Single mother families are families that comprise of one or more children and a mother as head of the households. Most of single mother families are built on a foundation of loss of a relationship or loss of a dream they had for the future. They are commonly the result of reasons that fall under three categories which are the divorced, the widowed and the never married (Knox & Schacht, 2010). The never married category is the focus of this study. Some single mothers live alone with their children, others live with their parents and others have a significant adult in their homes together with their children. Other single mother families also have a network of supportive family and friends but others are relatively isolated (Anderson, as cited in Walsh, 2012). Anderson states that in certain circumstances, some have material and child care support from the father and others do not have that. It is contended that these single mothers ‘socioeconomic and psychological characteristics, the reasons for single parenthood, the amount of social and cultural support, all play a role in their parenting quality and the psychological health and development of their children (Anderson, as cited in Walsh, 2012).
Growing up in the presence and absence of another parent is critical for adolescents to learn the successful navigation of different areas in their lives (Garrett-Akinsanya, 2011). According to Garrett-Akinsanya (2011), women raised by single mothers often experience challenges because they lack the presence of a father. Furthermore, psychological studies on the impact of fathers on the biological and emotional development of female adolescents concluded that there is compelling evidence that girls need a father figure in their lives (Chrysalis & Wright, 2010; Hall, 2009; Hognas & Carlson, 2010; East, Jackson & O’Brien, 2007). In support of the above findings, the relationship between a father and a daughter was found to be important at social, mental, physical and emotional levels (Goossen, 2009). The above studies showed that girls who grow up without fathers may either have difficulties relating to men in healthy ways, look for attention inappropriately, fall in love with older men or avoid relationships or engagement of emotions. However, all the above depends on the different circumstances they may be raised in (Garrett-Akinsanya, 2011).
There is a belief that humans are inherently social animals that have a need to belong. This need is apparently universal and applies to both women and men from both parents and single parent families (Walsh, 2008). Marriage is believed to be one of the most common ways to fulfill that need to belong. It is also seen as offering benefits such as living together, functional division of labour, financial security, emotional support, rearing children together, social and legal recognition. There is, however, a culture-wide redefinition of marriage and that has affected the rates of marriage over time. Marriage seems to have lost much of its significance in some cultures but not in others (Walsh, 2008). In agreement, Edin and Kefelas (2011) stated that the practical significance of marriage has diminished in some cultures but the symbolic significance of it has grown. Some women from single parent families are married and some are not and this study attempts to investigate their attitudes towards marriage while they are still adolescents and how these attitudes affect how they behave sexually.
The manner in which human beings experience and express their sexuality is considered as their sexual behaviour. It is contended that these behaviours consist of conducts and activities which are directed to elicit the sexual interest of others. The behaviours can be displayed as strategies to attract partners, display behaviour as well as ways to personal interactions with others (Katchadourian, 1979). It is also universally accepted that biological mechanisms underlie human sexual arousal and response but sexual behaviours are greatly shaped by social and cultural contexts in which individuals develop. It is therefore widely accepted that adolescents raised in families that have permissive attitudes about sexuality are more likely to behave differently than those that are raised in families that have conservative ideas about sexuality. This confirms the view that ultimately, sexual behaviour is mediated by social context and also cultural beliefs (Crooks & Baur, 2011).