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The Importance of Sisters: When the Sister Becomes the Dating Expert

Do sisters know best? In some cases, they may. A new study by the University of Missouri finds that older sisters can play a key role in hosting open, honest conversations about dating and sexuality.

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Study finds sisterly conversations promote healthier relationships.

The study built upon previous research that identified siblings as an important source of information for topics like personal issues and academics, says lead author Sarah Killoren, associate professor of human development and family science at the University of Missouri. During the study, more than 60 pairs of teens—with an average age of 19 for the older sister and 14 for the younger—participated in conversations on sex and dating.

The research found that older sisters sharing their experiences in one-on-one conversations helped promote healthy relationships for the younger teen. Older sisters used their own backgrounds to explain the importance of things such as self-care, the risks of unprotected sex and abusive relationships, and the importance of maintaining friendships even when in a relationship.

Sisters, sharing a lifelong bond, may be more honest with each other than they are with friends. For example, a teenager may be more willing to share a hesitancy about a situation or romantic partner with her sister, whereas she may worry about telling a friend for fear of alienating the friend.

How can parents encourage a talk like this between sisters? It’s likely to flow naturally in an environment where open communication is promoted, says Killoren. “Let your teens know that there is no taboo topic,” she says.

If your daughter doesn’t have an older sister, you can be the one to help propel the conversation, she says. “An only or older sibling is going to consider their parent as influential, while a younger sibling will be more likely to look to an older one.”

Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, and mom of three teen boys. Read more about Cathie at

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