As all three of our teen/young adult kids prepare to move out on their own, I’ve been thinking a lot about the seasons of life and the seasons of our marriage–specifically, our sex life.

When the kids were small, our sex life was affected by physical exhaustion and the 24/7 demand of meeting the needs of little ones. As soon as we could once again have eight consecutive hours of sleep, sex got easier. We could plop the kids in front of a video or leave them playing without supervision for a short period of time.

At some point, a friend told me, “You think it’s hard to fit sex in now? Just wait until they’re old enough to know what you’re doing. That’s even harder.” You know what? She was right.

As the kids grew into their teens, I struggled with the idea that they might overhear us. It wasn’t so much that I minded them knowing we had sex; I just didn’t want them to overhear any details—human sounds, bed sounds, even knowing the frequency or duration of our sexual activity. And with our bedroom directly over the TV room, well, even if we were quiet, they were going to hear something. Sometimes, I would hear one of them comment to another, “Did you hear Mom and Dad doing it again? That’s gross.” One time my older son said to me, “I just think you should know that we hear the bed squeaking when you and Dad are being gross on Sunday afternoons. We’d like you to wait until we’re asleep.” I was horrified and immediately ended our usual Sunday afternoon sexual activity.

The kids became one of my excuses not to have sex. They’re downstairs watching TV with a friend. Do you want to have to go back downstairs afterward and watch them squirm from embarrassment? The kids being home and awake gave me my most justifiable (in my mind) excuse not to have sex. If they were home and not asleep, I was “safe.” As our kids got older and we went to bed before they did, we had sex less and less. I was relieved, even though I noticed our marriage was getting weaker outside the bedroom.

Even once I opened my heart enough to begin to make sexual changes, I wondered how I would learn to deal with the obstacles that I still perceived as big and real, particularly the kids. I realized by that point that sex was important in a marriage, but it was beyond me how I would deal with it if I knew the kids overheard us. Fortunately, one of the benefits of improved sexual intimacy in the bedroom was an improvement in our sense of togetherness outside the bedroom as well. Instead of me feeling like I was the one facing the kids, I felt like we were. Somehow that made it easier. At some point, I stopped worrying enough about whether we were overheard to realize that the kids were probably far more embarrassed about it than I was, so they would be happy to talk about anything other than the fact that they’d heard us.

So I stopped worrying about whether or not the kids were home and awake. If they were around, we tried to keep it quiet, but I no longer lay there and thought about whether they could hear the squeaking of the bed frame or an occasional moan. After all, they all had earbuds and mp3 players. And I was busy with something much more interesting than what the kids were doing.

Several months ago, my husband and son were at the grocery store. We’d had a particularly lovely time the night before, so I decided it would be fun to send my husband a text message about it. I sent a pretty tame, “I had a good time last night.” So there my husband was, standing in the cereal aisle next to our son. My text message arrived.  Unbeknownst to me, my husband had gotten an app that reads text messages aloud. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem because he has a Bluetooth, but on this day he’d left his Bluetooth in the car. So you guessed it. Not only did my son hear the text message, so did everyone else in the cereal aisle and the aisles on either side of cereal.

My son decided he would do better waiting out in the car rather than having to see all the amused looks from everyone in the store who overheard. When my husband arrived back at the car, my son said, “I can’t ever erase this experience from my memory. It was bad enough that I had to hear it last night, but tell Mom to stop sending you `thank you’ texts afterward. It’s just awkward. And while you’re at it, maybe you could decide not to have sex until we’re asleep.” My husband laughed and said, “Fine. You can start going to bed at 7 o’clock again. Otherwise, I’d never have sex. You have earbuds. Wear them. I’m not about to stop having sex with my wife. How do you think you got here?”

What a difference a few years—and a transformation—make. Once I would have cringed with embarrassment. Now it is my husband’s and my favorite “my marriage is so great now” stories that we share with each other. And that, my friends, is priceless.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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10 Thoughts on “The Joy of Earbuds

  1. Cindy B on May 27, 2013 at 3:35 pm said:

    Wiped tears from laughter with that story! It has been MANY years since we have had to have that worry 🙂

  2. I’m going to have to remember that line about going to bed at 7pm again when my kids get older and start complaining.

  3. I’ve never worried about the kids hearing, but they react much the same way. They’ve said things like ‘you were really loud last night’ and my favorite comment: ‘you guys are worse than the internet!’ If I’m driving and my phone goes off I hand it to however is in the passenger seat so there have been one or two text message incidents too. We don’t act ashamed, we smile big and tell them sex is a wonderful and important part of marriage. Flirting and innuendo happen where they can see/hear it too. Grossing the kids out is fun.

  4. When our kids say something to us, we remind then about all their friends whose parents are getting divorced and ask them if they want that to happen to us. They say, “No.” We then remind them that our alone time is one way to keep that from happening.

  5. So funny, I laughed out loud 🙂 Our bedroom is directly below a bedroom upstairs that belonged to our oldest daughter, now our youngest son has moved up there since she married and moved out. I never realized how sound could carry so well from our room to that room until right before my daughter got married. I went up there to talk to her and my husband was already in the bed, he cleared his throat pretty loudly, and I could hear it right under my feet….I about had a heart attack….There is no telling how much she had heard, unbeknownst to us, in those five years we had lived in this house. I guess it didn’t scar her too badly, she is about to celebrate her 5 year anniversary and seems very happily married. Now, I do try to be a little more subdued when I know he is still awake, and I tell my husband “I swear the bed doesn’t squeak until we finish and start to get dressed, and then it seems so loud….. 😉 , cause I surely don’t hear it during!”

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  7. David J. on July 29, 2013 at 11:26 pm said:

    What a terrific story. Your son may have been embarrassed in the moment, but I wager it will prove to have been good for him long-term.

    Many years ago, I had to join our family for a beach vacation already in progress. Because I got in late that first night, my wife and I ended up on a mattress on the floor in the condo’s living room downstairs. And because I hadn’t seen my wife for a few days, I initiated sex, which she resisted rather emphatically because we weren’t behind a closed and locked door (even though all the kids were long asleep at that point). In our next counseling session, we were telling the counselor about it. He looked at her and asked why she said no. She said, “Because one of the kids might have come down the stairs and seen us!” He said, “Would that have been so bad?” Her jaw practically hit the floor. For her, sex was always something to be embarrassed about. (And no, she was not moved to reconsider by the counselor’s reaction.)

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