Time for Sex—Oh, Wait, the Kids Are Still Awake!
Having kids can seriously impact your sex life. So what can you do to right the ship?
Emme Witt, a sex expert based in Los Angeles and the founder of the sex blog Sugar Cubed, admitted that having kids and maintaining a sex life is challenging; she is a mother of two.
"Your time is not your own anymore, especially at night," she said. "Small kids often need a lot of attention, even to fall asleep. They wake up with dirty diapers or wanting a bottle or to breastfeed. This can seriously get in the way of the parent's sex life."
Your bed is often no longer your own when young children are around, and they might climb in if they have a bad dream or a noise has awoken them. The challenges don't stop with young kids, either.
Teenagers stay awake later and are more likely to hear you having sex. Or they might become embarrassed at the thought that you might still be having sex when you're as old as your 30s or 40s. Add all of those things to the fact that balancing parenting, work and home life can be exhausting. So even when you do get time together with your partner, chances are you might feel wholly fatigued and not in the mood for sex.
"Children are one of the worst things you could do for your sex life," said Michael Werner, M.D., medical director and founder of Maze Men's Sexual & Reproductive Health, based in Purchase, New York, and New York City, and a father of four. "That doesn't mean that you shouldn't have them. You just have to recognize that your sex life will take a hit and you'll have to manage it differently."
Making time for sex?
Every family unit is different. You may have kids who are great sleepers or terrible sleepers. You might have young kids, teenagers or a mix of ages. They might all have different bedtimes and sleeping routines. There isn't a one-size-fits-all answer, but there are strategies you can try to fit sex into your schedule.
"My advice is to try to have sex on the weekends during the day while the kids are napping, if you have nappers," Witt said.
She explained parents really need to make their sex life a priority and schedule time to have sex. You can't just wait until the mood hits you anymore, as kids often need you when the urge is there.
"I also recommend parents schedule a date night," Witt said. "If they have friends or family who can look after the kids for a couple of hours, parents can have a nice dinner and have sex. Sex has to be the priority over going to the movies, etcetera. Hiring a babysitter and then checking into a hotel to have sex, even for a few hours, is also an option."
Obviously, not everyone has family on hand or the extra cash to pay for a hotel and/or a babysitter.
"I think couples with young children need to manage their expectations about their sex life," she added. "As much as they should still be making sex a priority, the kids are a bigger priority. So it's tough."
You can also change where you have sex. You may be used to having sex in the bedroom. But if the baby sleeps in your bed or you are likely to get interrupted, switch the location. Move sex to the couch, the office, the shower or any place in your home where you feel comfortable having sex and you're not likely to have a child walk in on you.
Schedule, schedule, schedule
As Witt touched on, you can't wait for the mood to hit. You need to schedule sex.
"The most effective method of reigniting your sex life is booking sex in," Werner said. "You might say every Tuesday or Saturday night is your evening to have sex."
Find a babysitter, arrange for the kids to have a sleepover, book a hotel—whatever works to give you time together.
"For many people, periodically checking in to a hotel for a few hours or a night is cheaper than a divorce," he added.
Witt agreed with this sentiment, saying sexless marriages can lead to unhappiness, divorce or cheating for some families.
"Too many parents let their kids get in the way of their sex life and this can create huge problems in a relationship," she explained.
This isn't the same for everyone, though, which is why open conversation is important. You might be worried your partner is missing sex, but they may be as exhausted as you and sex might not be their priority right now. Or you might think you're the odd one in the relationship for missing sex, but when you speak to your partner, they miss it, too. The key is to keep talking. Know where each other is at in the relationship. And if both of you want more time for sex, then schedule it.
Scheduling sex is perfectly acceptable. In a 2018 survey by Zola, 36 percent of newlyweds said they scheduled sex into their lives.
"Forget about spontaneity," Werner said. "If you think only spontaneous sex is worthwhile, you are going to have to settle for a lot less sex, if any. Planned sex can still be great sex and it is way more likely to happen, and happen more frequently."
How to navigate kids walking into your bedroom
Robin Stoltman, intuitive parenting expert, healer, author, speaker, host of the "Healing for the Soul" podcast and mother of six children in South Dakota, said the chances of her kids waking up when she and her partner are having sex are high.
"As this happens very often for us, we use a lavender essential oil before bed to help the kids sleep," she said. "We have our kids smell it and give them a piece of peanut butter toast or cheese, as protein before bed will help them sleep all night long and not wake hungry."
It can be a bit of a vibe killer, though, if your kid wakes up just as sex gets going. Witt said moving past this is mind over matter.
"I think that couples just need to force themselves to find their way back into the mood again," she said. "When I say 'force,' I mean with consent. If you've really lost the urge, then also manage your expectations and try again another time."
You have to be realistic that it might take some time to get back in the mood. But you can if both of you want it.
"That's why I say scheduling is so necessary for parents," Witt reiterated. "Schedule a time for sex when you're sure the kids won't bother you. Then you don't need to worry about losing that vibe."
Redefining what sex is for you
You also may need to take another look at your sex life. Sex doesn't have to be about orgasm or penetration. Pleasure can be found in intimacy, touching, language and being close to each other. As parents, you may not feel like having "full-blown" sex if you are exhausted or you've been interrupted. But you might feel like masturbating together or lying next to your partner while they pleasure themselves.
This is where communication comes in again. Talk to each other about your wants and needs. Discuss what you want to do. Pleasure is pleasurable—and pleasure doesn't have to mean sex.
And what if one of your children walks in when you're having sex? Take a moment to compose yourself, cover up and reassure them. Very young children may not have noticed anything. Try to work out why they came into the room. If they were having a nightmare or heard a scary noise, they might need a hug. And if older kids walk in and have questions, answer them honestly.
"Deal with it as naturally as possible," Witt said. "These things happen, and parents shouldn't shame the children for entering the bedroom or feel bad about it themselves. Sex is natural, and framing intimate interactions in a shame-free way is best for the kids."
There is no harm in using a lock on your bedroom door when you're having sex. You can explain to your kids that if they come to your door and it's locked, they will have to knock.
"I am a great believer in having a lock on your door," Werner said. "A knock gives you time to rearrange and dress yourselves. It also makes you feel less rushed and more likely to use positions, toys and clothes that you wouldn't want your kids necessarily to see."
When you have teenagers in the house…
If you have teenagers, you don't have the luxury of them going to bed early. So your only opportunity to have sex might be when you go to bed while they are still awake.
Werner said you can get around this problem by using a type of white noise at random intervals in the day.
"Put your fan on—or something noisy—in your bedroom even if you're not having sex," he said. "That way, you and the kids are not embarrassed every time you put it on, as they won't associate it with you having sex."
Talking about privacy from an early age can help, too. If you don't feel comfortable having a lock on the door, teach children of all ages that if the door is closed, to knock and wait for an answer. You don't have to keep your bedroom door permanently closed. Just shut it when you want privacy and then open it up again afterward.
You can also make the most of morning sex when your teens sleep in. Set the alarm a little earlier and schedule your sex when they are fast asleep.
Navigating sex around kids in the house can be a challenge, but if you get into the mindset of scheduling, it's entirely possible.