Sex. In The City?


By MAGGIE O’NEILL-A BROOKLYN MOM who vacillates between being too comfortable and not at all comfortable writing about sex.

sex in the city

But what happens if your efforts fail? And worst case scenario ensues…you see THEM during IT.

I live in Brooklyn, in a 1.5 bedroom apartment (for non city-dwellers, this means there is a closet, only accessible through our bedroom, where our daughter sleeps.) My husband and I have been together for 16 years. We have a 4.5 year old and have a seven month old. Oh and the average New York apartment could fit inside the average US home about seven-and-a-half times. #truth.

So I’m living proof that despite our crazy city habitat and our confined sleeping quarters...we apparently do have sex.

Until some friends from the Midwest, who live in ‘real’ houses and therefore don’t breathe the same air as their children when they settle in for the night, asked me how we make it work in such confined spaces, it hadn’t really occurred to me that our city living could impact our sex life.

I suppose after our first daughter was born (ok, months and months after our daughter was born), the thought popped into our heads, “what if she can hear us?” But, maybe this is just me, most places where I’ve done the deed has been within earshot of other humans. In high school? Parents basement (sorry) or a parking lot (ugh.) College? Privacy is next to impossible with multiple roommates (a big apology to Sarah, in particular.) Law school? Tiny studio apartment in Brooklyn (nasty next door neighbor, so sorry not sorry.) Various other Brooklyn apartments? Maybe three dozen people within 25 feet of my bed, above/below/next to/in front of/behind me, yes - separated by walls, but certainly not sound proofed walls.

In fact, since living in NYC these past 18 years, I’ve heard almost all of my neighbors have sex. All that’s elicited from me is a mental high five, especially if I know they have kids, “good on you guys, have at it!” At this point, it may even result in a knowing glance between my husband and I topped off with an audible “awwww.” Because, at least someone’s doing it.

This said, I’m not sure I’d know how to handle if our daughter walked in on us having sex. I consider myself sex positive and hope to have open lines of communication with my kids about sex. Sex isn’t weird or gross - its natural. But, your parents having sex? That’s a disquieting thought regardless of your age.

But, as I write this and interview other city parents on this subject, I realize that perhaps this somewhat lackadaisical attitude is just me (story of my life: struggling to discover the proper balance between being too laid back and highly anxious. But that’s another article entirely.) Because apparently most city parents have not only thought about this a lot, but some go to quite the extreme to avoid being ‘caught’ having sex by their children in their city apartments.

Ashley, age 40, mom of two (and wants a third!) lives in a somewhat larger version of our 1.5 bedroom (i.e. the closet off of their bedroom that houses the kids has a window.) Currently their go-to tactic is getting both children to nap simultaneously. “It takes some maneuvering and timing to get it down correctly. Sometimes the older one has to go to the park for a few hours to wear himself out and come home just before our daughter’s nap, so they pass out at the same time.” I asked what happens with one or both drop their nap and she suggested simply being open to having sex in different rooms away from the kids, like the kitchen or bathroom. Her husband helpfully chimed in with, “Pray your kids are deep sleepers.”

Speaking of having sex in semi-non traditional places in your apartment, I did a literal spit take when I received this response from one of my dearest friends, Nicole, 39, mom of an almost 5 year old and a newborn, who lives in a 2 bedroom apartment in Hoboken: “I haven't had sex anywhere except our bathroom (on the floor) in almost two years. It is behind two locked doors and we turn the shower on.”

Another mom put it succinctly, “Morning quickies. Does sex need to be longer than 10 minutes? I’m a busy lady.” She added that this is usually before 5am as that is usually when her two kids wake up. When giving immediate props for dedication, she said “that’s the only option. I go to sleep at 9 at night.” Huh. That’s how you become a morning person, then?

My friend Cate- who lives a far more exciting life than I do - mentioned something called “hangover sex” being had in their bathroom on the weekends during nap time. While I consider hangover sex to be a date with a strong bloody Mary (so, rock on, Cate, rock on), the mere mention of ‘hangover sex’ serves to remind us that we live in the city! Never mind the bathroom. With tons of great bars, restaurants and music venues - literally hundreds within a couple mile radius. So, sure, us city folk may have only accidentally pioneered ‘tiny home’ living - but what we’ve sacrificed in square footage we certainly make up for with our plethora of exciting options to go out and have fun.


Despite my newfound understanding that many city parents go to great lengths to avoid being heard or seen having sex by their children, there is no fool proof plan that will guarantee your privacy.

So, that begs the question - will we damage our children if they hear or see us having sex?

In order to get a professional answer I spoke with clinical psychologist, Robert Galligan, who focuses on parents and children. “Kids have a natural and healthy curiosity about sex.” However, he told me what a kid can handle depends on certain points in age. “Those differences are what should guide your conversations about sex, balanced with your personal values about sex.” However,  “a chronic underappreciation for keeping the house PG and under is where damage occurs, because it represents a breakdown in the parents’ keeping in mind the child’s experience.”

Got it.  To what extent should parents go to avoid their children’s awareness about their sex lives? Robert stated that “...parents having predictable boundaries around things like privacy and their sex life is something that helps maintain clarity and avoid confusion for kids, since developmentally kids live under an illusion that their parents exist mostly for them. While kids are curious about sex, and know on some level that their parents are sexual beings, kids also suppress the reality that their parents as sexual beings; at younger ages, this is because kids are so egocentric, and at older ages, it’s because kids are trying to make sense of their own sexuality.”

So, kids are tiny selfish humans guided by their own egos. Shocking.

But, in seriousness, this makes sense. Parent’s need to maintain boundaries and structure in order to ensure their children feel secure and safe. This includes your sex life -which sounds obvious but can be challenging when living in tighter quarters.

And if the unthinkable does happen and you BOTH want to crawl under a rock and die..Have no fear…Robert says, “it is not the end of the world. Approach it with openness and lightheartedness and basically when your kid says ‘what were you doing?!’ find age appropriate language to speak about it. You do not have to say more about it than the kid wants to hear. “ THANK GOD FOR THAT. Robert said if they do have more questions, answer them. And call it what it is -we were having sex which is how babies are made and something grown ups do with they love each other.  Robert smartly points out, “Most kids will tune out about now.”

 I hope listening to Robert’s sage advice helps city parents (especially my dearest, Nicole, and her behind 2 door/shower on/floor bathroom sex) feel a bit less terrified of hearing, “mommy...daddy?” in the midst of a particularly intimate Netflix and chill moment. My oldest daughter can talk to me about outer space - which fascinates her to no end - for a maximum of 5 minutes. I cannot imagine she’d want to discuss the particulars of our sex life for any longer than that. But, hey, if you are still nervous, I highly recommend one of those industrial white noise machines featured in therapist’s offices across the City!

 So, in the end, sure, my daughter has replaced my parents/roommates/mean neighbors as sex sheriff (to be clear: no one volunteered for that job, especially poor Sarah -my college roomie) Such is our lot in parent life! We surrender privacy when we live in the city, just as we surrender privacy when we become parents (and sleep, fitness, Sunday Funday, showering…). But what we sacrifice for living in the city - likewise becoming parents - is far outweighed by what we gain. A great restaurant scene and fascinating, funny tiny humans.