How to Have Sex—When Family is in Town

How to Have Sex—When Family is in Town

How to Have Sex—When Family is in Town

By Emma McGowan

The holiday season brings joy, laughter, and yes, often a house full of relatives. It’s cozy, festive, and... a bit of a passion killer, isn't it? While we cherish these family gatherings, they can throw a wrench into our love lives.

In this season of closeness, how do we stay close to our partners in, well, that way, without sending Grandma rushing to turn off her hearing aid? We spoke with Leighanna Nordstrom, MFT-C, founder of Break the Mold Therapy, for some top tips on keeping those jingle bells rockin’ when family comes knockin’.

The challenges of family-filled houses

It’s a classic holiday conundrum – trying to be intimate when your house is bursting with relatives. However, it can impact people to different degrees. “If the couple in question was raised in a sex-positive environment, their sexual relationship is likely to be less impacted by the presence of relatives in the home,” Nordstrom explains.

It seems our upbringing can play a significant role in how we approach intimacy in a family-filled house and, unfortunately, not everyone was raised in a sex positive environment.

If your family was more the “call your vulva your hoo-ha” type than the “everybody masturbates and that’s okay” type, Nordstrom encourages reflecting on your upbringing and challenging old patterns that don’t serve you anymore. “Once you've found the things you want to unlearn, you can talk through these things with your partner and negotiate ways to do them differently,” she says.

But it's not just about background; it's also about current dynamics. There's the worry of being overheard or interrupted, the lack of privacy, and the psychological barrier of knowing your parents are in the next room.

Balancing privacy and respect

Maintaining privacy and respect towards family members is essential, yet tricky.

“Negotiate with family members about private, personal time, intimacy, and space,” Nordstrom says. “For example, if you have family coming to stay with you for a couple weeks, you may suggest that you need at least one full evening where they are out of the house so that you can enjoy your space and free time as you please.”

While having this kind of upfront conversation with relatives about needing some private time might feel awkward, Nordstrom says, it’s about setting boundaries in a respectful way.

Getting creative when the house is crowded

When it comes to keeping the spark alive discreetly, Nordstrom mentions the concept of “Rituals of Connection.” These are small, often subconscious acts that maintain intimacy. Think: that walk you take together on Sunday mornings or the way you like to chat when one of you is cooking dinner. These seemingly small “rituals,” Nordstrom points out, are “subtle cues and reminders of desire to be close to our partners.”

Nordstrom suggests creating new rituals of connection around sex when you have family in town. For example, you could turn the curtain in your bedroom into a secret sex signal.

“If one of you pushes the curtain open, it’s indicative of a desire for sex,” Nordstrom says. “If the other partner closes it, it is a gentle ‘no.’ But if they open the curtain on the other side, it's a playful ‘yes.’ Whether it's a tangible object, a code word, or a playful action, agreeing on ways to indicate a desire for sex can add a layer of fun and playfulness while still maintaining privacy amongst family members.”

Nordstrom also suggests setting “challenges” for each other, like having silent orgasms or teasing each other throughout the day and having a silent mutual masturbation session in the evening. Getting creative about the ways you have sex can make it extra-hot, both while relatives are in town (or you’re visiting them) and after.

Finally, Nordstrom emphasizes the importance of non-sexual physical intimacy. While many people avoid non-sexual physical intimacy that isn’t going to lead to sex, Nordstrom says this is a mistake.

“If you’re missing intimacy with your partner, you should hold hands, hug, kiss and cuddle as much as you are able,” Nordstrom says. “While it may not check the same boxes as sex, it can cause the body to release the same hormones, thus temporarily fulfilling the need for intimacy.”

“Oh god, oh god, oh NO!”

But what if your stealthy romance isn’t so stealthy after all? Nordstrom advises a light-hearted approach to awkward situations, like being overheard.

“’Sorry’ does not need to be a part of the conversation,” Nordstrom says. “Generally, apologies should be reserved for when we commit a true wrong against someone.”

Instead, she suggests saying something like, “Well, I assume this is something we want to avoid in the future. How should we go about doing that?” Be open to feedback from the other people involved, but if you feel strongly that what you did wasn’t wrong, just mishandled, then there’s no need to apologize or grovel.

“One final (and somewhat amusing) thought to consider is that most children, even adults, seem to forget that the vast majority of parents had to have sex in order to create them,” Nordstrom says. “We often assign asexuality to family members because it's less creepy than imagining that they have sex.”


But, in reality? Your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., have probably done it at some point, regardless of whether they’re doing it now. So it can be helpful to remember: We’re all adults here and, yes, sometimes adults have sex. Just maybe keep it a little quieter when the relatives are over, because aren’t there enough awkward situations to deal with over the holidays? Even if she never knows (and if you do it right, she won’t), your mom will thank you.

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