Question: Is it shameful to have sex with family members nearby?
Note: this Q & A was originally included in Frank Answers Briefly About Male Body Issues because I perceived that it was submitted by a young male. In June 2021, I removed it from that post and re-posted it here in chronological order of its original date. (The question was asked on May 23, 2020; I answered it on May 25, 2020.) I left it in that order because the question was asked and the answer given in the context of the approaching COVID summer 2020. Readers may still find my answer interesting and perhaps applicable to their situation. Having sex with family or parents nearby is always awkward.
Frank answers: I wasn’t sure what to do with this question because it is so general. Yet I suspect the questioner has some specific situation in mind.
A number of possible situations come to my mind.
Could it be a married couple wanting to have sex with children in the next room? That’s a perennial issue for parents, but they figure it out how to do it according to the ages of the children. There’s nothing shameful about that.
We’re in the midst of a pandemic with stay-at-home recommendations. Could it be a married couple living in the home of parents? Parents expect their married children to be having sex. That’s how grandchildren are produced. There’s nothing shameful about that.
Could it be a married or an unmarried couple visiting the parents of one of the partners? I note that we are living in a pandemic. Many of us are not visiting family members during the time of COVID-19 due to travel restrictions and physical distancing.
So is it a case of a single son or daughter living at home with parents who wants to connect with a girlfriend or boyfriend? Maybe a college friend? That would be a specific and timely situation. I’m going to assume that’s the situation that concerns the questioner.
I’m going to further assume that the questioner is a male who wants to connect with his girlfriend by bringing her as a guest to his parents’ house or by being invited as a guest to her parents’ house. [This is why I originally included this Q & A in the post about male body and sexual issues.]
For starts, if the parents agree to a visit, or even bringing a local friend into the house, they would want to be sure that the guest is not a carrier of COVID-19. The guest would have to be tested, and test negative, and then quarantine for fourteen days to make the visit safe. Bringing someone into the house during the pandemic without taking these precautions would definitely be bad behavior that puts you and your parents at risk for contracting the coronavirus.
Let’s assume that these precautions have been met. By asking if having sex with your partner with family nearby would be “shameful” you already have a sense of the complications this situation raises. I am curious, however, as to why you ask if having sex with family nearby is “shameful” rather than, say, “awkward.” It makes me wonder if some connection between sex and shame was communicated to you, perhaps by your own parents or by your religious tradition.
For whom would having sex with your girlfriend with her or your parents nearby be shameful? Would having pre-marital sex go against the parents’ moral values? Have you and your friend discussed this issue? If you have not had sex previously, are each of you ready to have sex for the first time with each other in such a tense situation? Or have you already had sex with each other and you’re looking for a way that it can happen again? Is your friend comfortable with having sex with parents nearby? Her (or your) comfort level about this has to be respected.
Also, you are an invited guest in her parents’ home. How should you behave while under their roof? That may be part of the ethical issue you are raising. Also consider that if their daughter is bringing home her boyfriend, the parents will be especially interested in getting to know you. (Is this guy a future son-in-law?)
Where would the sex happen? In her or your bedroom? In a guest room where you might be sleeping? Would one of you be sneaking into the other’s bedroom at night? How close are these rooms to the parents’ bedroom? Sometimes the walls can be pretty thin. Or would the location for sex be downstairs, say in the living room while the parents are asleep? Does the home have a finished basement family room? Does plotting out how and where you can have sex with your friend’s parents nearby make it seem like you are being sneaky about it so the parents don’t know that the two of you are doing it? Is that what could be “shameful” about the situation?
These are important considerations. Let me say bluntly: Adult children don’t need to tell their parents that they are having sex. But is your friend comfortable telling the parents something like, “You don’t have to make any extra accommodations for my friend’s visit. We’ll sleep together in my room.” Your mother would surely want to know what she has to provide by way of hospitality. Or short of that, you could say, “We’re going to [whatever room] for privacy. Okay?” Your parents would expect that you don’t want to use your time together watching TV with them and they would probably try to stay out of your way. But are there other, especially younger, siblings at home whom you have to maneuver around to have space for intimacy?
There’s nothing inherently shameful about adult couples having sex with other family members nearby, but there are relational issues. In my view even parents with traditional negative attitudes about sex before marriage need to give adult children some leeway on this no matter what they think about it, and they usually do so out of respect for their adult child. Maybe you are at your friend’s parent’s home. They may have some awareness that their daughter and you have been having sex. Parents often guess these things even if their children say nothing about it.
Navigating these situations is always awkward. Whether married or not, couples want privacy when they have sex. Just as it was awkward for your parents to have sex when you were a little kid who was likely to barge in on them, so now it’s awkward for you as young adults to have sex when parents (and other family members) are nearby. So it has been since time immemorial, I suppose. People living in tight quarters always had to be creative strategists to find a time and place to have sex. When it comes to sex in the family compound, privacy for adults has to be respected.
Pastor Frank Senn