Should Parents Hide Their Sex Lives From Their Kids?

Despite all their attempts to keep their sex life secret, Lynn Beisner and her husband’s kids know full well what’s going on behind closed doors…but is that such a bad thing?

Last Thursday night, my kids had a little end of the world party. They held it in the basement apartment of our house that my daughter shares with her partner. With all of our offspring two floors away, it seemed like a great time for Pete and I to sneak upstairs for what we jokingly call, “a conversation about important issues affecting our world.”

At some point, I flung off my “nightgown.” After a deep and heated discussion of important issues, I got up to collect our scattered clothes. My little black number was gone. It was like when it dropped off the bed, it dropped off the planet. It was just gone—vanished into thin air.

Pete and I were genuinely befuddled. We checked beside, under, and behind the bed. Between sheets and duvet. Behind and under the night stands. It really had vanished. For a few disorienting moments, we entertained the idea that the Mayan Prophecy was true and the world was going to be eaten by a wormhole that started in our room. I posted about it on Facebook and got a lot of laughs, but Pete kept searching. “It can’t have just dematerialized,” he kept muttering to himself.

A few minutes after we had stopped moving around the furniture and settled down to think about it, our daughter, Kassie, knocked on our door. This is how the conversation went.

Kassie: “Mom are you…uh…missing something?”

Me: “Yes, but I am sure you don’t have it.”

Kassie: “Don’t be so sure about that. Our dog came running down into our apartment a little while ago and traipsed right through the middle of our party with uh..your..uh…”

Me: “So the Mayans were wrong!”

Kassie: “I don’t even want to know what that means. I would have brought it up to you earlier, but when I got to the stairs, there were …sounds. So I waited until you guys were done.”

Me: “We were moving around the furniture looking for my lost nightie.”

Kassie: “Oh, so that’s what you kids are calling it these days. Look, I don’t care.”

Me: “Oh, God, I am so sorry.”

Kassie: “Mom! Get over it! We know you guys have sex. We have known it since I was in high school and Matt was in junior high and you used to send us down the street for pizza so you guys could have “an important discussion” that you didn’t want us to overhear. On top of that, the heating ducts in the last house carried every single sound. We know when you guys have sex. And we know when you don’t have sex. And frankly, we like you both better when you are having sex. You are both more relaxed. Now, I’m going before this conversation gets any more awkward.”

I spent the next hour or so praying for the Apocalypse. For a little while there, I would rather we all cease to exist than wake up and face my kids the next day. I thought about all of the years we had lived in that house, and all that they must have heard. I blushed in the dark, and started to wonder if they would ever be OK.

Then I started to think about it not just as our family and my embarrassment, but on a societal level. Is it really so bad if our older kids know that we have sex? I am not talking about anything sick or being rude about it. I am simply wondering if it is so important—or if it is even a good idea at all—to lead our older children to think of their parents as asexual.

I know teenagers are grossed out by their parents’ sexuality. To be honest, I don’t particularly like overhearing my adult daughter and her partner having sex either. But I would hate to think that they curtailed their sex lives just to spare me a bit of queasiness.

But that is exactly what we as parents do: We place all sorts of restrictions on our sex life to keep our older children from knowing that we have a sex. For example, I was so desperate to hide sex from our teenage kids that I used to wake up at 4am when I was sure any self-respecting teenager would be comatose and unable to hear anything. Needless to say, that was not the best sex of our lives, and on at least one occasion, my daughter overheard us anyway.

If you have ever shared a house with sexually active roommates, you know how hard it is to completely hide all traces that a couple has sex. Even if they are excruciatingly quiet, beds squeak, tiny moans escape, and people and rooms can smell like sex. But parents aren’t usually going for roommate polite—we are going for state-secret. We seem to assume that if our teenagers accidentally run across any evidence that their parents are sexual people, it will not just gross them out, it will scar them for life.

But what if squeaking bedsprings are actually setting a good example? If more older kids knew their parents had sex, it might rid us of the common myth that parenthood is the door to asexuality. It might even prevent our children from developing a Madonna/Whore complex if the mother who obviously loves and nurtures them makes a few quiet slutty sounds behind closed doors. It also demonstrates that you don’t have to be young to have a fulfilling sex life. Knowing that healthy sexuality continues throughout life debunks the myth that finding a more youthful partner is the only sure-fire cure for a flagging sex life.

And in the case of our children, it has taught them that the “inevitable decline in sex” in long-term relationships is not an everlasting descent into a sexless relationship. It is like the ocean, where the tides of desire go out and come in. And even after a dozen years together, there are occasional storm surges that keep you locked in your bedroom every spare moment for a couple of weeks.

Our kids have also learned that sex is an important component in a long-term relationship, that a couple’s sex life is precious and worth nurturing. Moreover, they have learned that our individual sexuality is something valuable, and that when it flourishes it only makes us better people.

When we honor our own sexuality and nurture our sexual relationship with our partner in discrete but not obsessively secretive ways, do we teach our children to honor their own sexuality and other people’s? I desperately hope so, because in the case of my kids, it would seem the ship has already sailed on that one.

Lynn Beisner is the pseudonym for a mother, a writer, a feminist, and an academic living somewhere East of the Mississippi. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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