A recent survey of 2,000 British parents discovered that one in five has had the orgasm-shriveling experience of a child walking in during sex. Delving deeper, it was found that parents offered up a slew of “sexcuses” – faux explanations given in hopes of assuaging the sticky situation. Among the top 10 most common sexcuses: “We were tickling each other”; “We were searching for magical treasure”; and, my personal fave, “We were playing bouncy castle.”
Depending on their age and level of sex-savvy, a child might play dumb, freak out … or be 100 percent clueless. When Carrie*, a 38-year-old mom of two, recently glanced over her shoulder during a morning romp, only to see her 8-year-old daughter rubbing her eyes and asking when they could go downstairs for breakfast, “I was dying inside, but she was out of it enough that she seemed totally unfazed and never asked about it again.”
Chicago businesswoman Claudia*, 43, was old enough to know what was happening when, as a teenager, she accidentally busted her aunt and uncle in the act. “I was sleeping at my cousin’s house and wanted to see something on the street through a window in their room. So without much thought I barged in without knocking.” Aunt Mimi and Uncle Bob were in a missionary position. “I was so embarrassed that I pretended not to see anything and kept on running to the window.”
Sexual health educator Amy Lang, creator of Birds + Bees + Kids, says her best advice hinges on prevention. “Right now, this minute, institute a ‘knock first’ policy at home. This means that if a bedroom or bathroom door is shut, you must knock first and wait until you are invited to open that door. Explain that closed doors mean the person or people inside want privacy, and knocking first is a respectful way to interrupt that privacy.”
This rule should apply to everyone, meaning once children are mature enough to close their own doors, parents shouldn’t breeze right in without warning. The older they are, Lang says, the more they’ll appreciate it in terms of their own privacy, and the more they’ll understand why you need this rule, too. (That is, even though it grosses them out, they start to get that their parents are sexual beings.) With kids age 8 and under, practice knocking first with them.
If your kids do get a front-row seat to an accidental sex show, Lang recommends remaining as calm as possible. (Nearly half of Brit parents surveyed initially shouted at the child for walking in on them … mainly out of shock.) Then try something like, “We’re having a private moment — please step outside for a sec and I’ll be right there.”
Sheryl Ziegler, author of Mommy Burnout: How to Reclaim Your Life and Raise Healthier Children in the Process, reassures parents that whatever your kiddo sees “will generally not be traumatizing. Plus, kids age 6 and under likely don’t understand what is going on.” Ziegler suggests first taking a moment to say something like “Mommy and Daddy (or Mommy and Mommy or Daddy and Daddy) were hugging like this because we love each other.” Skim down the details, but also make it clear that this is something adults do when in love. What is disturbing? “If the sex is not out of love, is particularly loud or sounds scary, and if the parents repeatedly have this going on with little regard to their children.”
If you hear a “What are you guys doing?!” in response, Lang says you can hedge with, “We were snuggling/cuddling/having private time. What can I help you with?”… or, if you’re ready to kick things up a notch in the sex ed department, try an honest but nonchalant, “We were making love. What’s up?”
Ziegler notes that by the time your not-so-little one has turned 12 or so, you’ve likely had The Talk. Greet unplanned bedroom guests by stating the two of you “were having sex, and this is a way that we express love to each other. I’m sorry you walked in and that makes us all feel uncomfortable, but this is something natural that happens between two consenting adults.”
If all else fails? There’s always the bouncy castle.
*Names were changed.
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