College students may be notorious for having casual sex, but a recent study found that one group in particular is more likely to have “one night stands” than the rest: Children of absent fathers. Though some might think a father’s influence stops after childhood, these findings suggest otherwise.

It’s long been believed that young girls who have absent or rocky relationships with their fathers grow up to be more promiscuous, but researchers from the University of Redlands in California decided to test just how much a relationship (or lack thereof) with a father can affect both men’s and women’s sex lives. The team recruited 344 undergraduate students (92 men and 247 women) from psychology courses at two private universities and had them complete an online survey that asked questions about their relationship with their fathers and other adults in their early childhood, as well as their sexual history. All the participants were between the ages of 17 and 40 and consisted of all ethnicities.

Results revealed that although there was no correlation between an absent father and the total number of sexual partners the students had in their lifetimes, the children without fathers seemed to have more casual sex than those from more stable family backgrounds. The earlier the students were no longer living with their biological father, the greater the number of one-night stands they had. Interestingly, this trend was seen among both men and women, although overall, male students tended to have more one-night stands than women.

Researchers speculate this correlation between absent fathers and risky sexual behavior has to do with something known as the Life History Theory. According to this psychology hypothesis, early experiences shape a person’s perspective on everything for the rest of their life. Factors affecting early childhood relationships, such as how long their parents stayed together and the parents’ relationship with the child, could set expectations for their adult relationships and sex lives.

Those faced with stressful parental relationships, wrought with marital discord and scarce resources, may develop a “fast life” lifestyle that includes “insecure attachment, early maturation, early sexual activity, and an emphasis on short-term mating and low parental investment,” the study reads. On the other hands, those with a “slow life” history, who were exposed to adequate resources, positive marital relations, and sensitive parenting, were more likely to take the route of secure attachment, delayed maturation, and delayed and restricted sexual activity.

Even if the theory were proven true, it does not mean that every child with an absent father is destined for a life of risky sex. However, the study results do suggest that a father’s role in a child’s life extends farther than insemination and the provision of resources. According to the study, a father also plays a role in a child’s physical development, as girls with absent fathers can have an earlier onset of puberty than those with present fathers.

In addition, consistent evidence has shown that children of involved fathers are more likely to show cognitive competence and educational success than those of absent fathers. They are also more likely to enjoy school and take part in extracurricular activities.

Source:Salmon C, Townsend JM, Hehman J. Casual Sex and College Students: Sex Differences and the Impact of Father Absence. Evolutionary Psychological Science. 2016