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Doing It Decent - Loud Sex in the House

The Ethics of Sex in Everyday Life


Every other week Doing It Decent considers the ethics of a sexual situation from our readers. Grappling with a touchy sexual ethics issue? Here's how to send in a question to Doing It Decent. Send me an email and be sure to put DID in the subject line. All questions will be posted anonymously with identifying information removed.

My Son’s Sexual Sounds

My 80-year-old dad (who is losing his hearing) had been visiting with us from out west for a few weeks. One afternoon he and I were in the kitchen and my 18-year-old son was home with his girlfriend. Before I knew it I was hearing them have sex. I was incredibly embarrassed at first because I was sitting there with my dad, but when I realized he wasn’t hearing any of it I just got a bit grossed out. I know my son is sexually active and have always taught him that sex is something wonderful for him to enjoy. But I don’t want to hear him having it and definitely don’t need my father hearing him either! Do you think it’s okay for me to tell him he can’t have sex in the house? Is it hypocritical (after all, my husband and I have sex in the house regularly and did the whole time both my kids lived at home)?

First off, a note on hypocrisy: Whether or not you forbid your son from having sex in the house, I wouldn’t call you a hypocrite. Parents make decisions and rules all the time that don’t apply equally to all family members. You may allow yourself to cross the street against a light, but you’d never let your ten-year-old do it. That’s hardly hypocritical. True hypocrisy may always be unethical, but it’s also rarer than the kinds of decisions you’re contemplating.

I can think of two ethical questions that should guide your decision making here. As a parent you have an ethical duty to keep your child safe and minimize their risk of harm as best you can. By throwing your son and his girlfriend out into the world with no safe haven in which to explore sexually you are undoubtedly increasing their risk (of arrest, of violence, of grass stains on that new pair of jeans you just paid for). You haven’t told me if you are okay with him having sex in your house when your not there, or can’t hear him doing it. If you are, then the ethical move would be to offer that as a compromise (wait until I’m out, or keep it down).

Speaking of which, I’m betting neither your son nor his girlfriend had any idea you could hear their afternoon delights. Which raises the ethical question; do you have a responsibility to let your son know that you heard him? To this I would answer a resounding yes. On behalf of every roommate and neighbor your son will ever have, I propose that teaching him that things done in private don’t always stay private, is the ethical thing to do. And while I wouldn’t recommended doing this with him in front of his girlfriend, I would suggest that he share this new knowledge with her, as it’s a lesson her parents may never think to share.

Finally, if I may, I want to offer so extra appreciation for your predicament. With an 18-year-old son and an 80-year-old father you’re in that limbo-land where you’re almost done taking care of your kids and you’re just about to start taking care of your parents. This leads to multiple and sometimes conflicting responsibilities and ethical duties. All this to say that your son’s moans and groans may not be the last ones you find yourself wrestling with ethically.

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