For many of us, it’s next to impossible to think of our parents having sex — and even more impossible to imagine them sharing their sex lives with us.
But for those of us who hope and expect to talk more openly about sex with our children than our parents did with us, should we consider sharing our own sexual experiences with them?
Some parents say it’s crossing a line that should never be crossed; others contend that by not sharing, we’re missing an opportunity to help our children connect and learn from our own sex lives.
I posed the question to a range of women — some in person, some via email — and the majority responded quite clearly and emphatically in one direction.
“No! Lol!!” wrote Debbie Greene, who blogs at Through Debbie’s Eyes, seconds after she received my email.
CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin wholeheartedly agreed, saying it’s “never, ever, OK” to talk about your personal sex life with your children.
“I do have friends, quite frankly, that sort of make these sexual jokes around their kids,” she said, referring to ways (probably too explicit to describe here) her friends signal to their children that it’s time to leave their parents’ bedroom.
“I’m horrified by that,” said Hostin, a mother of two. “I think that that is private and I think it’s OK to say to your children, ‘Mommy and daddy need private time,’ but I don’t think you have these kinds of discussions.”
Julie Holland, a New York City psychiatrist who has been in practice for two decades, is a huge advocate of encouraging parents to talk with their kids about sex. It’s something she does all the time with her own children, but she says telling your kids about your sex life is “totally different.”
“You don’t want to share your own personal sex life with their father. That’s oversharing, and it’s not appropriate,” said Holland, author of “Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having and What’s Really Making You Crazy.”
“You want to talk enough about sex with them that they are comfortable asking you questions about sex and that they don’t have shame around themselves as sexual beings,” she said. “But your sex life is completely private, and they need to learn about privacy and boundaries, definitely.”
Opening up about your sex life as a “teaching tool is never a great idea,” said Tricia Ferrara, a Philadelphia-area licensed therapist, parenting strategist and author of “Parenting 2.0: Think in the Future, Act in the Now.”
“Boundaries exist between parents and children so that the child can grow and develop without the burden of sorting out a parent’s experience in addition to their own.”
But are there cases where sharing your experiences could help, especially as your children begin sexual lives of their own?
Leslie Yazel, executive editor of Cosmopolitan, says if her daughter were a teenager or a young adult and wanted to know about the female orgasm and asked her when she first had one or how did it happen, she might want to respond.
“I wouldn’t want to talk to her about sex with my husband and what that’s like, but where else is she going to learn about the female orgasm from?” said Yazel. “She’s not going to learn about it at school. I don’t think she’s going to learn about it from the Internet necessarily.”
So, it’s a conversation they could have someday — but not very soon, she jokes. “Now that’s she’s 4, I don’t have to make that decision for a long time.”
Children’s television host Miss Lori says she has always talked about her “sexual/dating/love/history” with her kids. “The details have increased as they have matured, and of course in respectable compliment to the tenor of their questions,” said the social media specialist, Babble.com contributor and mother of three.
She said her children don’t benefit from believing that she is infallible or perfect and can learn from her journey, the good and the bad.
“It is my job as their mother to prepare them as best I can to have a healthy successful love life, which includes sex. I’m not leaving that up to anyone else. No way!” she said. “So I am honest with them, just as I expect them to be with me.”
Holland, the New York City psychiatrist, believes there may be occasions when it makes sense to talk about your sexual experiences, but says it all depends on what you’re talking about and how personal you get.
“Your kids aren’t your friends, and I think it’s important that you don’t give your kids the mixed message like, ‘I’m your pal,’ ” she said.
“I do want to warn (my daughter) about the way some boys may behave … and I may use examples from things that happened to me when I was in my teens or 20s, but I’m not going to share my personal sex life with her father with her. It’s not appropriate.”
And then there are parents such as Nancy Friedman who never imagined talking with her kids about her sex life but suddenly had to deal with the issue after she and her husband were caught in the act.
In a hilarious post on her blog From Hip to Housewife, Friedman wrote that when her young daughter came into their bedroom, she asked ” ‘What were you doooo-ing?’ ”
Her husband told her she caught Daddy kissing Mommy, she said.
” ‘Naked?’ she asked,” wrote Friedman, who is also co-founder of a video sharing platform for tweens called KidzVuz. Obviously her daughter remained unconvinced — and it wasn’t until Friedman told her that she was nude because she was on her way to the shower that her daughter said, “OK!” and climbed into bed with her parents.
Her daughter never brought up the topic again — thankfully, says Friedman, and the closest they’ve come to talking about her sex life is when her daughter, who is now 15, asked her once why she was still on birth control pills.
“I gave her a look,” said Friedman. “She said, ‘Gross!’ and that was it!”
Do you think it’s ever OK to talk to your kids about your sex life? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter @kellywallacetv
By Kelly Wallace
Editor’s note: Kelly Wallace is CNN’s digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.