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managing attraction to teen daughter

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Dear Jean:
I am a 26 year old father/step-father. I have been
BACK TO TOPIC MENUmarried to my awesome wife for almost three years now. I have 2 step daughters. We also have a son who is 21 months now. I guess I'll just get to my problem. About 18 months ago my oldest step daughter began puberty, and has since grown into a beautiful young lady. But to my embarrassment I now feel a certain sexual attraction toward her. I want to make it clear that in no way is this attraction like that I have with my wife, but rather more like the attraction one would have when on line at the grocery store and noticing a scantily clad woman on a magazine cover. I don't know if that makes any sense. Anyway, it has affected our relationship. I feel more awkward around her (internally), and things like hugs are non existent. I also think it has affected my reaction to some of her fashion decisions. I have become increasingly conservative, and she is becoming increasingly frustrated with me over it. My wife recently told me she feels I am more "tolerant" and less "nurturing" toward her, and wanted to have a conversation about it. No way was I going to tell my wife "well honey, I find our daughter sexually attractive, and that makes me uncomfortable!"

I love my wife, and value our entire family dynamic. I just want to feel "normal" around all of my family! I want to help my step daughters grow into the best, most well rounded women that they can be!

Do you have any advice that might be of help to me? Thank you for your time and your site.

Jean responds:

Thanks for writing to

A certain amount of sexual attraction between fathers and teenage daughters IS normal--even between biological fathers/daughters, and being a stepfather can only, it seems to me, increase the possibility that such feelings will be there. I treat women who were essentially "abandoned" by their fathers when they hit adolescence because the fathers couldn't handle their own sexual attraction. This makes the girls feel like there's something wrong with them, especially something wrong with their increasing sexuality.

What should happen in a normal relationship is that the father's attraction to the daughter gets "converted" into protective, admiring, supportive feelings that she will then carry over into adulthood and expect to be forthcoming, as she should, from whatever male she may bond with.

It seems to me that you do need to let your wife know what's going on, but I get it that you're afraid she'll freak out. How about making an appointment with the family doctor, or a counselor, taking this email along with you, and see if the two of you can come to terms and discuss this rationally.

You're not bad for experiencing this attraction, the point is to manage the feelings in a constructive way. Frontal hugs may be too difficult, but sideways hugs can be very warm and nurturing, and kissing on the cheek can replace kissing anywhere near the mouth. Try to get rational about her clothes choices: there may be a line between something that shows off her figure but is, basically, attractive and appropriate, and something that seems to "go too far." Ask your wife for advice if you're having trouble finding that line.

The boundaries are delicate, and you need to find and respect them. But I'd rather see a father struggling with these issues openly (openly with yourself and your wife; I don't think you need to share them openly with your daughter), than denying he even has these feelings and taking them out on the daughter by abandoning her during her adolescence because he's afraid he'll act out otherwise!

Your wife and the doctor or counselor can help you find the right words to say to the daughter if she comes for a frontal hug or expects more physical affection than you can comfortably supply.

A good book for you might be, "Dads and Daughters"; a review of the book indicates that "dads may have a harder time with daughters than mothers have raising sons. The teen years are especially trying for dads because of sexual issues, and Kelly [the author of the book] expertly shows readers how to deal with them. Rather than stamp out girls' libidos, he argues, parents must help daughters recognize them. In an age of boundaries and abuse, he delineates the differences between nourishing touch and physical abuse."

Hope this helps a little.


Disclaimer: Ms. Walbridge's response to your question is BACK TO TOPIC MENUintended to be educational and informative. It is not a substitute for face to face consultation or psychotherapy with a mental health professional.

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