When I was about thirteen I started sleeping naked. I hadn’t been much for pajamas before, opting to sleep in my underwear, but for some reason I started finding nakedness more comfortable. Apparently, I wasn’t alone in this either. Many of my friends did the same, male and female, though it seemed far more common among the guys. I assume that distinction was due to hygiene concerns.
And we see this wasn’t unheard of in biblical times, either. As early as Noah, we see people seeking the comfort of sleeping naked (or perhaps passing out naked, in his case). In Song of Songs 5:3, you can almost hear the whine in her voice: “But I’m already naked and comfy. Do I hafta?” The word she uses, kuttōnet, is the clothing next to the skin, the same word for the covering God made for Adam and Eve. In other words, she’d already stripped down to the ole birthday suit and was disinclined to get dressed again.
It’s supremely comfortable, and reportedly healthy, and it’s lots of fun in the undefiled marriage bed. The tangle of limbs, the heat of skin on skin, it’s great. And so it remained until my wife peed on a stick one day. Now, my most comfortable state was in question. I knew what newlyweds did. We were good at that. But I didn’t know what parents did. So, I dug deeper. Can parents sleep naked?
Noah and His Sons
An obvious potential source of insight is the aforementioned story of Noah and his sons. His boys, apparently all grown up, encountered him sleeping (or passed out) naked. The two sons who treated him with respect and covered him were honored while their brother who had gone about spreading the word of the old man’s condition was rebuked.
It appears that the moral of the post-flood Noah story has little if anything to do with nakedness and everything to do with honor.
At first glance, this seems a clear mark in the “don’t sleep naked” column. After all, the ones who covered him got the thumbs up. Yet when I consider the factors involved other than the nude old guy (a difficult aspect of the story to simply set aside, admittedly), it appears that the moral of this story has little if anything to do with nakedness and everything to do with honor.
Noah’s drunken state left him a victim of circumstance, and while Ham treated his father with dishonor by gossiping about him, his brothers honored their father by covering him, rendering Ham’s rumormongering moot. These were the pre-Law days, and we don’t know if Noah’s reaction was because Ham saw him or because Ham tried to spread the word for fun. Taken at face value, the latter seems far more likely.
Once the Law came, no statutes forbade the seeing of parents, but the honoring of parents made the top five. This story, to me, doesn’t speak to the issue at hand, despite appearances. In fact, the Bible as a whole seems pointedly silent on the exactitudes of sleeping in the buff when kids are around.
Another potential source of insight is my experiences with my parents. None of them were particularly strategic about parenting according to God’s plans, but even still my divorced father and mother approached the idea of exposure to me very differently. And if nothing else, my reactions were noteworthy indicators of childhood mental processes.
My response to seeing my mother topless was consistent: I teased her about their condition and thought no more of it.
My father stayed well-covered; I rarely even saw him without a shirt. My mother, on the other hand, was less discriminate. I rarely saw everything, but seeing her topless wasn’t uncommon, and my response was consistent from elementary to my teenage years: I teased her about their condition (a jab which she would subsequently parry by blaming their worn out state on us kids) and thought no more of it.
In both cases, however, this was more of a question of general around-the-house encounters. I was scared of my father and wouldn’t dare go into his room while the door was closed. This behavior became habit that spilled over to my mother as well. So I’m not certain how either of them dressed for sleep itself since I saw it so infrequently.
With my own children, I want them to feel welcome in my room (within reason, of course), so these examples only inform so much.
As I’ve mentioned on other topics, the prospect of parenting prompted me to do some research. And as with other topics, I found experiences from all over the map. Many similar to my own and many very different. I wanted to see the long-term consequences involved, and anecdotes of adults reflecting on childhood experiences proved particularly effective for this purpose.
On occasion, I encountered stories of children with parents who (one or both) slept in the nude, and the only cases where there seemed to be any concern was in relationships that involved something other than healthy love at the foundation. In cases of abuse, naturally, the stories were disturbing and caused great harm, though the state of dress while sleeping was certainly more incidental than causal. In relationships that were distant, encounters with parental nudity were intensely awkward at the time and continued to be so afterward. These were invariably the ones shuddering to recall the memory of their parents doing the nasty.
Strangely enough, in the loving and healthy relationships (Christian and otherwise) , the state of undress didn’t seem to bother the children in any case, before or after (even if the children themselves were less than fully clothed and crawling up in bed with mom and dad). All of these children knew mom and dad were naked and just didn’t mind accidently seeing a glimpse of something when they came in the room. And almost all felt comfortable approaching, talking, and even crawling up into bed with them to snuggle or talk or watch cartoons or whatever else. It seems the parental bed was a social hangout for many of these families.
There was still some variability to the stories, for sure.
Some of them might crawl up into bed without hesitation, even crawling up under the sheets to have (and enjoy) the warmth and love involved in skin-to-skin contact. Others would keep a sheet or a blanket (many brought a blanket with them) between them as they snuggled and talked. Some started out in the former group and, as they grew older, naturally transitioned themselves to the latter group.
The stories I read reflected that the love was what stood out, and the nudity or lack thereof was incidental. Since it didn’t seem to matter to the parents, it didn’t matter to the children.
In all of the above, though, regardless of the particulars of gender, age, blanket barriers, or activity, the storytellers reflected that the love was what stood out, and the nudity or lack thereof was incidental (many hadn’t even noticed it at the time until they reflected on it when they were older and doing the same with their own children). They were kids, and they followed mom and dad’s lead. Since it didn’t seem to matter to the parents, it didn’t matter to the children.
These anecdotes were supported by my other reading as well. One doctor even stated that the exposure of parental nudity to children was a particularly good thing from a psychosexual standpoint, especially if the child is of the same gender and pubescent. In such cases, it helps to establish realistic expectations and reinforce a healthy body image. Plus it helps to settle the nothing-to-be-ashamed-of dynamic, growing their confidence and potentially prompting healthy, instructive and informative conversation.
In an interview with Yahoo, secular parenting coach Rachel Cedar suggested, “The more you hide and avoid talking about these things may make children wonder if it’s wrong to talk about. Make it taboo and down the road that can lead to misconceptions and misinformation.” Exposure and the resulting discussion can be very healthy, particularly in those formative years.
A Moot Point
So I’ve done all this digging, and honestly I continue to do so. What conclusion have I come to?
As of now, I see no harm in my wife or me sleeping naked, even if our kids happen to invade. They may or may not see something or everything, but they’ll certainly see that we love them.
However, it appears that the point was rendered relatively moot. Once my wife revealed a pajama pants fetish, I decided I’d just have to get used to an extra layer of fabric, for her sake (okay, for mine, too). That said, if the fetish does its work and my pants find themselves on the floor during the night, or if I just get too hot and have to take them off, I’m not too concerned about a munchkin or two sneaking in to wake us in the morning. It’s nice to at least have peace of mind about that.