Well, this is embarrassing. You inherit your sex life from mom
A new study reveals that how you conduct your love life reflects how your mother conducted hers
No one likes to think of their parents having sex. Every generation prefers to imagine they invented it themselves, although according to the poet Philip Larkin the precise year of its inception was 1963.
So if your mother came of age before then, it might give you cause for concern. Why? Because researchers have found that children follow their mother’s example when it comes to the number of romantic relationships they have.
In a new study by the University of Ohio, the largest ever of its kind, the children of women who changed partners regularly were found to be likely to follow suit. Those whose mothers favoured long-term relationships, meanwhile, were found to mirror their behaviour, too.
Scientists were unable to explain the reasons for this pattern, detected in analysis of more than 7,000 people above the age of 24. But I can think of one or two. Like it or not, our parents influence a great many of our behaviours. Why should our sexual and romantic behaviour prove the exception?
Evidently, it often does not, and I suppose I am a case in point. In tediously predictable fashion, I copied my mother by getting together in my early 20s with the man I would later marry. Like her, I was pregnant with my first child by the age of 30. I had, during childhood, absorbed the vague idea that these were the ages at which such rites of passage should occur.
My parents never verbally dictated this to me. They didn’t have to. As one psychologist friend says: “We inherit a lot of subconscious values from our parents, so it is not surprising that children follow in their parents’ footsteps in many areas of life, including romantic relationships, marriage and children.”
In other words, our approach to relationships is learned and modelled like many of our other social behaviours. Yet this doesn’t account for the social and cultural changes that occur between each generation.
From the advent of birth control to the advent of Tinder these, after all, have been huge. Another friend says: “I know my mom enjoyed the free love movement in the 60s and 70s. She has commented on how different it is for my generation, worrying about sexually transmitted diseases and using condoms, and has noted how lots of my friends and I have been more monogamous and keener to settle down sooner than her generation were.”
At the same time, the children of more traditional parents are likely to feel more liberated in today’s more permissive environment. “I think I’ve had very different sexual experiences to my mom,” says one friend. “But you can’t look at the situation without acknowledging the entirely different cultural environments in which we were raised. She’s had one sexual partner. I’ve had a few. She was a virgin when she got married. I wasn’t.”
Another agreed: “I believe my mother has only had one sexual partner as she is a very committed Christian.” She herself has had rather more.
Others look at their parents and think “please God, no!” One friend says: “I don’t think my parents have sex any more. They often sleep in different rooms. I’m hoping I won’t be the same.”
Says another: “I’m about 99% certain my mom hasn’t had sex or a relationship in the last 35 years.” That is certainly not true of the daughter.
Other members of my generation mention differences between their approach to sex and relationships and that of their siblings. That raises further questions about romantic determinism, if we might call it that.
One answer might lie in other parts of our psychological makeup. Among the 25 or so women in their 30s with whom I discussed the subject, those who admitted to having far exceeded their mothers’ likely number of sexual partners commonly attribute their behaviour to low self-esteem.
“I do carry shame about my 20s,” says one. “I wish I had valued myself a bit more.”
Another added: “I’ve probably slept with some people I didn’t like that much for validation and to feel better about myself. I’d like my daughter to have more self-esteem than that.”
What most agree on, however, is that they don’t know exactly how many partners their mothers have had (in cases where it was more than one), and absolutely wouldn’t want to ask. Because, while we’re more than happy to share details of our sex lives with our friends, it still remains taboo among families: a subject shrouded in respectful – or maybe disgusted – silence.
So is there any lesson to be drawn from all of this? To be conscious, perhaps, of what kind of ideas we’re implanting in our children when it comes to sex and relationships.
As Dr Erika Schwartz wrote in her recent book, The Intimacy Solution: Life Lessons in Sex and Love: “How mom and dad related and possibly still do relate to each other sexually and in their relationship profoundly affects how people perceive love, intimacy and sex as they enter their teen years and the next phases of their lives.”
And she offers this word of advice: “Just look back at your own childhood and see what message your parents gave you. Then think some more and decide what message you want to give to your own children.”
- © Telegraph Media Group Limited
Happily, given the burgeoning acceptance of the whole range of sexual and relationship preferences, the next generation may well turn out to be the most liberated yet.
A recent newspaper article on polyamory quoted someone who identified as “a heteroflexible pansexual solo polyamorous relationship anarchist”. While I haven’t a clue what this means, by the time my children come of age, it could be as mundane as saying you prefer blondes.
As for my generation, we’re getting there, I think. “When it comes to my daughter, I hope she has at least as many sexual partners as me, if not more,” says one friend.
“Sex is a wonderful thing. I would want her to experience it in different ways so she can make an informed decision about what she wants out of her sex life.”
– © The Daily Telegraph