Today’s question is such a good one, I’m not sure why it hasn’t been asked before. But here it is:
This is a really difficult question, but do you have any advice for talking to your parents about sexual intimacy in their relationship? I have no idea what it’s like or has been like, but I believe they could have more fun in their golden years. Maybe I’m looking for how to start the conversation? Or would it just be better to buy a book and ask them to read it? Thank you!
Someone reading this is already saying to themselves: “Why is it any of her business what her parents do in the bedroom?” Look, I believe the reader’s question comes from a good place of concern and kindness. But I hear you, and I will address the privacy aspect!
First, here are some ideas for addressing the health of a parents’ marriage and their intimacy going forward.
Ask Questions and Listen
Almost every conversation in which I have a goal goes better when I simply ask questions, listen, and learn. This has become a go-to for me with my husband and my (now grown) sons. When others feel heard, they are more likely to trust what you have to say.
To be clear, they won’t feel heard if you’re only asking and listening as a technique to get to the part where you tell them what you want them to know! You have to genuine want to hear their heart.
How they respond and what you learn should inform your approach going forward. You may discover you don’t need to say anything more. You may re-think your original message. You may suggest external help, because their issues call for professional intervention.
Regardless, the principle of “seek first to understand, then to be understood” (from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) is a solid one. It’s the attitude you see in Scripture:
- “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13).
- “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:13).
- “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered” (Proverbs 17:27).
Share Your Own Story
There’s power in testimony. Whether it’s a product you love or a vacation you recommend or a slice of parenting knowledge you gained “the hard way,” word of mouth spreads wisdom. Many couples have helped other couples by a spouse simply saying, “Our intimacy wasn’t that great until ______” and then explaining what they did to improve it.
When telling your story, remember it’s not about telling others what to do, but rather sharing what helped you and letting them learn from it. What worked for you may not work for them anyway, because our backgrounds are different and our problems are specific to our selves and marriages. But if nothing else, you can at least communicate that sex is important in marriage and resources are available to help others discover God’s design for intimacy.
Quick note: Leave out the specifics! No one wants to hear the play-by-play of your sexual encounters. That goes double for your parents! (Good gravy, I’m a sex author and I’d never want to hear that from my kids. ~shudder~)
Acknowledge Your Mutual Experience
Outside of your own testimony, you can also talk about what you each learned growing up and what you’ve learned since. It’s testimony-adjacent, but not quite.
I did this with my own parents. That is, I let them know I appreciated what little they did teach me about sex and acknowledged they didn’t have good information or resources themselves. I let them know it was okay that they did the best they could, even if their messages (or lack thereof) led to some problems. Many of our parents were failed by the system too.
To my mind, this goes along perfectly with the biblical command to “honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). But I’ve also seen it with elderly women I’ve spoken with personally. Plenty of them know their generation didn’t get it right, and it’s a kindness to tell them it’s okay and there’s still time to get it right. Indeed, some of my best encouragement has come from women over 70 saying things like “it’s so important to marriage, and no one talked about it in my day.”
Request Your Parents’ Advice
I asked on my Facebook page for ideas about this reader question, and I really liked what one woman in particular suggested:
Create a safe space for you and your mom to have a conversation. Just ask, “Mom, I know this could be an awkward conversation, but would you be willing to talk to me about what our (you and your husband) sexual relationship might look like as we get older? Does it change much through the years? Does it get better, or worse, or stagnant?” This will give you much insight without focusing the conversation on your parents. I think this type of conversation needs to happen before you ever give “suggestions or advice.” She (they) may be very open to encouragement and suggestions after this, if needed.
You might be surprised to discover your parents are doing just fine. You might get some good tips yourself. Or you might at least discover where some struggles lie and then be able to speak to that.
Recommend Quality Resources
You asked: “Or would it just be better to buy a book and ask them to read it?” Short answer: No.
Seriously, when is the last time someone shoved a book at you and asked you to read it without discussion…and you read it? If you’re going to offer a resource, you at least have to couch it in a reason for the recommendation.
That said, you could send anything from a blog post to an article to a video to a book with a note. Your note can include why you thought it was something they might be interested in, why you liked it and recommend it, and/or your experience with the author or distributor that makes you trust their take. What you should not include is unsolicited advice of your own or a you-need-this attitude.
As mentioned in a recent Knowing Her Sexually podcast, my husband and I share marriage articles with one another, but we don’t say, “You need to read this!” Rather, we say something like, “What do you think about this?” or “This really struck home to me” or “Can we talk about making some of the changes discussed here?” It’s much more effective to invite feedback or conversation than dispense advice from on high.
Share a resource and ask your parent(s) to take a look or what they think about it. And then leave it at that.
Respect Their Privacy
Ultimately, it’s none of their business what happens in your bedroom, and it’s none of your business what happens in theirs. Sexual intimacy should be a private act between husband and wife that creates intimacy between those two people.
However, sexual intimacy as God intended strengthens marriages…which strengthens families…which strengthens communities. So in a way, we have a vested interest in our parents, and grown children, experiencing holy and healthy sex in their marriage. Your desire for your parents to “have more fun in their golden years” is a sweet one.
Just know that your parents may have no interest in speaking to you about their physical intimacy, no matter how you phrase it and what you do. And that’s okay. Don’t push it. Respect their privacy.
Pray for Your Parents
What you can always do is pray for your parents. Pray that if they need help or could have more sexual excitement in their golden years, God will plant the seed. Maybe through you, maybe through someone else.
But invite God to work His will with your parents in His own way.