How living at home is impacting Gen Z’s sex life
Three young people open up about the difficulty of exploring your sexuality when you live with your parents
Three young people open up about the difficulty of exploring your sexuality when you live with your parents
When you imagined what your life would look like in your 20s, you probably didn’t picture living out of your childhood bedroom. If TV shows and films are anything to go off, it would involve an endless stream of dates, going out to parties and living with all your closest friends. But for twenty-somethings entering adulthood today, this expectation was thwarted, first by the pandemic and now by the fact that rent prices are extortionate. According to the 2021 census, more than half of 20 to 24 year olds in England and Wales live with their family, up 13.6% from 2011. Unsurprisingly, for the generation already gaining a reputation for having less sex than previous generations, this isn’t doing anything for their sex life.
There’s nothing erotic (for most of us anyway) about the possibility of your parents hearing you, in the act, or having the eyes of whatever teenage hyper-fixation you decided to immortalise in poster form staring down at you from your bedroom wall. As a teenager figuring out your parents’ schedule to be able to sneak someone over might have provided a temporary sense of autonomy, but doing the same in your 20s just feels like an unnecessary hassle - and one you were told you would have been able to leave behind by now.
So, if you're finding yourself in this predicament, we want to make sure that you don't become disheartened. After all, if you live at home with your family, there's nothing to be ashamed of: whether it's to save on rent, for cultural reasons or to help contribute to family child care or finances, it's a reality for many others too. But what you need is some answers on how to try and have the sex life you want under your current circumstances.
That's why we've checked in with different Gen Zers to chat about how they navigate having sex while living with family and tapped relationship therapists for advice on how to navigate this sometimes awkward part of life.
Finley, 23, he/him
Finley has never had sex, which he puts down partly to living at home for most of his adult life. The chance to date hasn’t come up for him and he describes feeling like he’s missing out on that part of his life because he has “that living at home thing clouding over me”.
“I come from quite an open family, really” he explains. He has no reason to think his parents would be against him bringing someone home, though it’s never come up in conversation. It’s more that bringing someone home when it’s your first time having sex “feels like quite a daunting and scary thing when your parents are there”.
This is a worry that translates to dating other people. “You never know how people will react towards you living with your parents,” he explains. As a result, Finley is hoping to move out in the next year or so and hopes that living with friends will mean he can find a partner.
Amelia, 23, she/her
Amelia, 23, has been living at home with her mum and dad for the last three years and feels like she hasn’t lived the typical 20s experience of bringing people back from a night out. Having been single for over a year, she wishes she had the freedom to have a more adventurous sex life, but thinks that isn’t an option at her parent’s house.
“Even though I’m in my 20s, I feel like my parents still have that authoritarian feel over me because they ask where I’m going and they still feel as though they’ve got some sort of say over what I do,” she says. “Obviously they don’t really when it comes down to it because I am an adult, but you don’t want to cross anyone when you’re living in their house rent-free.”
Amelia also describes there being “little to no boundaries” in her house: “If I have food delivered they’re like ‘what have you ordered yourself? Why are you having food delivered? Who’s at the door?’ Sometimes I’ll be in the bath and my mother will just unlock the bathroom door to just come in and have a chat with me.” This hasn’t exactly been conducive to having sex, which Amelia hasn’t done for the past four months. “If I was ever brazen enough to try to sneak someone into my house I feel like my parents would get an eyeful because they need to learn how to knock.”
This has been particularly difficult when she has just started to see someone and doesn’t want to rush into things by introducing them to your parents straight away. “It forces it straight into that meet the parents thing and I’m not looking for a relationship at the minute, that’s not something I’m really open to, so that limits what I can do,” she explains. “I feel like it would freak people out if I’m like ‘oh my parents will be there by the way, you have to walk through the living room and meet them on your way upstairs’,” she laughs.
Different relationship dynamics among Gen Z can be hard to explain to parents, too. “They don’t get the situationship kind of thing,” Amelia explains. She’s just come out of a casual relationship and explaining to her mother what that meant was difficult because she asked questions like “‘So are you together? Are you not together? Are you going to get together?’.” This left her having to explain the dynamic “without using the words ‘friends with benefits’ because that’s just really cringe to say to your mother."
Mog, 23, she/they
This disconnect between generations is something Mog has also experienced. They identify as queer, so talking about sex and relationships with their parents is difficult because they’re “quite traditional and old-fashioned in that way”. While at university, Mog was able to explore their sexual identity more and it was a lot easier to meet people.
