Sex with the kids around: What are the rules?
As much as you would like to keep your parenting life and sex life as far apart as possible, there will be times when they sometimes awkwardly cross paths. We talked to the experts to get the rules on what's appropriate and what's not.
When you co-sleep with your infant
Scenario: The baby is fast asleep in bed with you. You accidentally graze your husband's foot with yours, he rests his hand on your hip and before you know it, old flames are getting fired up. But what about the baby?
The Rule: While experts agree that it's distressing for kids to be exposed to sex, a young infant in bed with you is more of a gray area. "If the child's younger than six months old, you probably don't need to worry," Dr. Michele Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, says. "It's unlikely there would be problems, only happy, contented parents."
What You Do: Within the realm of reason, do what feels right. If you're comfortable doing it with the baby in the room, keep a crib or bassinet by the bed where you can move him when things heat up. If you're worrying too much about the baby or it just doesn't feel right, all isn't lost: Put him in his crib, or bassinet, while you hit the floor.
When baby is in the Pack 'n Play
Scenario: Your 13-month-old is playing quietly in the Pack 'n Play in your bedroom. You and your hubby are on the bed ogling the baby when it mutually occurs that perhaps you should be ogling at each other instead. You start making out, only to find the little one standing upright, looking straight at you and making sounds that can only be described as...cheering you on.
The Rule: "Your child might feel fear, especially if he's around 2 years old," says Borba. "What you and your husband experience as sharing love, your child might see or hear as "Daddy hurting Mommy.'" Beyond that, Ian Kerner, Ph.D., author of He Comes Next, reminds us that a little space is good for sex: "Being where your baby's big eyes can see anything and everything can take you from hot to not, especially for a mom who needs parts of her brain associated with stress and anxiety to deactivate in order for her to feel sexual."
What You Do: Luckily, Pack 'n Plays are meant to be packed up and moved. Put the baby (or yourselves) safely in another room. If the baby is awake, and in the room with you, try distracting him with a favorite toy, just hold the hot and heavy passion for later and keep things simmering with subtle cuddles and coos.
When your preschooler climbs into bed with you after having a bad dream
Scenario: Even though she has a big-girl bed, she still gets into yours. She pulls up the covers and instantly passes out.
The Rule: No-go. "Bottom line: People should not be having sex in front of kids," Amy Lang, health educator and founder of Birds+Bees+Kids, says. Your relationship is important, but put the well-being of your child first."
What You Do: Do it somewhere else. Hit up the guestroom, office, or even the bathroom. Be sure to keep the monitor on, the lights low, the door closed (locked too if you think necessary) and a robe nearby in case she wakes up looking for you or the potty.
When your five-year-old walks in on you
Scenario: You tuck the kids into bed and head back to your bedroom. You slip into some jammies (the sexy kind!) and, bam, your husband wrestles you to the floor once he sees you. You're both so caught up in the moment you don't realize―until it's too late—that you've been caught mid-act by your 5-year-old standing silently in the doorway. "Mommy, I heard a loud noise!"
The Rule: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of explanation here! "Since five-year-olds don't have context for sex, they will likely interpret what they see in a very different way," Borba says. "She may think, 'Why was Daddy playing Tigger on the bed with Mommy?' Children at this age interpret sound and movement differently, and, Tiggers aside, they can be easily frightened." So, once your child is asleep, turn that monitor on, shut the door, and get a good lock if you must (even a chair against the door handle works).
What You Do: "Have a script in place," Lang says. "Tell your kid, 'Whoops, Daddy and I were just having private time, I'll be right there.'" Then, pull yourself together, reassure your kid and deal with things head-on. Ask if he's okay, and say, "it looks like you were scared." To a kid, sex may look scary, almost as though you're in a fight. Start by apologizing and say, "I'm sorry if that surprised you. It's nothing to be afraid of." Tuck her back into bed, and once you're sure she's asleep, if you're still in the mood, maybe this time lock the door.
When your kid's hosting a sleepover
Scenario: The girls are watching a movie in the family room. You and your man are snuggling in your bedroom watching a rom-com, which is the most romance you've had in weeks. You want to capitalize on the opportunity, but it doesn't quite feel right.
The Rule: When it's someone else's kid involved, err on the side of caution. "Kids don't understand what you're doing, and they shouldn't have to," Lang says. "Seeing and hearing too much can be distressing to young kids." And, it's your responsibility to keep them safe, physically and mentally. That means not (even accidentally) exposing them to sexual activity. Besides, do you really want to have to explain yourself to the parents at the next PTA meeting?
What You Do: Keep it G-rated and use those desirous feelings to build anticipation and connection for next time. "It's important to engage in nonsexual touch in relationships," Kerner says. "Holding hands, cuddling and sitting next to each other help build a sense of intimacy." And when the parents come to pick up their kids in the morning, make sure the next sleepover is at their house!
When your kid walks in on you two in the shower
Scenario: Desperate for a little alone time, you set your toddler down for her nap and set out for the shower. You're both soapy and naked when your kid lets herself in. She points to your husband's penis and says, "What is that? I wanna touch it!"
The Rule: Of course, if you were planning on getting serious in there, you needed to bring in the monitor and close or lock the door. Simply being caught naked isn't the end of the world. "It's okay to be naked around your kids if that's a family value," Lang says. "But pay attention to your kids' cues; they will let you know when they're no longer comfortable with it."
What You Do: Talk to your toddler. Say, "Oh, that's a private part of my body. I'm not comfortable if you touch it." Then get dressed, move on and save the extra-long double shower for after bedtime.
When the kids are watching TV
Scenario: You've set your older kids up with cartoons on a Saturday morning and tell them Mommy and Daddy are going to sleep in. Just as the cuddling gets good, the kids push against the creatively barricaded door demanding that you open up and let them know what's going on. Did we mention you were naked, flushed and the room smells like the sex you're frantically wrapping up?
The Rule: "It's important for kids to know that parents need private time," Kerner says. "Though you don't have to dwell on the details," So, don't feel bad leaving them out there to stew for a minute while you get cleaned up, just as long as there isn't an emergency.
What You Do: Again, prevention can save a lot of aggravation. Introduce the concepts of private time and knocking upon entering before you need to fall back on them. Model these concepts by respecting your kids' privacy and knocking on their doors as well. If your kids have questions, answer them simply and honestly, but don't share the details.
When you're at your parents house
Scenario: The two of you are in your old room at your parents' house while the kids are in the next room. You're worried your kids might hear something through the paper-thin walls or ask, 'Mommy, was there an earthquake last night?' in front of your parents.
The Rule: If you can't rein things in, bite a pillow, get off the creaky bed and avoid the awkward breakfast moments by skipping out on breakfast.
What You Do: Take another route and use the family around you as a buffer. Ask Grandma to take the early-morning shift with the kids so you two can "sleep in." It's okay to be a little selfish when it comes to your relationship," Kerner says, "Forty million people are in a sex rut, which can make a relationship vulnerable." Go on, ask for help in fixing that! It might feel awkward at first, but your relationship is worth it.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.