When your child walks in during sex

If your child walks in on you during an intimate moment, you need to tailor your response to the child's age, experts say.

Story highlights

  • Kids walking in during parental sex is very common, an expert says
  • Toddlers may need reassurance, but don't require details
  • Parents may need to explain other things, such as sex toys or pornography
It's a moment that not all parents have experienced, but that many of us fear: You're enjoying a passionate encounter with your partner, oblivious to the pitter-patter of little feet until it's too late.
Have you just scarred your kid for life? Certainly not -- but, depending on your child's age, you might have some explaining to do.
"Being walked in on during sex is a very common experience -- and a great example of why it is important to knock first, and always respect someone's privacy," says sexologist Logan Levkoff. "But before you say anything to your child, you are going to need to determine what they heard, saw, and if they even care about what was going on."
I believe that how you should address these questions or concerns depends on your child's age.
For example, most experts agree that parents shouldn't worry about being intimate near their baby.
Ian Kerner
"Many families choose co-sleeping with babies, or having babies in the parental bedroom," explains psychotherapist Jennifer Naparstek Klein. "It doesn't seem harmful for there to be parental sexuality while a baby snoozes or is nearby in various states of alertness. Babies cannot process what the parents are doing, so it has no significance to them."
Here are some considerations for every age group:
Toddlers: Some young children may be oblivious to sex, while others may need reassurance.
"Children sometimes think something violent or frightening is happening, and that should be addressed," says sex therapist Margie Nichols. "When my son was a toddler, he thought his stepdad was 'hurting' me because, well, we were way too loud and even very late at night my son could hear us."
Explain that you and your partner were having a private moment and that you weren't hurting each other, and leave it at that unless your child has more questions.
Elementary-age children: Kids this age have some curiosity about sex, but at the same time, they generally want to steer away from the subject.
"Always follow your child's lead on what they can handle," suggests Klein. "If they get too uncomfortable with sex talk, save it for a later time."
Tweens: By this age, many kids know what's going on and may even make noises of loud disgust if they walk in on you by accident. Yet it's a great time to give your child the idea that sex is a private, enjoyable activity that takes place in adult relationships, says Nichols.