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Duane Hoffmann / msnbc.com
By msnbc.com contributor
msnbc.com contributor
updated 6/18/2009 8:25:20 AM ET 2009-06-18T12:25:20

New parenthood can put a damper on even the most blazing sex lives. Middle-of-the night feedings, projectile spit-up and dirty diapers — who could still be in the mood after all that?

But some couples have inadvertently found a way to spice up their romantic lives with a little “Mommy” and “Daddy” name-calling. It often starts accidentally, when one of them slips and calls the other “Mommy” or “Daddy” — even when the kids aren’t around.

For some, it opens a new sexual frontier, not that they’d readily admit it. In fact, calling each other “Mommy” and “Daddy” in the bedroom may be one of the last sex fantasies people are reluctant to confess.

Andrea Frayser from Smithburg, Md., and her husband routinely call each other “Mommy” and “Daddy.” It started after their children were born, but now they’ve embraced the sexiness, too. “In intimate situations, it becomes ‘Big Daddy’ and ‘Little Momma,’ ” she said.

Marie Melsheimer of Bend, Ore., says her husband always calls her “Mama,” even when referring to her in conversations with others.

“I find it rather endearing,” she said. “In the bedroom “it does come up sometimes, as in, ‘Aren’t you going to take care of The Daddy?’ ”

For each couple who finds it sexy and endearing, there are just as many — and maybe many more — who are embarrassed by their parental pet names for each other, or would never dream of adopting them in the first place.

Jenna McCarthy feels “mortified” to admit that she and her husband started calling each other “Mommy” and “Daddy” after having children. “Sadly, my husband and I now find ourselves using these nicknames even when the kids aren’t around,” said the 40-year-old Santa Barbara, Calif., writer and author of “The Parent Trip.”  “Sick, I know.”

It's all right, mama. It's not sick, even when it is a sexual fantasy.  

In past generations, using parental monikers for each other was much more commonplace. Ronald Reagan famously called Nancy “Mommy” both in public and in private. In Tennessee Williams’ great play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” the patriarch and matriarch of the Pollitt family are “Big Daddy” and “Big Momma.”

As McCarthy pointed out, her own parents had friends who used the terms freely and openly, although it freaked her out a little.

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What changed?

Too much Freudian baggage
Well, in addition to the real and serious problem of child sexual exploitation, other elements of our cynical age, like pop psychology, have burdened “Mommy” and “Daddy” with way too much Freudian baggage to utter these words between adults in public.

“I get weird looks from my friends,” said Sarah Yu, a 26-year-old publicist in Vancouver, British Columbia, who has been known to call her boyfriend “Daddy” in public and in the bedroom. “One of my friends actually told me that it was little incestuous. People feel icky about it.” 

Some examples of historically unhealthy psychology may add to the queasiness. In 1925, eccentric New York real estate tycoon Edward West Browning advertised for a young girl he could adopt as a playmate for his own daughter. In 1926, he met 15-year-old Frances “Peaches” Heenan at a school dance. He was 52. They were soon married, causing a juicy New York scandal. Within months of the marriage, they were divorced. She always called him “Daddy.”

But why do couples so often feel embarrassed by their terms of endearment? After all, parents often begin calling each other “Mommy” and “Daddy,” or some variation, for the good reason that after hearing first names all the time, kids may begin addressing their parents like pals on a golf course.  

When Tara Baukus Mello's 2-year-old daughter started calling her father "Jeff," the couple became “Mommy” and “Daddy” everywhere, except in the bedroom. Still, Mello is a little concerned she might let a “Daddy” slip out in there, too.

“It would be so funny, it would kill the romantic moment,” said Mello, a Simi Valley, Calif., journalist.

Aimee Yoon, a New York executive, does not use any such term during intimate moments with her husband, but understands why some people might think it's hot.

“I think you get to a point where, when you see your spouse having a tender exchange with your kids, or really just stepping up to help out and changing diapers, there actually is something oddly sexy about it,” said Yoon. “Maybe it is the sense of family and teamwork and the willingness to just get down and dirty with all the hard work.”

Of course, you don't actually have to be a parent to find the names sexy.

Jason Goldstein, a 24-year-old New Yorker, adopted the “Daddy” moniker in college. He even asked his friends to call him by the nickname. When his current girlfriend realized it, “she was freaked out,” he recalled.

“She still hates it,” he said, but if she is in a very good mood, he gets “Daddy” during sex. 

Derek Hunter, 28, of Indianapolis, and his fiancé fell into the mommy-daddy habit when they bought a dog. The easiest names to think of were the ones her parents used for each other. Soon, though, “we started using those in the bedroom because it was kind of naughty,” said Hunter.

What would Freud make of that?

Brian Alexander is the author of the book “America Unzipped: In Search of Sex and Satisfaction," now in paperback.

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