Oodles of red-faced couples will tell the tale of the time their
youngster walked in on them while they were in a-ahem-compromising
Most feel pretty sure the incident will imprint a permanent
picture on the poor child's growing brain that's likely to scar the
poor kid's libido for life.
If this has happened to you, take a second now to breathe out a
If it hasn't, lighten up and stop letting the horror of the
walk-in cripple your sex life.
Parents are probably more upset by an unfortunate intrusion than
the unwitting interloper, sex experts say.
"Never even once have I heard a patient talk about being
traumatized by walking in on their parents while they were having
sex," says Dr. Ann Hartlage, who has been treating clients with
issues in intimacy for more than two decades and leads the Marital
and Sex Therapy Program at Rush University Medical Center.
"For the parents, it may be obnoxious. It may be invasive. It
may be uncomfortable. And it's certainly embarrassing," she
"But, for the child it really isn't that upsetting. It's not
what you'd call an important life event."
What's more likely to derail a person's take on sex, she says,
is not seeing their parents relate physically with one another. The
majority of grown-ups who come to Hartlage for help with their sex
issues say they never saw their parents showing physical love to
one another at all.
No one is suggesting Mom and Dad purposefully expose Junior to a
private moment. But modeling intimacy is a crucial part of raising
offspring who are adequately equipped for loving relationships when
they grow up.
"In homes where the parents aren't comfortable with sex, it's
usually not discussed," Hartlage says, "and there is very little
touching of any kind."
Those are the families whose grown-up children are most likely
to end up in her office. Sometimes, she says, parents with
extremely conservative and religious convictions radiate a message
that touching-or even hinting at physical pleasure with a
Worrying about the walk-in is one of countless angsts that can
derail a couple's physical relationship.
Parenthood takes its toll on a couple's sex life, often even
before the child is born, says Dr. Laura Berman, arguably Chicago's
best-known sex expert. Besides offering relationship and sex
therapy, Berman also helps families with issues of raising sexually
Berman's is a familiar face on national news broadcasts. She
recently penned the bestseller, Loving Sex: The Book of Joy and
Passion, and is launching her second season of "In The Bedroom with
Dr. Laura Berman" on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
After a child is born, stress and the day-to-day drudgery of
caring for an infant can render a romp between the sheets a
Couples start casting one another as co-parents, rather than as
lovers and sexual mates, Berman says. Add in the time and energy it
takes to nurture a child and it is no wonder that many parents
struggle to connect sexually.
"Parents have a hard time getting away, and even when they do,
they often spend their date nights talking about the kids, errands
and bills," Berman says. "Talk about a libido killer!"
When sex falls by the wayside, the most effective fix is to
address the issue right away. When issues of intimacy fester, they
take on an ugly life of their own.
One of the first things Berman advises couples to do is make
sure they find ways to reconnect as lovers.
"No more talking about diapers or soccer practice while on date
night, and no more letting the kids sleep in the bed," she
Lock but talk
And, when it comes to worrying about little feet
pitter-pattering toward the bedroom door, there's an easy
"A good, sturdy lock on the bedroom door will assuage those
fears of kids walking in," Berman says. "Taking time to reconnect
as lovers every night-even if it is just a quick cuddle before bed
or a chat instead of a TV marathon-will keep you intimate and
bonded even during the hectic work week."
It's healthy for kids to understand that Mom and Dad need alone
time, the romance pros say. The best gift parents can bestow on
their children is a stable home and a happy marriage-one they can
use as a model when they start to construct their own adult
relationships, Berman says.
"...It is also OK for them to see you kiss and be affectionate,"
If little ones do see more than you intend, don't ignore the
issue, experts advise. Sit down with them and ask them to share any
questions, feelings or fears they may have about what they saw.
Answer in an honest, but age-appropriate, way using language they
can understand, Berman advises.
"Parents should have an ongoing conversation with kids about
sex-not a one-time talk," she says.
What may have seemed like an unfortunate incident can lay the
foundation for a future of straight talk and trust, sex experts
agree. The most important thing is to let youngsters know that even
though the door is sometimes locked, when it comes to questions, it
is always open.
Robyn Monaghan is a writer living in Plainfield.
Robyn Monaghan is a mother and long-time journalist.
See more of Robyn's stories here.
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