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 position.
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 resounding “whew….”
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 says.
“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 partner-is taboo.
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 healthy children.
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 non-starter.
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 says.
Lock but talk
And, when it comes to worrying about little feet pitter-pattering toward the bedroom door, there’s an easy solution:
“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,” she says.
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.