child psychologykidsmarriage/monogamyparentingsex

Having A Healthy Sex Life With Your Spouse Is Good For Your Kids, Here’s Why

Many couples that I see in counseling are very child-centered, and place their kids far above themselves and their partners.  I see many clients who prioritize their child’s every desire over their own needs for sleep, quiet, alone time, time to exercise, or anything else. They are exhausted and burnt out, because they are so busy constantly attending to their kids that they have no time for themselves at all, nevermind for their partner. In many families today, both parents will turn to answer a child’s question, even if this question is about nothing urgent and interrupted the parents in the middle of their own conversation.  (And some parents reading this even wonder how parents would have a “conversation” when the kids are awake at all!) 

Sex, which is considered a selfish want, is pushed far down the priority list, after things like kids’ extracurriculars, the kids’ desire to watch their children’s TV shows while sitting next to the parent, the kids’ “need” for constant attention even after their bedtime, and even the kids’ desire to not fall asleep alone.  Sadly, parents who put sex on the far back burner are setting their kids up for two outcomes: (1) increased likelihood of being a child of divorce, and (2) decreased ability to have their own loving marriage in adulthood.

Sex, especially for the partner with a physical touch love language, is the primary way that they feel close and connected.  But often it seems like there is literally no time for sex at all, based on many of these restrictions that I have heard in session:

  • We can’t have sex when the child is awake during the day (despite many women being too tired at night and having the sex drive of a doorknob by 9pm)
  • We can’t have sex when the child may not be fully asleep yet
  • We can’t have sex because we can’t shut/lock our door because the child will feel shut out if they try and open the door
  • We can’t have sex because the child may come into our bed in the middle of the night
  • We can’t have sex because we each sleep with one of the kids because they don’t like us to leave
  • We can’t have sex because the kids don’t nap anymore (see the first bullet point for why this is such an issue)
  • We can’t have sex because we are both so tired from attending to the kids and then doing our work after the kids go to bed because we prioritize time spent with them over our own reasonable bedtimes
  • We can’t have sex because we feel out of shape and gross because we didn’t work out in 10 years since our kid was born because what if he had a question about infinity and one of us was at the gym and he didn’t want to ask the other parent alone because he really likes when both of us endlessly discuss his ideas about science and if he doesn’t get a PhD in Physics we will both really wonder if it was worth it for us not to have worked out or had sex for the 18 years he lived at home (before he dropped out of college and came back home because the professors didn’t respect his curious mind the way we do)
  • Et cetera

In reality, it is a wonderful lesson for kids when parents prioritize alone time, sleeping together, and spending private time together.  They learn that adulthood is actually enjoyable and that parents deeply love each other.  This would be in marked contrast to the many young Millennials and older Gen Z clients I see who do not want kids of their own because their own parents seemed miserable and their entire lives appeared to center around working to pay for the children’s desires and driving them to Little League. 

Children are not traumatized by watching 45 minutes of TV alone while their parents go to their room and lock their door for time together in the afternoon, whether that time is spent napping, having sex, or just hanging out together.  It’s the exact opposite: they learn they are not the center of the universe, and they see how happy, connected, and refreshed their parents feel when they come back downstairs. Similarly, kids are not traumatized by a locked door.  Think back to your own childhood.  Unless there was a backdrop of significant emotional neglect, did you feel upset about your parents being in a closed room?  Likely no. Why then would your own child be so stressed by this?

What if your kids hear you having sex?  As I discuss here, this is not a bad thing.  But even if you want to be quiet, think to yourself about how crazy it is that many unhappy parents will fight in front of their kids, or passive aggressively snipe at each other, or ignore each other, all indicators of marital dysfunction.  And then somehow it is less appropriate for the kids to hear a bed squeaking, which is a signifier of a happy and healthy relationship?  This is illogical.  Not to mention that kids do not know that a bed squeaking means sex until later in adolescence, and when they realize it, they usually laugh or cringe-laugh.  Kids are never traumatized by knowing their parents were close and loving enough to have sex, unless they are made to observe the sex itself which is obviously abusive (there is a scene like this in The Glass Castle, a great movie that all adult children of dysfunctional families should watch).

The opposite of parents kissing, hugging, flirting, and, yes, going into their rooms and closing the door is seeing no physical affection and thinking of your parents as entirely sexless,  This is very bad for kids.  When kids observe zero romance or physical affection and see less than zero allusions to sex between their parents, this can lead to many later issues with intimacy.  These kids have learned that sex is bad or dirty or shouldn’t exist at all, and this makes them very awkward and stilted around sexual expression with their partners later in life. 

If you struggle with feeling guilty for taking time during your day (or night!) to have sex, whether this means saying “Daddy and I are taking a nap for a half hour, watch TV and don’t knock” or putting them to bed firmly and without going back in so that you preserve your adult alone time, think long and hard about what lessons your kids are learning.  Would you want them to be in a marriage like yours?  How would you feel if you visited them in 25 years and they were stilted, resentful and/or unaffectionate with their partner, and had bags under their eyes from staying up till all hours because they put their kids over their own health and happiness?  Would you feel that perhaps you should have modeled a happier and closer marriage for them, in which you respected your and your partner’s needs (including sex) at least as much as your kids’ desire for constant attention (which makes them into jerks, by the way)?

Share this with your partner if it made you think!  And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Always Think: My Marriage Will Be My Kids’ Marriage Template.

Order Dr. Rodman’s newest book, 52 Emails to Transform Your Marriage and order her first book: How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family

This blog is not intended as medical advice or diagnosis and should in no way replace consultation with a medical professional. If you try this advice and it does not work for you, you cannot sue me. This is only my opinion, based on my background, training, and experience as a therapist and person

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  1. FL
    August 22, 2021 at 1:43 am — Reply

    Great post and one which i think i have proved to myself and hopefully to my children.

  2. FL
    August 22, 2021 at 1:50 am — Reply

    Great post and one which i think i have proved to myself and hopefully to my now adult (yay) children. Partly genes, and partly their experience as my kids means that the first three of the four of them are self-starters ie deciding which university to go to, which job they will do, which continent they will teach english as a foreign language in, etc.

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