Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 6, Feb. 3, 2003


Sexual and Non-Sexual Intimacy in Romantic Relationships during Late Adolescence: the Role of the Mother-Daughter Relationship

Jocelyne Thériault, Ph.D.
Department of Sexology,
Université du Québec à Montréal, C.P. 8888,
succ. Centre-Ville, Montréal, Québec, Canada H3C 3P8

Previously presented at the 44th Annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality,  November 8, 2002


Late adolescents are preoccupied with romantic relationships (Collins & Sroufe, 1999; Furhman & Wehnner, 1999; Winstead & Darlega, 1997). Since intimacy with a romantic partner during late adolescence influences the course of future relationships (Erikson, 1968, Feiring, 1999), it is vital to explore what influences this intimacy.

Theory and research point out that the nature of family relationships during childhood and adolescence are important variables influencing the development of the capacity for intimacy with a romantic partner (Allison & Sabatelli, 1988; Bowlby, 1969; Cooper & Grotevant, 1987; Feldman et al., 1998; Gray, 2001; Hazan & Shaver, 1987). A gender specific link has been found between family relationships and romantic intimacy (Cooper & Grotevant, 1987) :
For females, separateness from parents is related to greater romantic commitment.
For males, it is connectedness to parents that is important

Considering that there is significant within-gender variation in relational competence(1), it is important to explore, more closely, the link between family relationships and romantic intimacy separately for each gender.


This study was conducted to determine :

1) whether separateness in mother-daughter interaction is related to sexual intimacy as well as to non-sexual intimacy in romantic relationships.

2) whether mother-daughter interaction significantly explains romantic intimacy in late adolescent women while taking into account other individual variables such as pubertal timing and current relationship status.


Validated measure of Sexual and Non-sexual Intimacy in romantic relationship was:

The Personal Assessment of Intimacy (PAIR-M: Thériault, 1998) is a validated, self-report questionnaire (23 items), which explores how individuals view themselves, in general, in intimate interactions with a romantic partner. It assesses two dimensions of intimacy: Sexual Intimacy and Non-Sexual Intimacy. Sexual intimacy refers to the person's sense of competency to self disclose, be verbally responsive and be non-verbally involved with the romantic partner in private sexual interactions. Non-sexual intimacy refers to the person's sense of competency in private non-sexual interactions. High scores on Sexual or Non-sexual Intimacy refer to greater distance from Intimacy.

Validated measure of Mother-Daughter interactions was :

The Competence in Mother-Adolescent Relationships Questionnaire (ICQ-M: Thériault, 1997) is a validated self-report questionnaire used in the adolescent and young adult population. It assesses four areas of the adolescent's interpersonal competence in mother-adolescent relationship: Conflict Management, Negative assertion, Self-Disclosure and Emotional Support. The two first ICQ-M subscales are combined to create a general score of separateness from the mother. The two last one are combined to create a general score of connectedness with the mother.

Assessment of 10 other Variables:

Pubertal Status; Current romantic relationship status; Past romantic relationships; Body image status; Residential status; Age; Sex; Education; Nationality and Sexual orientation. A socio-demographic questionnaire assessed these variables


1) A significant negative correlation (r Pearson p.<05) is observed between ICQM-separateness and PAIR-MF2 (Sexual Intimacy), but none is observed between ICQM separateness and PAIR-MF1 (Non-Sexual Intimacy). That is, separateness in mother-daughter interactions is related to Sexual Intimacy with a romantic partner, but not to Non-Sexual Intimacy with the romantic partner

Table 1. Pearson Correlation Coefficients

2) When a stepwise multiple regression (entry=5% stay=5%) for each of the PAIR-M factors (PAIRF1 and PAIRF2 as dependent variables) and the 14 variables extracted from the general questionnaire (including the 4 factors of the ICQM questionnaire)(2)  is conducted, we see that:
1. Separateness in mother-daughter interaction (ICQM-NA), in spite of its low correlation with PAIRF1, increases significantly the variance accounted for PAIRF1 (Non-Sexual Intimacy) (p<.05) when the pubertal status (PUBSTAT) and the relational status variables (STATREL) are controled (see table 2).
2. In addition, separateness in mother-daughter interaction (ICQM-NA) is directly correlated to PAIRF2 (Sexual Intimacy) (p. <.05)(see table 3).

Table 2: Stepwise Multiple Regression:

PAIRF1 (Non-Sexual Intimacy with a romantic partner)

Final model (number of steps= 3)(n=98)

Variable B SE B ß sr2
Intercept 21.0 2.05
STATREL 4.58 1.19 0.35** 0.11
PUBESTAT 1 -4.03 1.34 -0.32** 0.07
PUBESTAT2 -5.41 1.47 -0.39** 0.10
ICQM_NA -0.15 0.07 -0.19* 0.03
Note. R2 = 0.30 ; Adj R2 = 0.27, R = 0.54**; **p < .01, *p < .05; Unique variability: 0.31;
Pubestat1 = difference between ON TIME and EARLY;
Pubestat2 = difference between LATE and EARLY

Table 3: Stepwise Multiple Regression:

PAIRF2(Sexual Intimacy with a romantic partner)

Final model (1 step)(n=98)PAIRF2 (n=99)

Variable B SE B ß
Intercept 10.18 1.25
ICQM-NA -0.11 0.05 -0.23*
Note. R2 = 0.05 ; Adj R2 = 0.04, R = 0.47*; **p < .01, *p < .05;


These findings indicate that the nature of mother-daughter interaction has an important effect on the daughter's capacity to be sexually and non-sexually intimate with her romantic partner.

More specifically, they demonstrate:
I- Separateness in mother-daughter interactions has an effect on different dimensions of romantic intimacy, including sexual intimacy.  Indeed, the stepwise analyses show that late adolescent women who assert themselves and express differences between themselves and their mothers (ICQM-Negative Assertion) are less fearful of sexual intimacy and non-sexual intimacy with their romantic partner than their peers who are less assertive with their mothers. These findings extend previous research which has shown that, for females, separateness in family interactions is associated with general commitment in dating relationships (Cooper & Grotevant, 1987; Feldman et al., 1998).

II- The link between family and romantic intimacy is maintained while taking into account other individual variables. For example, stepwise analyses show that separateness in mother-daughter relationships is contributing specifically to Non-Sexual Intimacy with the romantic partner when the current romantic relationship status and the pubertal status variables are controlled. These findings brings new light on existing data exploring the link between family relationships and romantic intimacy.

III- These results lead to an emergent finding: pubertal status contributes specifically to romantic intimacy when the mother-daughter interactions and the romantic relational status variables are controlled. More specifically, everything being equal, the young woman who reach puberty either on time or late are significantly less fearful of Intimacy with their partner than their peers who reach their puberty early.

IV- These findings broaden previously held views about gender and intimacy.

V- The role of pubertal sexual development and current relationship status as mediating variables between family relationship and romantic intimacy merits more study


The author acknowledges the University du Quebec à Montréal for funding this research.


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1.  although, in general, between genders, females experience greater intimacy in romantic relationships than males

2.  For the body status, pubertal status, and past romantic relationships variables, indicator variables were used instead of allocated codes. Categories with small membership was combined with adjacent categories. Each explanatory variable with more than one indicator variable was incorporated in a group, variables in the same group were entered into or removed from the regression model at the same time.

Edited 2/13/03

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