But they’ve been living with their parents for the last three years and their parents don’t allow them to bring people home. “When I had a partner at uni and I brought them home to stay for the weekend, they had to sleep in a completely separate room to me.” This is a rule that doesn’t apply to Mog’s brother, who is four years younger and has been allowed to have girlfriends stay over in the same room. “But because in their eyes I’m a female, they have stricter rules for me and stricter behaviours as to what is deemed ladylike,” they say.
Before coming out, their parents would ask them questions about whether they had a boyfriend but that doesn’t happen anymore. “I think maybe they’re scared to ask,” Mog admits. “I think it’s because they don’t understand sex outside of a cis-heteronormative viewpoint, so they don’t want to discuss it or think about it.” This means that for their parents, talking about sex “isn’t a conversation that they want to have or are willing to have”, other than when it’s related to having kids. Mog’s mother is eager to become a grandmother, “so I think sex in regards to me for them is just for reproductive purposes and not for enjoyment”.
If Mog wants to have sex with someone, they will always go back to their place “as it’s more of a free environment and safe space to have sex”. This is something that can take a toll on the relationship. “It can make others feel as though they’re not important in your life when they could be, but the rules don’t allow you to fully commit”.
“I do find that it is hard to have a sex life, it’s almost impossible,” they say. “I do plan on moving out and I’m saving up to do so. I think when I do my sex life will increase again and be more how I would like it to be.”
How to maintain a healthy sex life while living with family
So now you know a bit more about the perils of trying to have partnered sex as a young person living home, we've now decided to get you some answers on how to actually make this happen without too much stress.
You're going to need to have some difficult conversations. When it comes to maintaining a sex life while living at home, talking about it can make the difference between having one and not. “You can’t skate around this, unfortunately,” says Helen Mayor, a psychosexual and relationships therapist and co-founder of the Thought House Partnership. “There’s only one way: if you’re old enough to have sex you’re old enough to talk about sex.” That means with your partner or with anyone you’re living with that might be impacted.
Boundaries, baby. Just like when you’re living with flatmates, at university or otherwise, young people living at home need to learn to set boundaries with their parents around sex and vice versa, even if it’s uncomfortable. “This is an evolution of the dynamic in the relationship between the young person and their parents and with each party the most important thing is to ask ‘how can were make this feel ok and the most comfortable it can be?’,” Mayor says. “All of it is really boundaries and establishing mutual respect. It’s a bit like sex itself: you have boundaries, you communicate, you update the information as you go along based on what works and what doesn’t work.”
Be considerate of other people's comfort levels. Boundaries or rules can also vary depending on whether you’re in a relationship or not. While it might be fine for an official partner to stay over at the family home twice a week, the same might not apply to one night stands. “Parents don’t necessarily want to wake up to a string of partners. The difficulty is when the parents feel like they’re living in the young person’s house rather than the other way around,” Mayor says. Mostly, it’s about not pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable in a family home, like leaving lube on the side for everyone to see or having loud shower sex every morning.
Establish some ground rules. “You can talk about what’s fair, what’s reasonable.” Talk to your parents and ask them to give you notice of what nights they’ll be out, which goes both ways because some parents might be separated and dating, too. “The other thing is it might be a good idea to get locks fitted on doors so that people are able to have privacy.” This can reassure everyone in the house that no one will be walked in on having sex.
Call in backup if required. If you’re living with family who aren’t open enough to have those conversations to begin with, Helen recommends leveraging people in the community around your parents, like friends or other family members, “who are a bit more open and mature and evolved in their attitude that you can talk to quietly about bringing it up with your parents.”
Location, location, location: If you're not from a household where conversations around sex or having anyone over is a possibility, you may need to get creative. “Find ways to separate your space from your parents,” advises sex and intimacy coach Dr. Lori Beth Bisbey. This means sometimes thinking outside of the box so you don’t have to always navigate around when your family will be home. “Find low cost accommodation near your home,” she advises. “Even if you are living at home to save money, it is worth prioritising the occasional Airbnb, hotel room or B&B.” For those who aren’t able to put aside that much money for sex, Lori Beth recommends camping. “Weather in the UK can make this difficult but it is a low cost option.”
Whatever you decide, take a note from your teenage self: it’s true that where there’s a will, there’s a way. When you've found people who are interested in staying the night, it just takes finding the solution that works best for everyone.