Ellen Freeman Roth                      

Sunday Magazine
August 20, 2006

Our kids think we have sex constantly. What a good idea.

My kids are sure that the minute the front door closes behind them, their father and I chase each other around the house naked. My 16-year-old son drops sly references about his parents' sex life - or at least his concept of it. My 14-year-old daughter is more direct. Before she and her brother headed off for three weeks this summer, she asked: "So, what will you two do while we're away? Oh, never mind. I know."

My husband, Steven, and I work from the house, and our kids seem to think that while they're at school studying Shakespeare, we're home, as the Bard wrote in Othello, "making the beast with two backs."

This makes me laugh as I hand off the errand list to Steven, hoping to quarry an extra hour from the day. Between parenting, working, chores, and exercise, a rumble under the covers doesn't often hit my to-do list, especially during daylight hours. Oh, I'm sure I could lure Steven to the bedroom. But I work most productively and creatively when the kids aren't around, and I'm not inclined to squander that time. And yet the kids can't imagine that adults with license and opportunity to have sex would miss any chance.

Maybe that's because for them, sex is still uncharted territory. I hope. Or maybe it's just their raging hormones. I remember those hormones. Mine took leave when I had my ovaries removed some years ago because of a genetic risk for cancer. While teenage libido doesn't seem to have an off switch, mine's on a dimmer. And when it's not, the kids are inevitably rattling around the house.

One Sunday morning when both kids were sleeping, Steven crept to our bedroom door, secured the lock, and slid back into bed. I slipped off my nightie. The newspaper could wait. We thought. Minutes later, footsteps padded to our usually open door. Then a knock.

"Mom?" our daughter yelled through the door.

"Yes, hon?" I answered, making every effort not to pant.

"Can we have pancakes?"

"Sure." I took a quiet, deep breath. "Either you can make them or I'll take care of it in a little while."

"OK." Footsteps retreated down the stairs.

When I went down to the kitchen, my daughter was mum. But my face was flushed, and regardless of whether it was afterglow or embarrassment, it was neon confirmation of her suspicion. This, of course, did little to debunk my kids' notion that their father and I are sex maniacs. The truth? While they were away this summer, we awoke at dawn to let in the painters and plasterers. Steven churned out loads of work. I cycled hundreds of miles to train for a bike-a-thon. And I capitalized on the kids' absence by writing every free moment. Indeed, I relished climbing into bed - to sleep. The kids would never believe that.

Of course, Steven and I have spoken frankly with them about sex and reproduction, steering wide of discussion of our own sex life. We want our children to understand that sex is a special form of communication and sharing between committed, mature adults. ("Adults" is the operative word.) Though treating sex as a topic on equal footing with brands of macaroni and the Russian Revolution has made our children uninhibited about peppering our dinner discussion with bawdy remarks and insinuations.

Our kids' weather eye on the heat in our bedroom is hardly an aphrodisiac. But the fact that sex is on the radar in our house does, well, keep sex on the radar - Steven's and mine. The background bleep, bleep, bleep of our teenagers' fascination with sex reminds us that randy romps are great fun.

When the kids were away, Steven and I did take a romantic getaway. We drove to Vermont, arrived at the hotel, and settled in. Just the two of us and a mountain view.

"We have plenty of time before dinner," Steven said. "Should we post the 'do not disturb' sign?"

"Nah," I purred. "I'm sure they don't do turndown service here." Then we heard a knock.

"Maid," said a voice.