have found that not only is it moms who are most likely that talk with their daughters about sex and intimacy, but that daughters wish their dads made more of an effort (Nielsen, 2014).
John Mayer may have said it best:
“Fathers, be good to your daughters,
“Daughters will love like you do.”
If you are a single mom, of course, you still can be a safe and effective source of all things related to intimacy, sex, and pornography. You can find other ways to give your daughters positive male role models.
Men, if you’re invited by a single mom to participate as a role model for her daughter, you should be honored by that trust. Know that you can make a real, positive difference. I personally know a woman who was beaten and abandoned by her father when she was young. She hated men growing up. One day she met a good man at a local church who became the father-figure she always needed. Gradually, her heart changed and today she is married to a wonderful committed husband. While she may have made these changes on her own, her path toward healing and wholeness was certainly smoothed and aided by this man’s encouragement and kindness in her life.
This fathers day, let’s remember and encourage the unique power that fathers can wield for their girls. Porn may kill love; but a loving, informed father can kill porn…and sexual exploitation.
For more conversations that you can have with your daughter see our new book Conversations With My Kids: 30 Essential Family Discussions for the Digital Age. There you will find help with essential conversations that will help your child grow and bloom into a great and informed person.
Tim Rarick, Ph.D. is a professor in Family Studies & Child Development at BYU-Idaho and an EEK board member. He has spoken on family-related topics in Asia, Central America, Europe, all over the U.S., and 8 times on the topic of father-daughter relationships at the United Nations in New York City.
Dr. Rarick and his wife have been married for 19 years and have one son and three daughters.
Alvergne, A., Faurie, C., & Raymond, M. (2008). Developmental plasticity of human reproductive development: Effects of early family environment in modern-day France. Physiology &
Behavior, 95(5), 625-632.
Chisholm, J. S., Quinlivan, J. A., Petersen, R. W., & Coall, D. A. (2005). Early stress predicts age at menarche and first birth, adult attachment, and expected lifespan. Human Nature, 16(3),
Culpin, I., Heron, J., Araya, R., Melotti, R., Lewis, G., & Joinson, C. (2014). Father absence and timing of menarche in adolescent girls from a UK cohort: The mediating role of maternal depression and major financial problems. Journal of Adolescence, 37(3), 291-301.
Ellis, B. J. (2004). Timing of Pubertal Maturation in Girls: An Integrated Life History Approach. Psychological Bulletin, 130(6), 920-958.
Nielsen, L. (2014). Young Adult Daughters’ Relationships With Their Fathers: Review of Recent Research. Marriage & Family Review, 50(4), 360-372.
Popenoe, D. (1999). Life without father: Compelling new evidence that fatherhood and marriage are indispensable for the good of children and society. Kessler.
Sarkadi, A., Kristiansson, R., Oberklaid, F., & Bremberg, S. (2008). Fathers’ involvement and children’s developmental outcomes: A systematic review of longitudinal studies. Acta
Paediatrica, 97(2), 153-158.
Sethna, V., Perry, E., Domoney, J., Iles, J., Psychogiou, L., Rowbotham, N. E., (2017). Father-Child Interactions At 3 Months And 24 Months: Contributions To Children’s Cognitive
Development At 24 Months. Infant Mental Health Journal, 38(3), 378-390.
Weisfeld, G. E., & Woodward, L. (2004). Current Evolutionary Perspectives on Adolescent Romantic Relations and Sexuality. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent