By Emma McGowan
How do you deal with sex when you’re living with your parents? It’s an awkward question—almost makes me cringe just to write it—but it’s one that about 32% of people between the ages of 18 and 34 may be asking themselves right now. Yup, that’s right: Almost a third of young adults live back home with mom and dad. In fact, for the first time in 130 years more young adults are living with parents than are living with partners.
And while the topic of sex might not be an issue when you’re a teen, it’s definitely an issue for most adults. Especially if you’ve been living independently—either at school or in an apartment of your own—before moving back in with the ‘rents, adjusting to new limitations can be tough (especially on your sex life).
But it is doable—and I’m speaking from experience. At various times in my adult life I’ve lived with my parents as a single woman and as part of a couple. Both situations brought different challenges, but I survived to pass on my wisdom. Tip number 1: You have to talk to your parents openly about sex. I know it’s awkward, but we’re all adults here, right?
How to have the (other) sex talk with your parents
“It is easy to fall back into parent/child roles when you live at home as an adult,” Clinical sexologist Rena McDaniel says. “However, the truth is that you and your parents are all adults. Starting this conversation is sure to be slightly awkward, but approaching it as a group of adults talking about sex and expectations instead of a child talking to a parent about sex, might make it a little less weird. Be confident. You aren't doing anything wrong.”
Dr. Grant Brenner, MD, co-author of Irrelationship: How We Use Dysfunctional Relationships to Hide From Intimacy, recommends sketching out the conversation beforehand—and maybe even practicing with a neutral party if you’re worried about how it’s going to go.
“This conversation should be sketched out so that the adult child knows what they want to say, and how they want to say it, based on knowing their parent's typical feelings and responses,” Dr. Brenner says. “It may be useful to rehearse the conversation with someone appropriate if they expect it to be a difficult conversation, preparing for various different reactions, as one might for a job interview. It helps to come prepared with reasonable solutions, such as options for times which may be most convenient for all parties involved. Entering a potentially destabilizing conversation unprepared is an invitation for it to go wrong.”
In my experience, there are a few things you need to cover.
If you’re single and dating: Make sure it’s clear that sometimes you won’t be making it home and that you'd prefer if they didn't pry too much when it comes to this aspect of your personal life. If you think your parents will be open to it, ask them how they’d feel with you bringing someone home after a night out. Also ask how they would feel about you bringing someone home if you end up in a relationship.
If you’re already in a relationship: This conversation will probably be a bit easier than it is for folks who are interested in bringing home randos. (Sorry, but it’s true.) Your parents probably know your SO, but if they don’t, start by inviting him or her over for dinner so that everyone can meet. After that—but not while your SO is still there, because that’s hella awkward—ask your parents how they would feel about your boo staying over once in a while.
Even if you had these conversations with your parents when you were a teenager, it’s important to have them again as an adult. After all, you’re older now and your relationship with your parents has changed. It’s a new situation and it’s worth a new conversation. (BTW, here are a few tips to get you started.)
What if I just really can’t go there with my parents?
If you really feel this is a conversation you can’t have—or can’t have productively—Dr. Brenner suggests taking steps to avoid an awkward confrontation.
“The other option is to keep the situation from you parents, and either plan around the parents' schedule or find other locations for sex,” Dr. Brenner says. “If you plan to have sex at home without your parents' knowledge, it is wise to give some thought to how the parents might react if they find out.”
If you’re thinking about having sex in your parent’s home without talking to them about it first, ask yourself: Is it going to cause them personal pain if they find out? Is it going to hurt your relationship with them? Would it be totally in violation of their wishes? If the answer is “yes” to any of those questions, it might not be worth doing. There are other options to consider: The car, the apartment of the person you’re doing it with, even hotel rooms! Shoot, you could even buy a tent and take up camping. Point being: There are ways to still get it on, even if you’re not willing or able to talk to your parents about having sex in their house.
So if you’re one of that one third of millennials living at home, don’t despair. It really doesn’t have to be the end of your sex life. Push through the awkwardness and, I promise, it will be better on the other side.
Emma McGowan is a veteran blogger who writes about startups and sex. She is a regular contributor to Bustle and Startups.co and her work has appeared in Mashable, The Daily Dot's The Kernel, Mic, and The Bold Italic. She’s a sex-positive feminist whose hobbies include making patterns and sewing, connecting with other women, and reading at least three books a week. She moves to a new country every three to nine months and only sometimes misses Vermont.