How to Have Casual Sex When You Live at Home with Your Parents

Photo: Alexis Jang

Tasha had undone the last button on Tinder guy's shirt and was about to give his blue Levi's the same tantalizing treatment when she heard her bedroom door knob jiggle. Someone was trying to get in. Too swept up in the moment to care (it had been so long since she'd been with anyone) she pulled her shirt off. They were just about to kiss, but the sound of relentless knocking filled the room.

Her mother's fist pounded at the door. Tasha and what's-his-face froze.

"Tasha," shouted her mom, after a beat of silence. "Are you in there? I made lasagna."

A mother's untimely announcement of homemade lasagna can kill the mood at any age, but when you're Tasha, a 30-year-old medical student trying to have sex with your Tinder date in the guest room of your parent's house, where you live, the mood doesn't just die, it laughs in your face. For Tasha and the 24 million millennials who live with their parents, this kind of thing is par for the course.

There are many reasons why parental cohabitation is now the most common housing arrangement for adults aged 18-34. Rising housing prices, lackluster wages, high costs of living, and paralyzing student loan debt mean roughly one third of young adults can't afford to live on their own. Others move home to care for sick or aging family members, while some opt to live with Mom and Dad simply because they like each other, apparently more than any other generation has liked their parents in recent history. Some millennials, like Tasha, just need a life reset after leaving jobs or relationships that didn't pan out.

But for the lucky bunch who are afforded the privilege of returning to the nest when they've got nowhere else to go, doing so also has one glaringly common side effect: it screws with their sex lives.

Goodbye, Sweet Sex

"When I left my career in advertising, I really just wanted to start over and do something that mattered," Tasha explains from hermom's home in Los Angeles. "I felt like going home would cleanse me of this stressed, superficial lifestyle I'd created."

Living at home did have its perks — free rent, a fantastic savings plan, unlimited access to the family dog — but it laid waste to one key aspect of her existence she hadn't planned on resetting: her sex life.

In the three years since Tasha moved back in with her mom to save money while in medical school, her previously "wild" sex life had become uncharacteristically tame, she tells me. While she had no initial apprehension about bringing dates home, and her open-minded mother seemed all too willing to "meet her friends," Tasha had found only two men willing to brave the discomfort of her living situation.

Both were flops. The first guy ghosted her after sitting through a blisteringly awkward breakfast with her mom. The second stuck around for a while but patently refused to sleep over ("She's always around," he'd complain.)

After a while, Tasha got insecure about her living situation and stopped telling dates she lived with her mom. She even stopped masturbating as much — it just felt weird getting off while her mom was in the house.

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According to Samantha Burns, millennial dating coach and author of the book Breaking Up & Bouncing Back, Tasha's story is all too familiar for millennials trying to maintain active sex and dating routines while living with their genetic donors.

"It's very common for millennials who move back home to experience awkward and uncomfortable changes to their love and sex lives," Burns says. "Living at home usually means having to follow your parents' rules, which can feel strange as an adult, and many millennials feel romantically sidelined by the loss of independence this sort of arrangement brings. Suddenly, you can no longer come and go as you please or be intimate without the fear of your parents walking in or bombarding your date with questions you haven't even had the chance to ask."

However, in spite of the inherent obstacle to sexual rapture that living with parents poses, plenty of millennials still manage to get it on — just not as seamlessly as they would if they lived literally anywhere else.

Dani, a 31-year-old jewelry designer who moved back into her parents' Colorado Springs home after it became apparent that her fledgling career was not going to pay the rent, loves to tell the story about the time she had a guy hide under her bed for two hours in order to avoid interrupting the wholesome family breakfast taking place down the hall (they'd woken up too late to sneak him out undetected). She stashed him under there not to conceal but to spare him — the last time she had taken someone home, he'd been forced to admit, over reluctant waffles the next morning, that he didn't actually know Dani's name.

Her dad loved that, and spent the next few days laying down the law when it came to who she could and couldn't bring over. Rule number one? He had to meet them first. Rule number two? They had to know her name.

Having been previously downloaded with this anecdote, Dani's terrified, almost 40-year-old date stayed perfectly silent under Dani's bed before realizing he could escape from the first-floor window of their house. When Dani came back to get him, he was gone forever.

