How damaging is it for children to witness their parent's sexual activity?

I asked this question here Some strategies for maintaining adult relationships separately from children? Which needed to be broken into two questions.

  • I think it is damaging upto a certain extent particularly in situation where the child is not aware of sex and has never heard of it. They make think of it as something wrong, obscene or dirty. Some children may not know where to draw line and may try to experiment what they saw. Some may feel deep emotions of Shame and betrayal.
    – Tiffany
    Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 18:09
  • Depends on age and how you follow up. Most young ones like to imitate what they see.
    – WGroleau
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 17:02

2 Answers 2


I think it depends more on the attitude of the parents and the child's disposition and age than on the actual witnessing (and maybe, how kinky things were when the viewing took place). I didn't find any online aricles with a scientific study on the matter or anything (how would you even go about a study like that really?) but I did find This article which goes into a little more detail than I do here.

My parents were always very open about things with me so when, on my twelth birthday a friend and I accidentally came across two adults in the act on the dock at the local swimming hole where I was about to have my party. Mom knew just from looking at me that I'd seen something and simply said, "You've just seen a matched pair haven't you?" She didn't even bat an eyelash about it, just very matter-of-fact almost as though every kid runs into such a moment eventually. Dad went and warned the couple (who were just the other side of the trees from where the picnic tables were) that there was about to be twenty some odd pre-teen girls arriving so they might enjoy another location more while mom simply followed up her first statement with, "any questions?" I think she must have called the other girl's mom during the party to let my friend's mom know what we had seen, but I don't remember her making a big deal about it at all.

When my sister and I stumbled on some old nudie pics dad had of mom (which I'll grant you is not the same thing as seeing them in the act), I laughed about the matter. My sister (three years younger and much shier by nature) was totally grossed out, but niether of us were traumatized and it is sort of a family joke now.

On the other hand, my husband's family rarely discussed sex at all. So, when my youngest sister-in-law walked into her parent's house at the age of 20 and heard "noises" she dropped her bags, turned and ran from the house and spent the night at a friend's. She is still freaked out enough by the whole thing that if her siblings bring it up she goes cherry red and pretty much clams up for the rest of the time we are together despite the fact that she didn't actually see anything and she was already sexually active herself. My mother-in-law apparently hasn't figured out why this daughter's bags arrived before the daughter herself (yea right).

So here is what I suggest:

  • If you are walked in on and it is a kid old enough to know what is going on, that kid will probably leave (as in your case). Don't race down the hall after him. Instead, get your clothes back on, compose yourself and take a deep breath. Then, walk down the hall and just say, "Hey, I know you just came in and saw what we were doing. I'm sorry you saw such a private moment, but if you would like to talk about it we can." Then you are opening the door but not pushing anything. With younger kids that stay and have questions for you, I'd say, "we were having a private moment (insert child's name) I'd like a minute or so and then I'll come in and we can talk more about what you just saw" That way you are buying yourself a minute or two to regain composure, come down off the oxytocin high and be ready to anser questions at a develpmentally appropriate level.
  • Tell it like it is - don't lie. Even a primary school kid can understand. "Mommy and Daddy were having sex. This is something grown-ups do when they are married (or whatever limit you want to put on it - after they are -insert age here- or when they are ready for kids. . . ) However, it is something adults like to keep to themselves like going potty or having a shower so I am sorry we didn't have the door locked." It is important to not make the child feel he/she did anything wrong. "Do you have any questions about what you saw?"
  • Try not to act embarassed about it. Sex is a natural act and you want your kids not to feel badly about it when it is the right time for them to engage - eventually - so treating it as a normal and natural thing is healthy for everyone.

Kids will be grossed out (at least a little) because it is only natural to want to think of your parents as sexless beings who just happen to be the only people who ever actually got a delivery (or deliveries) from the stork. I just don't think it has to be traumatizing unless you treat it as if it is.

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/25936129/ also had some related info as did CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/24/health/kerner-kids-sex/

This question is about how to go about having the post- "whoops" moment talk with a teen.

  • 3
    You're on fire today :) ty
    – user21179
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 5:03
  • I was thinking any kinky activities are best done when there are no kids in the house.
    – user21179
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 5:05
  • 4
    You have an adolescent in the house and you're talking sex two areas I have more expertise in than any human being actually wants to have expertise in. Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 5:09
  • 4
    wow your parents are cool! Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 8:28
  • 1
    I agree with that Torben - in regard to most things they are pretty cool. One exception though - Mom's favorite musicians are Wilson Phillips and Barbara Streisand. ;-) Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 12:58

I am Indian.

In India, co-sleeping is common, and children can hear parents having sex. Children don’t know what is bad or good. If they see their parents having sex, and the parents don’t freak out or panic, then I think the child will not panic as either.

Consider if a child saw his mom/dad taking a bath. If mom/dad tells their child. “honey, do you want to ask me something?" the child will probably say something, or leave. Parents can tell the child “honey, wait until I come out”. That’s why Naturism-Nudism families don’t make big deal about nudity.

Likewise it is not damaging to your kid if you handle it properly. Let them learn from every step of your life. It is not bad until you make them believe that it is bad. Watching parents having sex is not equal to killing, hitting, taking drugs, etc. It is equal to sleeping, taking baths, having food, or kissing.

  • @s roy - welcome to the site. There were a lot of formatting problems in your answer. Please don't use text language in your answers, and please keep in mind that this is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum. You have a valid viewpoint to share. Again, welcome to the site. Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 20:47

You must log in to answer this question.