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Is It Time to Stop Co-Sleeping With Our Toddler? It’s Not for the Reason You Think

A parent asks an uncomfortable question that is only natural, but still embarrassing.

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Goodfather,

So, I get morning wood. Who doesn’t? Not to brag, but mine is long and strong — as in, it takes a good 20 minutes to go down in the morning. This was never a problem (opposite!) before we had a baby. Now that we have a toddler, it is definitely freaking weird.

The baby slept in our bed from the get-go and, while the wood issue was uncomfortable, I could easily turn to my side and wait it out. Or just walk away — it’s not like the baby was going to notice that my tent was pitched. But now, my sweet little 3-year-old girl wakes up and wants to snuggle. I’ve tried to keep her cuddles up on my chest, but she’s been getting bigger and kicking me in the dick. So, I’ve been hustling out of bed in the morning and hiding in the bathroom. Really. It’s pathetic.

I’m freaked out that my kid is going to notice something and ask a question I’m not ready to answer. How do I tell her I can’t snuggle? Really, I just want to have my own bed back so I can have morning wood and my wife in peace. Can I use this as a way to convince my wife to sleep train?

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Uncomfortable in Utah

Hey, man. Congratulations on having a totally normal functioning penis. Also, thank you for asking about a delicate situation that many co-sleeping dads silently struggle with. I think there are a couple of ways you can tackle the issue of morning wood in proximity to bed-sharing children. And none of them will likely be as hard … I mean, difficult … as trying to offer advice when literally everything I type feels like a dick double-entendre. Here goes.

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The first thing we need to do is help you shift your perspective about the situation you find yourself in every morning. Your morning erection, which is clinically called nocturnal penile tumescence or sleep-related erection (SRE), is completely normal. Erections may occur several times during your nightly sleep cycle and they happen in concert with Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Basically, while your brain dreams, it’s triggering the hormonal and nervous system process that produce erections. The reason you wake up with an erection is due to the fact that most people wake during a lighter, REM sleep cycle. In other words, morning wood is in no way related to any kind of sexual arousal. In fact, if you had a baby boy, you would have likely noticed that he could get morning wood as early as 3 weeks old.

I’m telling you this so you understand that there is no reason to feel guilty for waking up with an erection. It is a natural process, and that process will occur if there is a child in your bed or not. Of course, it’s unlikely that knowledge will make you feel any less uncomfortable about the situation. Getting your erection kicked by a drowsy 3-year-old girl is likely going to be cringe-inducing regardless of how natural and non-sexual the erection is. But importantly, you are the only one experiencing discomfort in that situation. Your daughter probably doesn’t give a shit. Sure she might accidentally kick your erection, but for her, it’s like kicking your elbow, or your ribs, or your gut.

Your experience of embarrassment and shame is based entirely on the fact that you have an adult context for erections. You have a lifetime of using your penis in sexually mature ways and all of that is tangled up in your head. For you, an erection means sex. And, thank the lord, your daughter will be blissfully unaware of that context until many years from now. In other words: You made it weird.

You’re not going to ditch that weirdness overnight. You’d have to somehow undo years of powerful memories about getting it on. But, you can take a deep breath and calm down about the situation. Nobody is being mentally scarred here. I mean, you might be if you think you’re committing some form of sickening unconscious incest. You’re not.

Can you use the issue of your morning discomfort to convince your wife you need to sleep train your kid? Sure. But you need to be prepared for a conversation that will probably just as uncomfortable as the discomfort you’re trying to avoid in the first place. You’ll also need to be prepared to enter into the sleep training process, which isn’t easy.

I’m not suggesting you keep the status quo. If the discomfort you feel is disrupting your relationship with your kid, you need to take care of it. In the long term that will mean reaching a consensus about sleep-training with your wife. But in the short term taking care of it will require you to change your habits and not make a big deal about it.

So, sorry to say, until your kid can find a way to stay in her own bed, you’ll have to exit yours. Running off to the bathroom seems a bit extreme (and immature), so why not make the most of your time and take your boner to the kitchen to make some coffee or cook breakfast. At least, then, your kid has a sense that the time spent not cuddling has been useful.

That doesn’t mean you should stop cuddling your kid. It just means that you shift the timing. Cuddles are good. That’s prime bonding time. Moving cuddles to the couch once your kid is awake makes sense. Don’t lose that time, fence it off.

You may not even need to be that extreme. You may find that the answer is as simple as sitting up in bed and arranging pillows to create a barrier between your child and your junk. That way you can cuddle safely without fear of your morning wood being jostled. And it might be, once you understand that there is nothing close to sexual in that moment, that you can take a deep breath and enjoy waking up with your daughter.