"I'm glad he snuck out like that," Dani says now, laughing. "I would have died if I had to introduce him to my family because this guy and I definitely didn't [remember each others'] names (a direct violation of Rule #2). I didn't want my parents to think I was bringing yet another random person over to their house to have sex with — which of course I was."

Ariella, a 28-year-old journalist, lived at home in her parents' New York City apartment for two years after college. She had a long-distance boyfriend her parents knew and let sleep over, but even though it was implied that they were having sex, she still went through the charade of covering it up.

"Whatever boyfriends I had sleep over were supposed to stay in my older sister's room, which was connected to mine through a sliding door," she remembers. "Whoever it was would sneak into my room, fall asleep with me, then sneak back into my sister's room next door before my parents woke up."

Sometimes, they'd fail to get up in time and her parents would notice what had happened. They seemed rather copasetic about about it, but still — the whole thing put her on edge.

"Living with my parents as an adult definitely made me anxious about sex," she tells me. "They never gave me the impression that they'd be judgmental, but I just didn't feel like sharing that part of my life with them."

Keeping things on the down-low can also mean taking a toll on the quality of the sex millennials have at home.

"Sex with my boyfriend just wasn't as good as it could have been at my parents' house," says Ariella. "We would have steamier, lie-in-bed-all-day kind of sessions when I visited him, since we had privacy. In that sense, I definitely felt like living at home cramped my style."

How to Get It Done

Of course, things are a bit different when millennials living at home are single, or at least not seeing anyone regularly enough for them to become permanent fixtures deserving of sanctioned sleepover status. Because it can be more than a little uncomfortable for parents to have a procession of strange houseguests enter and exit their home, many millennials like Dani conduct their sexual exploits in the dark of night while their parents sleep or exclusively at their partners' homes. Others, like Owen, a 31-year-old frontend developer who never moved away from his childhood home in Highland Park, Calif., and "probably never will," have people over in broad daylight but pass them off as friends.

"My parents are sweet but sheltered," he tells me. "We never talked about sex growing up, so it feels weird to start now. They know I'm gay, but they think the guys I have over are an ever-revolving parade of buddies and co-workers just stopping by to say hello."

Somewhere in the midst of all these visitors, Owen tells me, he's adopted a sexual survival mechanism to get by under his parents' watchful eye: quickies.

"I've literally spent my entire life learning how to get off in the time it takes for my dad to walk the dog or my mom to put away the groceries," he says. "They're always around, so it's either that or celibacy. I stay out if I want something more passionate and involved with partner, but now that I've built my body for speed and not stamina, I sometimes come too quickly before I've had a chance to wow my partner. It can be kind of a bummer."

It's not all secrets and lies, though. Some millennials are blessed with naturally sex-positive parents who want to be as out of the way of their spawn's sex life as their spawn wants to be out of theirs. Burns tells me about one client of hers whose parents even converted their basement into a separate apartment with its own entrance so he'd feel more comfortable doing adult-y things like bringing home dates.

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A subterranean love den might be overkill for some families, though. Sometimes, all it takes is some frank conversation and a mutual understanding of each others' needs. Judith, 61, and Nick, 32, an Austin-based parent-millennial duo I found on this illuminating Reddit thread, do a particularly bang-up job of making space for each other's sex lives in the face of a living situation that's less than ideal.

Nick moved back home into Judith's house less than a year ago. Head underwater in a growing pile of student loan debt and unable to afford the high cost of living in Los Angeles, he'd returned to the motherland with the promise that it was just a temporary thing. Weeks turned into months, and he realized that even though he had to sleep on the couch in their small apartment, he kind of liked being back home. Judith made great pancakes.

Judith was happy to have him, but she admits it did cut into the "special time" she and Nick's father had finally acclimated to after the last of their three children moved out.

"You keep asking about him, but what about me?" says Judith, laughing. "His father and I had to tiptoe around him and his sisters for 18 years, and just when we thought we had some privacy, he's back. I just hope he knows what it means when our door is closed!"

Actually, Nick does know what's up when Judith's door is closed. He's just not traumatized by it like he was when he was a kid.

"We're all adults here," he tells me. "We all have needs. I try to respect their space, and they try to respect mine. I think I would have been grossed out to think about this stuff when I was a kid, but now that I'm on the same level adult playing field as them, I don't see their needs as that different from my own. We all just try to get by without being too obvious."

The one thing Judith wishes were different?

