I don't understand this aversion. I occasionally saw my parents having sex when I was a kid. It was no big deal. I knew that they were doing it more often than I saw it and I knew how I got there.

Being from mainstream suburban US culture, I know only one family in which the members had sex freely in front of the others. The kids grew up seeing their parents have sex, and they had sex without being freaked out about closing doors and being quiet. It was just a natural part of life for them. Why isn't it like that for all of us?

The majority of humans, historically speaking, must surely have had sex in front of their kids. Most people have lived in one-room dwellings, and I doubt they abstained. They probably had much healthier views on human sexuality than that of American prurience. People assert that kids would be damaged by such exposure, but I want to know how and why they would, and further, why the other people with such experiences were not. But no one provides a respectable answer.

Shouldn't we be striving in this way to free ourselves from the dogmatic and limiting inhibition with which we are culturally programmed given that there is no plausible damage and substantial possible benefit? The idea of having sex in front of my kids makes me uncomfortable. But contributing to the sense of taboo that my kids will know because of not being open about sex seems irresponsible.

There it is...hiding sex from your kids is an act of irresponsible parenting.

But like most other people I know, that's what I'm doing. Maybe I can learn to be strong enough to overcome the discomfort.

The fear and revulsion that seems to accompany catching Mom and Dad acting like they might be in love is a fairly recent phenomenon. It dates from the nineteenth century and was originally confined to the upper classes, who could afford separate bedrooms. Actually, for most humans watching Mom and Dad is not only normal, it's sex education.

It is worthwhile to remember that most people don't live in the large apartments and single family homes that characterize Europe and North America. In much of the world, multiple generations are crammed into one household. For America's pioneer forefathers and mothers, and much of the poorer parts of the world, one room is it. Personal space is the size of your bunk.

Which means that if Mom and Dad are feeling passionate toward each other, and it isn't really warm outside, well guess what, the kids are getting a show. I'm sure some shyness comes when the kids get past infancy and have something of a clue, but really if you live under those conditions you have two choices: Get Over It or Keep your Legs Clenched all the time. Of course extended clenching never eases frustration. Frustration encourages 'getting over it'.

But consider what harm is done. Kids learn that sex is normal, which they probably observed in the barnyard. Sex isn't dirty, rather something you do with the person you love and are married to. Not such a bad example, really. And if you don't happen to have Kinsey handy to explain what a clitoris is, Little Johnny can pick up that point by watching what touching down there does to Mommy. Useful info for his own wedding night.

I know it's hard for us modern folks to become accustomed to the idea that our parents are people who actually feel erotic love for each other. After all, in our society children are to be completely sheltered from sex until they're about to be married. That standard is unrealistic, and contributes greatly obssessive sexual attitudes. But our ancestors knew better. They knew and accepted that sex was a normal part of life. And invented the bundling board to make certain kids didn't go too far, while 'sparking'. Much of what shocks us today was old hat decades earlier.

One source: Jay Furnace: The Americans: A Social History of the American People: copywrite 1967, University of Virginia Press.

I can imagine a scenario in which a child in a warm, functional family sees his or her parents making the sign of the beast with two backs and thinks nothing more than "Aww, ain't they cute? They must really love each other!" with no trace of embarrassment or anxiety for the viewer or the viewees.

Then again, I can also imagine a scenario in which vampiric elephants from outer space conquer Earth.

There are a huge number of reasons why kids can get royally freaked out seeing the old folks doing the horizontal rhumba. Some, I agree, are the product of unreasonable cultural conditioning, but other revulsion I believe is perfectly natural.1

Picture the following situations:2

You're four years old, and you find your parents' bedroom door closed. You hear muffled sounds within. Curious, you reach up and turn the doorknob. The door swings open to reveal your father, naked and sweating, on top of your mother. Your mother is moaning as if in pain, and your father is pushing against her violently. He's hurting her! It sounds like he's trying to kill her! You start to wail in fear. Your father turns, and barks, "Close the door, dammit!"

You're twelve years old, and painfully body conscious. You push open the door and see your parents making out on the couch. They're mostly naked, and their flesh is all old and saggy and wrinkly. Your father looks like a beached walrus under your mother. A dozen dismayed thoughts run through your mind: Will I look like that when I'm that old? No, I'll never look like that. They look ridiculous. Gawd, why don't they cover up? You quietly leave, blushing furiously.

You're fourteen years old; you're at an age where a good stiff breeze gives you a woody. You get a thrill out of looking up "dirty" words in the dictionary at school. You stumble in on your parents making love in the den. Your mother's breasts are bared; she doesn't look like the chicks in Penthouse, but she looks ... good. You feel yourself getting hard before you realize that holy shit, I'm turned on at the sight of my parents having sex and you hurry out of there fast as you can, wishing you could wash your brain clean of the memory.

You're sixteen years old. Ever since you hit puberty, your father's been acting creepier and creepier. He keeps "accidentally" barging in on you while you're bathing or changing clothes. Sometimes, he comes into your room at night and ... you don't want to think about it. It was just a dream. But as you see your father groping your mother in the laundry room, it all comes flooding back, all those bad memories you've tried so hard to put out of your head. You run away, wishing you could purge your mind.

If our culture was more accepting of "mature" body types and if sex wasn't an act most kids see only in movies, an act where the onscreen lovers are never anything but beautiful, then, yes, in some families embarrassment would lessen.

And if children were not so sheltered from normal sexual activity, they'd be less likely to find the sight of their parents having sex to be inadvertently titillating (and therefore horrifying). However, I feel that we psychologically have some built-in revulsion to seeing our immediate family members -- whether parents, siblings, or children -- as sexual creatures; such revulsion prevents unhealthy inbreeding, after all.

But if a kid has experienced molestation or unwanted advances at the hands of a parent, there's nothing that's going to make them feel anything but incredibly ill at the sight of said parent having sex. For that matter, any child who has been molested, whether by a family member or a stranger, runs a high chance of having a bad reaction to anything that could remind them of the abuse, be it an object or the sight of naked adult bodies. And since our culture already condemns child abuse, and it still happens more often than any of us would like to believe, it is unlikely to be purged from our society.

Thus, no matter how utopian our societal views become, for some kids seeing their parent(s) having sex is going to make them want to scrub their brains. For the vast majority, of course, seeing the 'rents aardvarking isn't going to turn them into a pillar of salt. Temporary embarrassment is usually the worst that happens.


1 I am not implying that "natural" is synonymous with "good" or "desirable" here; I'm talking about behaviors that seem to stem from any innate human emotional reaction, be those emotions constructive or destructive, rather from a reaction to cultural pressures. The distinction is sticky, I know, and I'm not a psychologist or sociologist, so your milage may vary.

For instance, it's human nature to feel frustration -- which often turns to anger -- when one is interrupted during sex (not everyone feels this way, of course; some people don't care for sex at all and might be glad to be interrupted). It's human nature to become embarrassed, and to want privacy to some degree (name me a culture in which people commonly have sex in public; I haven't heard of one, thus I feel we have a universal need for some amount of privacy. The old era of having sex in the family bed was, for them, the best they could do for privacy). Scientists have found evolutionary bases for evil human acts such as rape and murder, so those are arguably "natural" as well.

Is overcoming instinctive bad behavior through being taught to behave in a more enlightened manner more "natural" than just giving in to baser instincts? I can't speak to the relative "naturalness" of the behaviors I've described, and can only say that I think the scenarios are pretty common.

2 All these scenarios are based on firsthand accounts I've heard from other people. They will not apply to every child or teenager (see footnote 1), but that should go without saying.

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