Why You Should NEVER Hide Your Love Life From Your Kids

Mother father and baby

Like artichokes and caviar, it wasn't until well into adulthood that I acquired a taste for my parents' sex life. That they had one, and that it was something they relished, asserted itself to me one vivid evening when I was about 12, old enough to understand slang terms for body parts that played a role in that mysteriously intriguing and possibly great thing called sex.

My parents weren't drinkers, though lined up on our kitchen counter that night were several empty wine bottles, half-filled bottles of liquor and club soda, and an ice bucket. Around the dining room table sat my parents and three other couples, playing a game whose name I've forgotten, but which was probably the 1960s equivalent of Loaded Questions: Adult Version.

Two hours before, I'd gone to bed, and that's where the adults thought I remained, I suppose. But their loud laughter had awakened me and I'd quietly gone to the kitchen for a drink. Lingering, I was spying on their game through the space between the refrigerator and its open door.

It was my mother's turn to answer a question.

"What would you say if your mate wanted separate beds?"

What I heard next shocked and tantalized me. It came from behind her hand, which she was holding over her mouth the way she did when saying something rude about a relative we both didn't like.

My mother blurted, "Goodbye big dick!"

The whole table exploded into peals of throaty laughs. One of the women playfully hit my mother on the arm, one wagged her finger in the air and the third, slightly flushed, shook her head. The men all stared at my father, eyebrows pulsing up and down; one slapped him on the back. My father, ordinarily circumspect about private matters, was smiling, too. I don't think he was red in the face.

In the tumult of the guffaws, I snuck back upstairs.

That night stayed with me. Years later, I thought about my mother's remark and realized that it wasn't so extraordinary after all. I recall my parents openly kissing and hugging, a lot. While hugging, I'd often notice my father letting his hand slide to my mother's butt. A few times, when they thought they were alone, he'd slip his hand between the top buttons of her blouse. She wore V-necks a lot, and had a lovely cleavage, which my father openly appreciated. 

In time, when I realized many of my cohorts had parents who were either divorced or who openly despised one another, I realized what a gift it was to know that my own parents were still loving, affectionate and probably still doing it. There were other signs, too: the closed tight bedroom door; how I'd sense them freezing mid-movement if after I'd gone to bed I'd then woken up and carelessly opened their door to ask a question; stray remarks here and there.

Later still, when I was married, and a mother, I liked having this knowledge that my parents' sex life was likely robust throughout their long marriage.

My mother is now elderly and in sometime ill health. Recently, during a hospital stay, a young male physical therapist was helping reposition her in bed. Grabbing the sheets to pull her higher in the bed, he advised, "just shimmy up." She laughed and replied, "Young man, I haven't shimmied in a few years!" Since my father has only been dead for four years, I wondered if (and hoped that) their sexual chemistry burned up until the end of the 59 years they were wed.

I found myself thinking recently about their physical relationship because, as parents of a teen and a tween, I realize it's not our job to have only requisite talks about sex and sexual health, but also to impart a sense of the wonder, joy and sustainability of a sex life over the course of a marriage. It's not that I want to shout, "By the way, boys, your father and I still do it and we love it!" but in a sense I do want them to know precisely this.

Not because this information is necessary to them now. Now, of course, too much information would likely be met with eye rolls. But I do want them to know, in some peripheral, subtextual way, that their parents indulged in and had satisfying, frequent, wonderful sex. I want them to know this because I know that, in time, they'll be glad to learn that their parents' lives weren't only about work and car pools, mowing the lawn and watching TV in grungy sweats on a Thursday night.

If my own experience is any measure, this insight will give them a unique comfort, and also a kind of confidence about what marriage is and can continue to be years and decades after the honeymoon.

In a way, Frank and I follow my parents' pattern. Physical displays of affection are not hidden behind bedroom doors. We don't hold back our enthusiasm when we are making arrangements to have the house to ourselves overnight. Our door is closed tight plenty of times. While we've never been interrupted in flagrante delicto, when a kid has come through the door and we're spooning, under the covers, in one small corner of the king-sized bed, we don't immediately disentangle.

After dinner last Saturday night, I teased my husband, who had been diligently crossing things off the honey-do list all day, and even taking care of stuff not yet on it.  "Boy, you must want it bad tonight," I chided, snapping the dish towel at his (yes, I'll say it) still nicely rounded butt. It may be that one of my sons overheard it. Or maybe not.

But it wouldn't have been such a bad thing if he had.