In India such a scenario is quite common for at least two reasons: lack of space and parenting style.

Is it okay for parents to have sex when their children are sleeping in the same roomImage for representation
Features Saturday, March 19, 2016 - 11:02

For several days now, the internet has been abuzz with discussions on whether it is all right for couples to have sex while their children are asleep in the same room.

In February, an anonymous user said on an online parenting forum that she had been "increasingly disturbed" since she learned that her friend and her husband had sex in the room as their children slept.

The person wrote, "My friend says it's fine - they make sure the children are asleep but I am not certain that you can be sure or that they won't wake up and lie there wondering what is happening."

On the one hand, some people said that they too had had sex with their spouses while the children slept nearby, but on the other, some parents thought it amounted to child abuse.

Here are some of the reactions.

In India however, such a scenario is quite common for at least two reasons: lack of space and parenting style.

According to the 2011 Census, 39 percent of households surveyed said they had a one-room house – 74 million households – while 3 percent said that they no exclusive room – six million households. These numbers are the same as in the 2001 Census.

However, another reason why such a situation may arise, is that children in Indian families often tend to sleep with their parents until they are several years old, compared with children in western countries, where children are brought up differently.

While understanding that lack of privacy due to small-size houses may force parents to have sex when their children are in the same room, Chennai-based child psychiatrist Dr V Jayanthini says that some caution is advisable.

She however says the discussion in developed countries that this could amount to abuse was not correct. “This is not child abuse or emotional abuse. This is just about parents having normal sexual relations,” Dr Jayanthini says.

She goes on to add that it is important to understand that, should children witness their parents having sex, the impact would depend on their age, and could also be long-lasting. She has had several patients, including children and young adolescents, tell her that they had seen their parents having sex.

“One child got frightened and thought his father was trying to kill his mother. Another thought of it while masturbating. Some children, especially girls, can develop an aversion to sex. Children can be distracted or worried and may not be able to say anything or react,” she says.

Child rights activist and former Chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR) Nina Nayak said that it is “not good for the psyche of children” to watch their parents in sexual acts and that such situations should be avoided.

“It is not abuse, but for a child, this can be scary. They may not know what they have seen and may be unable to verbalise it. They might even feel that their mother is being abused. It also depends on the age of the child,” she said.

Although she acknowledges that often, couples are forced have sex while their children sleep next to them, she says there is a lack of awareness about the impact of such a situation.

“Maybe it is because we don’t talk about marital sex. The issue needs to be introduced to children in teen-age or college-age so that they know about privacy and know how to avoid similar situations when they have a family. India will have to start talking about it,” she added.

What parents can do

However, simple measures could ensure that children do not have to deal with accidentally watching their parents in the act. Couples could ensure that the kids are asleep if it’s not possible to have sex in a separate room. If there is more space, kids could be put to bed in the room while parents use the kitchen or hall. When possible, Dr Jayanthini, says it is always better that children sleep in a separate room since children could wake up suddenly or become aware of what is happening in the room.

If space is not a problem, parents should attempt to get children to sleep in a different room around the age of four. “In western countries, children start sleeping on their own much earlier, but in India, it should begin when they are 4-5 years old and the transition should be slow. But they must know that they can come to their parents' room anytime they want to. Parents can lock their room while having sex to avoid accidental walk-ins,” she says.

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