For a second there, life was pretty good. You and your special lady friend were intertwined and doing what came naturally at 8:30 p.m. on a Saturday. Then, a frightened little voice rang out from the corner of the room and hit you like a bucket of ice water. Suddenly, you have to make a hairpin turn from super freak to super dad.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Sex After Kids
Having your young child see you mid-pump? You may have some ’splainin to do, but Deborah Roffman says it doesn’t have to be a crisis. Roffman has advised parents and kids alike on sex and human sexuality since 1971, both in her work as a sexuality educator at the Park School of Baltimore, and as an author of Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ ‘Go-To’ Person About Sex. According to her, the first thing you need to do is relax — calm responsiveness is the key to diffusing this classic awkward situation. Otherwise you’ll say something dumb, like: “We were just practicing Tae Kwon Do.” That’ll haunt you later — when the Tae Kwon Do instructor calls to find out why your kid is dry-humping the punching bags.
Pull Up the Sheet and Contain the Situation
Your first instinct after being caught mid-hump will be to get less naked. That’s fine, but don’t let your body language send the wrong signals. Even though you’re startled, you have to force yourself to chill out. Otherwise, your kid will pick up on your anxiety and think something terrible has happened. Channel your inner Fred Rogers and, with your most measured tone, explain the reason for your initial reaction. “Say, ‘We were really surprised to see you there. We thought we were alone, and we probably reacted in a very strong way that you saw,’” advises Roffman.
Try to Judge Your Kid’s Emotions
Figure out what brought your child into your room. Were they seeking comfort after waking from a nightmare? Investigating the dying Rhino sounds coming from your room? Whatever the case, read your kid’s emotions and temper the conversation to that. “The important thing to do is look at the child’s face if you can,” says Roffman. They may be confused, frightened, or just kind of weirded-out. “If you have the presence of mind to do that, it will guide the conversation.”
Shift Down to Dad Mode
If the kid is scared after seeing your sweaty bodies (hence your “mirrors in the bedroom” rule), Roffman says ask them to come into the bed for a reassuring hug. Yes, this seems like a gross move, considering the business that was happening a second ago. But business hours are over, baby. You’re setting the tone for this situation. Remember, your kid’s perspective of what was happening is vastly different from yours. It’s only weird if you act like it’s weird — which is also good advice when you resume activities.
If you’re uncomfortable with giving hugs in that exact moment, defer the conversation slightly. “You could send the child to their room and say you’ll be there in 30 seconds,” she says. “That might feel more comfortable from your perspective. Not only does this create a clear mental boundary between kinky time and kiddie time, but it also gives you time to stash your riding crops, handcuffs, and Eyes Wide Shut masks.
The Right Words to Say
The key to managing this moment is to collect yourself and say something. You can breathe into a paper bag afterward. “The first thing a parent can say is that they are having some private time with each other, so if you can leave and close the door, that would be great,” says Roffman. “It can be as simple as that.” Your success will vary with the age of your kid. A 6-year-old will have a more sophisticated understanding of privacy than a 4-year-old.
Resist the Temptation to Lie
When you do have that talk, be straightforward. Don’t concoct a cover story. Your kid has seen WWE matches, and if you and mommy were “wrestling,” you have a pretty weak finishing move. Dishonesty does nothing but set a bad precedent about your truthfulness. “That’s more like denial on some level,” says Roffman. “It’s saying that what happened didn’t happen. And the child can plainly see that there was more going on than that.”
Be Straightforward About What They Saw
All right, this is where the rubbers meet the road. You might feel like lying through your teeth, but be honest. “It’s important not to teach children anything that they’re going to have to unlearn later,” she says. She suggests telling them something truthful that doesn’t give away a lot of detail. Like, “That’s a reverse piledriver, kids,” would be a good example of something not to say.
The Beginning of a Conversation
Kids are naturally curious, and parents should encourage them to ask follow-up questions — but schedule that press conference after you put on some pants. Some adults think knowing too much about sex too soon can be harmful for children, but the opposite is true. Parents who have ongoing conversations about sex and approach it as a fact of life actually prevent future risky behavior. “Children raised this way postpone first sexual experiences until they have more of a maturity needed to handle it well,” says Roffman. “People who know how to think about something make more cautious, deliberate, and thoughtful decisions.” So, think of your awkward moment now as paying dividends when they’re awkward teens.