How DO you tell your teens that you deserve a sex life
11:00 GMT, 27 September 2012
Late on a Saturday night, and my husband and I have retired to bed. Our books, mine a novel, his a history hardback, are sitting unopened on our bedside tables.
Our two lamps, one either side of our superking size bed, are dimmed. I am not wearing pyjamas; in fact, I am not wearing anything at all. My husband moves in for a kiss…
‘Is my T-shirt in here by any chance’ demands our 16-year-old as he bursts into the bedroom and pulls a drawer open without so much as an excuse me.
Tricky subject: Some parents can't bear to have sex themselves for fear of being overheard by the children
Having failed to find it, he then dashes out again, but the romantic spell between my husband and I is well and truly broken. I’ve completely gone off the thought of amorous action and reach for my novel.
I am sure there are younger couples out there who think that once the early years of child-rearing are behind them, they will be able to reclaim their once-active sex lives with gusto.
I know we did. And it’s true there was a brief halcyon window, when our three boys had regular early bedtimes and we were free in the evenings.
But now the children are 16, 13 and ten, trying to have sex with my beloved husband is fraught with difficulties.
For one thing, nowadays, the boys never go to bed before us. Recently, we were in the ludicrous position of actually being tucked up by our eldest. He waltzed in to give us both a goodnight kiss as we were reading — and waiting for him to go to bed — and I remember thinking that we’d really gone wrong here somewhere.
So it was quite reassuring, reading the publicity surrounding the film Hope Springs, and going to see a play, Jumpy, last week, to find we’re not alone struggling in our 40s to carve out a bit of intimate time for ourselves now we have teenagers in the house.
In Hope Springs, sex between 50-something Kay and Arnold (Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones) gradually falls off the agenda, eventually becoming an issue too pressing to ignore.
While in Jumpy, currently showing in London’s West End and starring the wonderful Tamsin Greig, there’s a brilliant, too-close-to-the-bone scene in which the parents of teenager Tilly hear her ‘getting it on’ with her boyfriend.
From that point on, they can’t bear to have sex themselves for fear of being overheard by the children.
Now I know why. When I was about 15, my father spent an entire weekend taking the ensuite bathroom door off its hinges. That bathroom door had a lock built in, so he swapped it for the door to his and my mother’s bedroom, which didn’t.
This weekend of DIY perplexed me, but now I realise it was so we teenagers would not interrupt them having sex!
Middle aged romance: Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep play a pair of empty nesters attempting to put the spark back in their marriage
A quarter of parents with teenagers confessed that they hadn't had sex in the past month
I didn’t like to imagine then (or now) that my parents actually had a physical relationship, as I’m sure my own children don’t of us — that’s as it should be.
But the way our children show absolutely no restraint, bursting into our bedroom at all hours to look for clothing, to ask one of us a question or to tell us something really important (‘Have you guys seen the moon tonight It’s awesome!’) indicates that the gruesome thought really hasn’t occurred to them at all.
Or, if it has, they’ve dismissed it as utterly impossible. And, if they continue to burst in, to stay up incredibly late, to play music/DVDs/guitars loudly, to come back from parties at all hours so that we have to stay up waiting for them, on tenterhooks, very soon they will be right.
In short, all this normal teenage behaviour makes having an intimate relationship with your spouse, if not completely impossible, then at least very tricky. And I know we’re not the only ones with this problem, because I have talked over this issue with my friends.
‘How do you do it’ I asked one of my girlfriends who, like me, has two teenagers. ‘Quietly,’ she replies, ‘and in a big hurry, with the door shut.’ (I rather took the door shut bit as a given, but was thankful for the detail.)
‘We have had some very close calls,’ she admitted, ‘especially early in the morning. But those moments tend to be with the younger children who just walk in,’ she added. ‘The older ones never do that now. They treat our bedroom as sacrosanct.’
Ah! This is obviously the key: having teenagers sensitive enough to give their parents a bit of privacy.
Awkward conversation: Just how do you broach the subject of sex with your teenage children
But how to achieve this Raising the issue with our boys is not a comfortable proposition.
But the experts believe we should try. ‘I don’t think you should feel embarrassed about sitting down with them and saying: “When our bedroom door is shut it is our private time and you must knock,” ’ says Christine Northam, who works for Relate, the marital counselling organisation.
Christine agrees that the teenage years can be a real trial for marriages. She sees many couples with relationships ‘going off the boil’ as they struggle to adapt to children being more dominant, less malleable and up late at night.
‘It’s the parents’ responsibility to keep the show on the road and to make their relationship a priority,’ she says. ‘You should value your relationship and protect the intimate side of it.’
Another mum friend, Susie, seems to manage this, despite having teenagers who are 13 and 15. She was told by her parents, who used to lock their bedroom door every Saturday morning when she was growing up, to ‘look after you two as a couple and don’t think life is all about the children’.
She swears by low bedroom lighting and the highest quality Egyptian and cotton bed linen, ‘for that luxury hotel feel’.
‘Consequently, everything in that garden is rosy, thank you very much,’ she tells me, a mite smugly.
While another friend suggests actually letting children catch you at it — just the once.
‘My daughter Chloe walked straight in on us about six months ago,’ says Laura, ‘and I just froze and said: “Get out — now!” She did and we’ve never mentioned it since. She’s not come near our bedroom, either.’
Busted! There's an excruciating scene in Tamsin Greig's new play, Jumpy, in which her character's teenage catches her 'getting it on' with her boyfriend
Then there’s Penny, who tells me all chance of coupling with her husband, David, on holiday this summer was severely curtailed by a combination of thin walls and their 13-year-old daughter.
‘David got up early on day one to make coffee,’ she explains. ‘Then he brought it into the bedroom, lent over and quietly said: “Fancy a quickie” “No!” came the disgusted wail from Sophie in the room next door, which rather put us off.’
Another pal has a solution, though it is rather extreme. ‘If you want a great sex life, you could always get divorced,’ suggests the friend, who is — you guessed it — recently divorced.
‘Seriously, if you want to have a sex life ever again, ditch your stale old marriage and get a boyfriend, preferably one who doesn’t have children, like mine, and then you can have as much sex as you like every other weekend when your ex has the children.’
But, after more than 25 years together, this seems a tad defeatist. There must be a better way to ensure some quality time.
Going away for a ‘dirty weekend’ has got to help, of course, as Christine from Relate predictably advises, but not everyone can afford it in these straitened times — or relishes that sort of pressure.
She also points out that intimacy comes in other ways, too, not just through sex. Doing things such as watching a television programme together in the evening is also important to help create a feeling of closeness, which might then lead to more later.
‘Getting the balance right is not easy,’ she cautions. ‘Try to appraise the situation together. Are you making too many sacrifices for your children Remember, they are going to leave home and you will be left together.’
Yes! She is so right. I am now determined to have that awkward chat with the boys. I will tell them not to burst into the bedroom when the door is closed or to stay up late making a noise because … you see … daddy and I … the thing is … in order for …
Or, better yet, I’ll get a joiner in to put a lock on the bedroom door. Well, it worked for my mum and dad.