How Indian Parents Find Time and Privacy for Sex Despite Joint Families, Small Flats
Strategically-planned sexy time is a parental necessity, particularly in a country known for its traditional joint family structure—a system that leaves little privacy for sex. Data from the 2011 census, released last year, shows that, although the multigenerational family is on the decline, variations continue to thrive: Couples might live with their children, as well as a sibling, or an elderly aunt, or a widowed parent.
Not surprisingly, this is more prevalent in urban areas, a fact undoubtedly related to the prohibitive cost of property in metropolises like Mumbai, where a couple and their children may live in cramped households, and even share a bedroom.
What all this means is privacy for A-rated parental activities is a rare, precious commodity.
Some mice play when the cats are away, which ensures there are no unpleasant surprises. And some parents say they keep kids busy with other members of the family while they have a quickie.
“We live with my in-laws and our 5-year-old but haven’t ever been walked in on during sex,” S. says. (All parents agreed to speak on the condition they be identified only by their initial, because … sex.)
P., a father of two junior schoolers, lives in a traditional joint family with his wife, kids, parents, brother and brother’s family. “We’ve been careful about [sex] and continue to be,” he says.
And then there are daredevils like R., whose nuclear family household includes a preteen and toddler.
“I’ve found that till your child is roughly four, it’s relatively safe to ‘do it’ just after they’ve fallen asleep, while they’re in deep sleep mode,” she says. “Stack up some pillows between you and them, and go for it as quietly as you can.”
However, R. admits, it is tricky business.
“Sometimes their little arms flail about and eyes flicker open. A young baby can usually be put right back to sleep with some patting and a lullaby, but for older, more inquisitive toddlers, you need to have a blanket handy to pull over yourselves super quick, to hide the buck-naked evidence,” she says, adding that you need to be prepared to answer questions that may arise then or later on.
But for C., who lives with her in-laws and is mom to a baby and 3-year old, covert coupling isn’t worth the risk.
“My babies think their mother is in danger and begin to cry,” she rues. “It’s a psychological complication waiting to happen.”
To a certain extent, C.’s right.
“A newborn will not be able to notice or be affected if parents have sex nearby, but as children grow older, it is difficult to gauge how alert they are. They could wake up at any moment,” says Dr Shefali Batra, a Mumbai-based psychiatrist.
But if kids do wake or walk in, whether there are any lasting scars depends more on parents’ reactions to these accidental witnesses.
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“It’s an awkward situation for both parents and children, but it is important to pay attention to the child’s reaction,” says Dr Mohit Shah, a consultant psychiatrist at Unlimited Potentialities, a mental healthcare clinic in Mumbai. “Younger children may think you’re either playing or being violent. Some may be curious and ask questions. Older children who are more aware will be embarrassed. Children may not be traumatised but it depends on how parents handle the situation.”
Dr Batra advises couples to react to being found in this excruciatingly awkward situation with as much parental composure as possible.
“It’s crucial that you don’t show embarrassment. Reassure them if they look scared, and set the tone for the discussion that’s to follow,” says the founder of the mental health initiatives InnerHour and Mindframes. “Be honest—your child should know that sex is not a bad thing, that it’s normal, and it’s something adults do privately.”
If your reaction in the past has been panic, embarrassment and a crisp, ‘Go back to bed’, without having sat down later and explained to your child what it was they saw (an age-appropriate explanation, of course), you’re walking a parental tightrope. In a Season 2 episode of the sitcom Modern Family, Claire and Phil Dunphy react with panic and denial when they are caught in the act by their three children. This comical situation concludes with the children, who are grossed out but far from irreparably damaged, gifting their parents a lock for their bedroom door.
This TV episode may have had a neat ending, but real life isn’t scripted. “There is no standard response,” says Dr Batra. “First, if you’re undressed, throw your clothes back on. Don’t lie, using gems like ‘We were just wrestling,’ because your child may want to join in. Or they may think naked wrestling is the norm and ape your behaviour with their own playmates. They may even talk about their mummy and daddy wrestling in the nude when they’re at school or with relatives. The truth is definitely safer on all counts.”
If your child has their own room and happened to come to yours, ask them to wait for you back in theirs. Smile reassuringly as you say it, and when you get dressed and go to them, explain what they saw frankly. If your child sleeps in the same room as you, ask them to wait out for a minute or close their eyes, as you throw clothes on before explaining yourself.
And delivery matters.
“Take a deep breath to calm yourself. Don’t broach the subject of sex with awkwardness or shame, because your child will associate sex with those emotions too,” Dr Shah says. “If your child is over three, they’ll have plenty of questions, so answer as best you can.”
Dr Batra even suggests seeing the coitus interruptus as an opening for some introductory sex ed.
“You don’t need to go into graphic detail for children below six, but drive in the message that sex is something parents do in private,” she says.
And here’s R.’s advice: Be accurate and honest whenever you do have to explain yourself. “They (kids) don’t need intricate details, but answer their questions when they’re young and expand on them as they grow older,” she says. “If you don’t know where to start, they learn a lot of detailed plant biology in school. Drawing parallels to the human body might be a good way to have a conversation.”
If my two paise count, I say avoid the caught-naked scenario altogether. Send your kids off with assorted family members to a restaurant, movie or fair (your treat) and rock that headboard till you hear the key turning in the lock.
N., who is part of a nuclear unit with his wife and almost-7-year-old, perhaps sums up best the secret to sex – without interruption – after kids: “We time it well.”