The Effect of Kids on Marital Intimacy

baby feet in parents' hands

If you’ve read much of our site, you could get the feeling that Clara and I are like bunnies, always bumping and grinding at every opportunity. You might think we face no sexual challenges, that we’re endlessly adventurous in the undefiled marriage bed, and that we have never once complained of a headache. In the classic tradition of sharing your successes with the internet, I might have misled you, but it wasn’t intentional.

Let’s get this straight. Clara and I struggle in our intimacy just like everyone else. You know the biggest challenge to our sex lives?

  • A stressful workday with a long commute? It’s not a deal breaker.
  • Health issues? Not any more than the next couple.
  • Different body clocks? It’s a barrier, but not the biggest.
  • Body image struggles and insecurities? Present, but quiet.

The biggest barrier, by far, is the kids. I know, shocker.

Baby on Board

Admittedly, this is most challenging when there’s a little one in the house. Life itself becomes erratic for at least a year, and intimacy with your spouse is often the first thing to suffer.

In the early months, you’re challenged when making plans because you can’t make predictions. Newborns are a babysitting challenge, and time away can be very limited if you breastfeed and have trouble with (or don’t own) a pump.

Even if you can find a sitter you trust and who trusts themselves with your newborn on top of any other children, you can only be away for a couple hours or so. At least in our case, sex any longer than that, breast pain threatens Clara with mastitis. And let me tell you, there’s nothing quite as antisexual as a gentle caress of the breast translating into thirty seconds of throbbing/piercing agony.

Plus there’s the naptime cycles and all the timing challenges associated there.

Toddlerdom

It only gets mildly better as the kids age. An infant might have frequent needs, but a toddler has these things called legs, and man they like to use them. They wander in and out of rooms. They beat on locked doors.

You just try enjoying an intimate moment when you hear knock knock knock “MOMMY!!!!” knock knock “MOOOOMMMMMYYYYYY!!!!” (I note that so far, we’ve yet to have a kid shout for me in such a way.) Talk about a mood killer.

And you can try to talk to them about privacy, and maybe you’ll get enough success to be able to get them to avoid knocking and yelling if they’re a little older. But you’re still going to have to pretend you didn’t notice the rattle of the handle or the ominous shadow under the door. And depending on where they are in potty training, it might be even more ominous. Either way, they’re waiting. And they’re listening.

It’s almost creepy.

Ragamuffins

The older kids might respect boundaries a little more, but their curiosity has staying power now. So they might be occupied elsewhere in the house, but if you’re trying to maintain any frequency of intimacy, the questions are going to start coming.

And you make noises, they might get even more interesting.

Naptimes are history, and they’re likely staying up later, particularly as they enter preteen years. They’re more observant, more inquisitive, and more prepared to ask questions. Contextually, you’d better be on your A-game when it comes to answering these questions because society is happy to answer them for you.

And if you or your spouse is the mind-wandering type, the pressures of these concerns can be a bit of a buzzkill just like their little sibling’s poopy Pull-Up.

Teens

Now, I don’t have teenagers yet, but I can see the writing on the wall. Gone are the days of curiosity. Now, they have answers. And depending on how well we’ve done our job between now and then, their response could be anywhere from teasing amusement to sheer horror.

I’m hoping things are better then, but the sex life in the master bedroom will be a much smaller concern than the sex lives of our children (and we’re kidding ourselves if we think sex won’t play a role in their lives, even if they’re abstinent).

And as much as the easy solution is to have these kids sleeping over at their friends’ houses on a frequent basis, we’d much rather those kids want to be here where (1) we can keep an eye on the influences in our kids lives, and (2) we can be a beacon of reasonable, loving Christian influence in their peers’ lives. So we won’t be able to opt for the easy way out.

I Got 99 Problems, but Kids Ain’t One

So what’s the solution, Phil? Oh, wizened sage of undefilement?

In all honesty, I don’t know. There are practical steps we can take to help:

  • make time for private time
  • get away from the house without kids, sometimes overnight
  • maintain our nonsexual intimacy so our sexual intimacy can be opportunistic
  • accept that older kids will likely notice, and that’s a positive influence

But sex is certainly less common today than it was before kids. That’s just natural. We have to be creative, and sometimes we have to go without, and sometimes we just have to sacrifice sleep or adventure (or both).

We must make time for each other, particularly in this season. Not only are our kids watching us to see a model of healthy sexuality, but also it helps with our relational stability, which is great for them, too. We can’t afford to just wait until they’re older and we have more time. According to pastor Greg Boyd, people might say, “In five years, five years for sure, ah, then we’ll be able to share some time together.”, but his response is simple. “Maybe that’s true, but I don’t know if in five years you’re going to want to do it… It is never the right time to put the relationship on hiatus.”

But the important thing to remember is that our kids are a God-given consequence of our intimacy, not a problem for our intimacy. We are in a different season, which means different considerations. Kids present some challenges, but they are not themselves barriers to our intimacy. They’re symptoms of it.

About Phil (244 Articles)
Philip Osgood is a Christian husband, father, and writer who considers himself a passable video game player, fiction reader, camping and hiking enthusiast, welder, computer guy, and fitness aficionado, though real experts in each field might just die of laughter to hear him claim it. He has been called snarky, cynical, intelligent, eccentric, creative, logical, and Steve for some reason. Phil and his beautiful wife Clara live in Texas with their children in a house with a dog but no white picket fence. He does own a titanium spork from ThinkGeek, though, so he must be alright.