"I found his girlfriend's vibrator under the couch cushion," she laughs. "That was maybe too obvious."

Not every millennial's homebound sex life is as synchronistic as Nick's, but he tells me it thrives because he and Judith addressed the elephant in the room. Actually, it was Judith who brought it up.

"I told him, 'Honey, if you're going to move back here, I'm going to need some space every once and a while to be with your dad.'"

Nick was all too happy to oblige but shot back with, "Fine, but the living room is off limits [to you] on Saturday nights." Nick's parents have since adopted a weekly Saturday date night where they find romance outside the abode while Nick is free to do whatever it is Nick does in his living room love den until they come home.

It was a simple, non-explicit conversation, but it laid bare a mutual need for privacy in a cramped and potentially awkward space.

How to Have the Talk

Burns acknowledges not everyone has the sort of parental relationship that makes conversations like these possible, but she often advises her millennial clients to bring the topic up to their parents using a script similar to this: "I realize I'm living under your roof and I want to be respectful of that. Dating and having a social life is important to me, and I'm wondering if we can set up some new ground rules so that it's as comfortable as possible for everyone living here?"

After, she suggests directing the conversation to expectations and compromise, such as agreeing that you won't have someone sleep over unless you've introduced them to your parents first, or that if you're out on a date and plan to stay out that night, you'll text them by a certain time so that they're not worried all night when you don't come home.

And it's up to each individual to decide how serious they want to get with a partner before letting their parents into the relationship. When Ariella and her boyfriend broke up about a year after she moved back in with her parents, she decided that she'd only invite men over if it felt like they were headed toward monogamy. Tasha, on the other hand, didn't care all that much what her mother would make of her partners, should they run into one another.

Of course, your conversation and expectations will need to be tweaked depending on your parents' attitudes about sex. Sometimes, casual sex at home is just not on the menu, which may seem restrictive, especially to adults who are decades past the reach of parental governance — but at the end of the day, it's their house.

All of the millennials I spoke with about this topic were well aware that their parents were doing them a favor by letting them crash, and felt that, after all, a less-than-ideal sex life is a small price to pay for the kindness of cable TV, a pantry full of Progresso soup, and roommates whose wildest nights involve staying awake through the whole episode of Saturday Night Live.

A Silver Lining

Buoyant enthusiasm about their at-home sex lives isn't a common trait of adults who live with their parents, but many millennials have managed to find a silver lining that makes it all feel a bit more palatable — beyond the sweet rent situation.

Tasha, for one, says moving in with her mom at her "advanced age" actually made her sex life more interesting.

"I've had way more sex in bathrooms, cars, and discreet public places than I ever thought was possible," she says. "It's actually kind of thrilling. Sometimes, I just want to go back to my place for the ease of it, but I will say that having to figure out novel places to be 'intimate' away from home has at least brought out my creative side."

On the opposite end of the silver lining spectrum, Ariella tells me that living at home put a refreshingly "wholesome" spin on things.

"I would have dates walk me home and we'd make out on the sidewalk because I never wanted to invite a near stranger up," she says, explaining that slowing things down sometimes made dating even more enjoyable. "If I'd lived alone, I'd probably have slept with them earlier. At that point in my life I would sometimes get caught up in the heat of the moment and then regret having sex with someone before getting to know them well. Living with my parents made it so sex became a more intentional decision, one that required planning." Basically, the guy had to be worthy of bumping into her dad in the hallway.

Greener Pastures

Sexual independence can be a great reason to give up the comforts of parental living and work toward a life free of "Do Not Disturb" tags, says Burns. "If your parents aren't terribly flexible about who you can bring over, or your love life is really suffering, it may be the motivation you need to save more money and get your own apartment ASAP," says Burns.

That was definitely the case for Ariella, who hightailed it out of there the moment she could afford to.

"I recognized how lucky I am that my parents could and would house me, but that doesn't change the fact that after a few year of living at home, I was feeling cooped up and wanted to have the freedom to hook up with whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted, as loud as I wanted to," says Ariella. "It was a big motivating factor when I moved out."

Glacially improving job markets and a healthier overall economy might mean more millennials are able to follow in her path in the coming years, but for those like Tasha whose living situation is unlikely to change anytime soon, it's porn without the sound on, Camry back seats, and "your place, definitely not mine" from here on out.

"Hey," she jokes. "I'll take what I can get."

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