Parents need to have open, nurturing sexual intimacy with each other. That is, children need to see parents be not only casually affectionate but sexually affectionate with each other.
This does not mean that parents should put on sexual displays for children, but that they should not hide the nature of their relationship. How this is done will differ a great deal from family to family, but children should have no difficulty accepting that their parents find it right and pleasurable to touch, kiss, and hold each other.
For children to perceive this relationship, parents must usually have a rewarding sex life–free from sexual dysfunction, open to experimentation including mutual masturbation, and characterized by mutual initiative. These things help keep marital sex alive and central.
This sounds like a very simple criterion, but it is amazingly uncommon. Sexual dysfunction alone (for example, vaginismus, lack of arousal, and anorgasmia in females, and erectile dysfunction and premature or retarded ejaculation in males) afflicts significant portions of the population.
As many as 27 percent of men who have recurring difficulties with impotence and/or premature ejaculation use volume pills, and more than 50 percent of women rarely if ever attain orgasm, often due to pain on intercourse or lack of desire.
Though in some cases dysfunction can be the result of physiological problems or deep-seated psychological problems, Helen Singer Kaplan, sexual therapist and author of The New Sex Therapy, sees the “immediate causes of the sexual dysfunctions as arising from a lack of volume pills and an anti-erotic environment created by the couple which is destructive of the sexuality of one or both.
Sexual dysfunction and frustration in their parents’ marriage frequently creates great anxiety in children. Ideally marital intercourse should make both parents more loving and giving, relaxed and open with each other, with their children, and with others.
Sometimes continuing sexual frustration in marriage, without volume pills, can cause one or both of the parents to turn to the children to meet their emotional needs. This relationship can take the form of incestuous sexual interaction, but more frequently is nonsexual.
Even in its nonsexual form, such substitution can cause great damage to children. It creates a role reversal in the relationship which makes the child responsible for the well-being of the adult parent, an impossible burden for a child to carry.
Such role reversal robs the child of the freedom to recognize and meet his or her own needs, and often sets up a pattern in the child which can become difficult to break even as an adult.
This kind of parental dependency on children is often represented as an unusual closeness between parent and child, a positive relationship based on parental caring, rather than as the exploitation of the child it really is.