Where Do “Daddy Issues” Come From and Are They Toxic?


What do “daddy issues” actually mean? Someone who has “daddy issues” is often viewed as someone who has some lingering issues with their actual dad. It could be trauma, abandonment, unanswered questions, a lack of love and affection… leading them to look for a fatherly figure within sexual encounters.

But the origin of our sexual desires is far more complicated than unresolved issues with your dad, says award-winning sexologist, Chantelle Otten.

“It could be due to any number of factors, such as the individual’s own personal exploration and experimentation with their sexuality or even fantasies based on cultural messages about power dynamics,” she says.

“When people make assumptions about why a person might engage in certain sexual activities they may be perpetuating damaging stereotypes and reinforcing stigma around a person’s sexuality.”

Stereotypically, as represented in mainstream porn and culture, someone with daddy issues will go for an older guy. They might call him “daddy” in the bedroom and enjoy a more submissive role, while their partner takes on a more dominant role.

This mainstream depiction is damaging — as they so often are — because it attempts to simplify and categorise an area of desire that runs much deeper than unresolved trauma.

Where Does the Term “Daddy Issues” Come From?

According to Otten, the concept of having “daddy issues” is thought to have originated from the psychoanalytic theories developed by Sigmund Freud during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Freud’s Oedipus complex outlines that a child will develop an unconscious sexual desire for their parent of the opposite sex between the ages of three and five. This theory suggests that this inner conflict between a child’s love and hate for their father can lead to unresolved issues which can manifest into psychological problems in adulthood, she says.

Freud believed that the resolution to these issues was dependent upon the successful resolution of the Oedipal stage, which typically happens during adolescence when children start to move away from their parents and become more independent. If unresolved, these issues can be carried into adulthood leading to difficulty forming trusting relationships and low self-esteem. 

“There are different interpretations of daddy issues, with some believing it is a term used to describe a female’s need for male approval or an over-emotional attachment to a father figure in adulthood,” says Otten.

“Other interpretations suggest it is associated with negative traits such as promiscuity or co-dependency. However, there is no scientific evidence that supports such claims.”

Although the concept of having “daddy issues” has taken on several meanings, through different cultural areas, industries and over time, its core origin remains rooted within Freud’s Oedipal Complex. Overall, the concept suggests that a lack of successful resolution within this stage can lead to psychological troubles later in life.

Basically, if you have issues with a father figure during the ages of three to five, and these go unresolved, they’re likely to resurface later in life — aka, adulthood. Whether they manifest into sexual desire or not, is entirely unique for each individual and is far too complex and unique to label as a kink.

So yes, while it’s not wrong to think that “daddy issues” as a concept, have stemmed from ideas around issues in childhood with a father figure, that’s not necessarily how it translates in the bedroom. And furthermore, it shouldn’t be something we look down upon.

Is Calling Someone “Daddy” in the Bedroom Toxic?

In short, no. Exercising a desire for older, more dominant men, is not toxic — if there is consent and ethical practises. Calling someone “daddy”, doesn’t mean you have “daddy issues” and plus, the actual concept of “daddy issues” itself, is kinda outdated.

“Referring to your partner as “daddy” in the bedroom can be a fun and playful way to add a bit of spice to an otherwise ordinary experience,” says Otten.

Role play, such as calling your partner “daddy”, is a great way to play with power dynamics in sex and doesn’t have to have a deep emotional meaning. If both parties are comfortable, it can be a great way to play with sub / dom roles in the bedroom and take you outside your comfort zone, which is a healthy and courageous thing to do.

“While some may think that this behaviour indicates an underlying problem, it’s actually quite common!” Otten says.

“It’s important to remember that engaging in a little role-play is perfectly natural and healthy. As long as you have a trusting relationship with your partner and both of you are comfortable using terms like ‘daddy’ during intimate moments, there’s no need to worry about any underlying issues or problems.”

The actual concept of “daddy issues” and its origin is actually way more toxic than calling someone “daddy” in the bedroom. It goes without saying that Freud’s psychoanalytical ideas and gender stereotypes are really quite outdated in today’s world.

Rightfully so, it has since criticised by modern psychiatrists and psychologists, who point out that it can be used to invalidate people’s feelings and dismiss their emotional struggles.

“The idea of “daddy issues” perpetuates the notion that any problems or difficulties experienced by an individual are largely due to their relationship with their father, even though various other factors may have influenced those experiences,” Otten says.

There’s also quite a mysogynistic undertone, implying that women are pathologically dependent on men in order to be successful. “It’s easy to see how this kind of thinking could lead to problematic outcomes in terms of supporting gender equality,” says Otten.

And what about the men who have “daddy issues”?

If we’re looking at “daddy issues” as something that exists within sex, desire and pleasure, it’s not just something that women experience. I have many queer male friends that identify with finding older men who take control in the bedroom to be sexy.

“The gendered stereotype surrounding “daddy issues” is damaging,” says Otten, “not only because it fails to take into account broader social dynamics but also because it minimises the complex emotions involved in family relationships and ignores the nuances of individual lived experiences.”

“It’s important for us all to remain mindful of our language when discussing mental health, especially when it comes to topics such as ‘daddy issues’ which can have deeply personal implications for many people.”

How Can We Become More Comfortable with “Daddy Issues”?

According to Otten, self-reflection is key when it comes to unpacking your “daddy issues” and getting comfier with them.

“Looking back at past relationships with parents (especially if they involve any kind of abuse) can help us recognise patterns that we might be repeating unconsciously in our current relationships,” she says. “Additionally, it can help us understand why we form strong emotional bonds with some people while pushing away from others.”

She explains that by paying attention to how we respond both physically and emotionally within intimate relationships, it can become possible for us to make changes that allow us to feel more fulfilled by our choices. This goes in any relationship, whether sexual and romantic or not.

Plus, we’re never really done unpacking what we like sexually. And nor should we be.

“Understanding the motivations behind our actions gives us agency and enables us take greater control over them going forward. While daddy issues alone do not explain all human psychological phenomena related to sex and intimacy—they are certainly worth considering and exploring further as part of an holistic approach towards self-knowledge and growth.”

With knowledge comes power, so if you understand your “daddy issues”, you will ultimately feel more comfortable both exercising them and talking about them.

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