Dear Coach Sam – It was one thing when the kids had a bedtime of 8 or 9 o’clock, and we could enjoy an hour or two alone together whenever we wanted. But what happens when the kids are teenagers, and they don’t go to bed until 11 o’clock or midnight? Sex is a little harder to come by under those conditions.
On top of that, our bedrooms are really close together, and we’re very sensitive about the children hearing us – either the bed squeaking or other things – because they’ll know what’s going on.
What do we do now? – Anonymous
You’re right – things are different for you now, and for your teens. Sexuality circumstances change over time. God intended change to happen – it’s a good thing. Your children are growing into their sexuality, just as you’re growing into yours. They are looking to you as a loving couple to set the example of what to do when they are married, and what sexual etiquette to follow with their young children and teens someday.
It’s very appropriate to show basic affection with each other (kissing, hugging, holding hands) while in the presence of your teens. They may react as if it’s gross, but truthfully, expressions of affection help children feel more secure and stable in their home.[i] It also gives them something to look forward to in their own future marriage relationships. Parents set the example for the children to follow, for good or bad.
Like many young married couples, you may have made some ‘indiscretions’ at this point – someone may have overheard you in a passionate moment, and wondered aloud what was going on. It happens to most people, and that’s okay. Inviting your children into these moments is not acceptable, but neither is the accidental noise incident the end of the world.
Anyone is welcome to share what they have learned of course, but any reports I have read about a child being traumatized by the sound of their parents engaging in sexual abandon was mostly due to (as a child) not understanding what was happening or that those sounds were normal.
What you didn’t explain in more detail, and what I wish I knew about you, was how often and in what ways you talk to your children about sex. Have you been discussing sexuality with them since they were young, in age-appropriate ways? Or are they and you finding yourself bumping up against realities they’re only guessing at?[ii]
My first advice is not to hide and pretend you never have sex, or worse yet, avoid sexual encounters altogether. That often leads to results that aren’t good for anyone – especially the health of your marriage and the future marriages of your children.
We who are the parents are in charge of the situation – we should address it candidly and in a straightforward manner. We might want to bring it up with each child individually in private meetings, or we may want to have a family council and talk about it, depending on your own family dynamics.[iii] Anyway you handle it, be sure to relax and make it a positive experience. Have the atmosphere be positive and fun, but also reverent. Learning about sex and sexuality, the children should come away with a positive association, not a with a feeling of fear, disgust, anxiety or shame.
Since you are the parents, they are the ones that should adjust, not you. Remember that someday the children will leave, and you two will be left alone together all the time. Wouldn’t you prefer to have a healthy relationship with each other instead of a starved one? Wouldn’t you like to demonstrate a healthy and happy married relationship for your children, instead of one that’s resentful and strained and they can’t know why?
It’s vital you let your children know you love each other, and you are going to be intimate as happily married people are from time to time. I believe any child or teen would appreciate some sort of “heads up” to let them know to be in another part of the house? To this day, how many would want to hear their parents have sex? Yet, deep down, we can’t help but give a smile of happiness and contentment knowing that Mom and Dad still like each other and enjoy being intimate with each other. That their relationship is healthy enough to give each other that special kind of comfort and pleasure that can only be obtained in marriage.
Can the kids arrange to go out with friends or go to the movies at a predetermined time. When you plan to have sex as a couple, include them in the planning. Let them know that you Mama and Papa need some sacred alone time at the schedule time and that the polite thing to do is to make themselves scarce with your approved list of activities. Date night is a great time for them to get out, while you stay in.
Can you turn on the television to cover any noise, or play some music? Can you provide them with earplugs or noise cancelling headphones in case they accidently hear something that makes them uncomfortable? Are you in a position where you can buy a house that has more space between the bedrooms, or can you adjust your current living conditions to create such a situation? Get creative.
You may feel embarrassed to talk to them about these things, but I would urge you to push through that. Nothing says you ever have to share the details of your sacred sexual relationship and what you do is sacred and not for their ears. Older teens and young adults are part of your household, for the time being, and adjustments should be made. Children will be very eager to know when your ‘sacred time’ is, so they can be elsewhere.
The essence of living together in love means sensitivity to those who are single and trying to live the law of chastity for single people, as well as making provisions for parents to be comfortable while still living the law of chastity as a married couple. Think about how you would wish to be treated, if you were a child in such a situation. Discuss it with them and get their feedback. When everyone knows what’s going on and knows what to do, there’s a lot less tension and uncertainty, fear or trauma. Make sure you’re building your marriage relationship while also building your relationship with your teens and young adults.
[iii] For more advice about family councils, see this talk from M. Russell Ballard in the April 2016 Ensign: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2016/04/family-councils?lang=eng
Also, see my series of articles regarding teaching children about sex: http://ldsmarriagebed.blogspot.com/2016/06/doctrine-or-myth-dont-talk-about-sexual.html