During the summer of 2021, Wellesley College student Jacqueline Brinkhaus ’22 worked with Senior Research Scientist Jennifer Grossman, Ph.D., to study how fathers talk with their teenage children about dating, sex, and relationships. Her internship was supported by the Joan Freed Kahn '51 Service Program Service Opportunity Stipend through Wellesley College Career Education.

In this video, Jacqueline shares insights from the research and discusses how this opportunity shaped the way she thinks about sexual health. The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

About the research project and Jacqueline’s role with it:

For the past three months, I've been working with Dr. Grossman on one of her current research projects, exploring father-teen communication about dating, relationships, and sex. Earlier this year, her team conducted 43 interviews with fathers, 22 interviews with teens, and 16 with the second parent. With that data, the study aims to find trends in father-teen communication, and also gauge interests in a potential intervention program specific to fathers.

I've been fortunate to assist Dr. Grossman and her team with a variety of roles this summer. I quantitatively analyzed questions about how comfortable fathers are talking to their teens about dating, sex, and relationships, how often they talk to their teens, and how interested they would be in a potential intervention program. I also qualitatively analyzed the 43 father interviews. And for the last month of my internship, I created my own project off of one of the trends I discovered in my data analysis. I explored whether fathers discussed dating, relationships, or sex with their parents and whether that discourse impacts how they communicate with their teens today.

Findings from the project:

I've been amazed by how many trends I could really pull out of 43 interviews. During my initial analysis, I focused on trends related to STIs, condoms, teen pregnancy, sexual orientation, healthy and unhealthy relationships, culture and religious values related to sex, and indirect talk. I found it interesting that there were so many patterns between these foundational topics. For example, often when fathers discussed STIs, they also discussed condoms and protection, teen pregnancy, and safety in general. And outside these themes, I was pleasantly surprised by how many fathers talked about healthy and unhealthy relationships in their discourse, both about dating and sex.

I also found that many fathers emphasized the role of current cultural trends, social media, and the internet in their discourse with their teens. And some of these fathers even mentioned those as specific topics they hope to focus on in intervention programs.

In my independent analysis of the data, I found that the majority of fathers did not discuss dating, sex, or relationships with their parents. Yet, most fathers found that whether they talked with their parents or not, their own experiences impact how they speak with their teens. Many fathers share or want to share their past experiences with their teens and some do so in the hope of "breaking generational curses," which I find to be very powerful.

The importance of this research:

This research is not only important but vital to the fields of sexual education and health education. Fathers are often left out of conversations about teen sexual health, and this project has shown me that fathers have a unique perspective to bring to the table.

What Jacqueline gained from this experience:

My experience at the Wellesley Centers for Women has been truly transformative. Over the years, both through academic pursuits, my personal life, and working with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center and Sexual Assault Awareness for Everyone, I have developed four main research interests: ADHD and women, trauma and PTSD, holistic health education, and interpersonal violence prevention. And this summer, working with Dr. Grossman helped me find the intersection of my research interests and how working in the field of health and wellness education encapsulates all my passions.

Personally, this experience gave me a lot of confidence in my research skills, my ability to ask and respond to constructive criticism and use my past experiences to bring a nuanced perspective to the research. As a first-generation low-income student, this experience meant a lot to me, and I'm glad I was able to work with the WCW during my time at Wellesley.

October 13, 2021

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