The morning after the big night, my daughter asked me she had heard me making moaning sounds. No doubt about it, she had walked in on us having sex.
I had officially scarred my daughter for life.
But maybe I could save her from eternal horror and embarrassment.
So I began: “Well, you see, I was walking out of the shower, and I hit my elbow on the dresser. It really hurt. That’s what happened.”
“But why was Daddy also making those sounds?”
“Um, he was helping me with my elbow, when he fell over and hit his elbow, too.”
It was. But it was the only story I could think of at the moment.
The second time it happened was even worse (no, we don’t have locks on our doors, and we need to do this ASAP). She walked in on us midway through. We froze, and had an entire conversation about why it was raining and when it might stop. Midway through, if you know what I mean.
There’s probably a 99 percent chance that this will happen to you at some point in your years of parenting, says Lanae St. John, a board-certified sexologist with the American College of Sexologists, and former professor of human sexuality at City College of San Francisco.
Keep in mind that shouting or shrieking in reaction to that moment can cause more harm than good.
“The key is to not react to your kid walking in on you, but instead to respond to why they entered in the first place,” St. John says.
So instead of being angry or embarrassed, you’re supposed to stop what you’re doing and ask what the matter is, or why they’re awake.
“Keep in mind that shouting or shrieking in reaction to that moment can cause more harm than good, especially to little ones who don’t have any context for what you are doing with your partner,” she says.
Your reaction should also vary depending on your child’s age. If a child is a toddler, he may be scared that his parents are hurting each other.
In this case, simply explain that those sounds are of pleasure rather than pain, said Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist.
If your child is younger and asks what you were doing, you could return the question: What does it look like I was doing?
With teens, you can encourage open, honest communication.
“Teens can entertain their fantasies and ideas that they personally might engage in sex, but the idea of their parents having intercourse makes most gag,” Walfish says. So unless your teen has a radical reaction, the discussion can wait until the morning, when you can explain that everyone accidently had an awkward, embarrassing moment.
“Ask your teen if she has any thoughts or questions about what she saw — it’s always better to confirm, adjust, add, delete or tweak than to shove too much information into your kids,” Walfish says.
Assure you teen that you will prevent further embarrassment by locking your bedroom door and if they need you they can knock first before entering.
If your child is younger and asks what you were doing, you could return the question: What does it look like I was doing? They might tell you it reminded them of something they saw on television.
“You can drill down from there as appropriate,” St. John says. “You can even label the activity as ‘that was us having sexual intercourse’ without further detail.”
I’m blushing just writing this story. Chances are low that I could ever repeat that suggested phrase.
Fortunately, St. John says you don’t need to have the whole sex convo post-walkin. That’s getting ahead of yourself. These conversations should come naturally as your child gets older.
What you can do now, however, is to implement a closed door policy, establishing that a person who wants to enter your room knock first.
Keep in mind, St. John says, that if you implement this plan, that it’s only fair to knock first if your child has closed his or her door.