Sex and the Single Parent: Too Much Sex or Not Enough?

Sex and the single parent. Is there such a thing as too much? As not enough?

As the single mother of teenage sons, what message do I send if my love life is a revolving door? And what message do I send if there are no examples of casual dating, sexual contact, falling in love, or enjoying an ongoing relationship?

If you’re a single parent – what kind of model are you for your children?

What kind of model do you want to be when it comes to relationships?

I’ve never been a revolving door – by choice, as well as by circumstance. And “Revolving Door” is an interesting term for it, one which the Urban Dictionary defines as

“A very loose woman who goes through an obscene number of sexual partners.”

Observation: Apparently stereotypes persist. As a woman, if I choose to have an abundance of sexual playmates, I’m still considered “loose.” Very 1950s. And not only do I have a revolving door, I AM the revolving door!

The Urban Dictionary is an enlightening (and entertaining) source, which goes on to offer a conversational snippet to reinforce the concept of the loose, “revolving door” female:

Neil: “How was the supermarket last night?”

Bob: “Well I took a number at the counter and there were like 5 people in front of me, so I had to wait a half hour or so. But it was worth the wait since I had a ‘buy one get one free’ coupon.”

Neil: “I hate those deli lines.”

Bob: “What deli? I’m talking about your sister. She was lining ’em up in the store bathroom last night as usual. Chucking my junk in that was like throwing a hotdog down a hallway.”

Neil: “Damn that skank is such a revolving door.”

Bob: “Word to your mother.”

Synonyms: slut ho ho bag skank whore

While I find this explanation both illuminating and appalling, it begs the question – what is an “obscene” number of sexual partners? And the definition makes one thing abundantly clear: in American society, a woman who expresses her sexuality openly and with a variety of partners is still considered slutty (note the synonyms); a man in the same situation is lauded – and envied – for his sexual prowess.

What does this have to do with parenting and your approach to sexual activity?

Married or single, widowed or divorced, sexuality is a fundamental element of our human experience. It is of more importance to some than others, and comes in any number of variations. But how do we handle ourselves if we have no private time? No “time off” for good behavior? What if we live in a conservative environment, but we aren’t interested in remarrying?

What sexual presence – and behavior – do we offer to our children as an example?

Too Little Sex?

After my marriage ended, I didn’t date for several years. My sons were young – seven and eight years old. Their dad had moved and visited infrequently; we were on new, uncertain footing. We needed to shore up our foundations, which took time.

I didn’t realize that my older son was well aware of my isolation and my loneliness.

It was he, aged 11, who said “Mom, it’s time you start dating.” His father was about to remarry, and I’d yet to meet a man over a latte at Starbucks.

So I plunged back into the world of dating, and eventually, sex. Safely, discreetly, judiciously, and admittedly, with abandon. It had been too long, and I had some readjusting and learning to do. The menu had changed, and I wanted to taste the new cuisine.

Observation: I soon realized that years without a sexual partner had taken their toll. There were extra pounds, a less positive outlook in general, and less energy. When I reclaimed my sex life, I was happier. When I’m happier, my children are happier.

One-night Stands and Single Parenting

What was right for me – a slow path – is only that. My path, as I found my way bit by bit. Nonetheless, as a single parent, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with one-night stands or short-lived relationships, undertaken safely of course. If anything – they can improve your mood and bring a much less cranky parent to carpool line or the chaotic dinner hour.

However, I do think that discretion is essential.

How much discretion? And what if you really need to cut loose?

A great deal depends upon your children – their ages, their relationship with you, and their reactions. Discussion and observation can help guide you.

While our culture may hand the single father certain advantages, I personally favor keeping your sexual life  private – until you’re comfortable introducing someone to your sons and daughters.

Whether they comment or not, kids are always observing, sensing, and learning by example. 

The Dilemma of the Revolving Door

Among my divorced women friends, some have dated regularly, as family members helped with childcare. That flexibility provided “dating time” and privacy. Other friends had no such options, as was my case. One woman I knew, a stunning 30-something with two school aged children, dated a great deal. She had a glittering personality, a healthy sexual appetite, and men fell – hard, and often. She also had a habit of moving her lovers into the family home.

Her children had role models – good men, generally – but the names and faces changed two and three times a year, year after year. Their home was, indeed, a “revolving door.”  

REFLECTION: I applauded my friend’s ability to open up her heart, to celebrate her sexuality, and to display affection in front of her children. What concerned me was the message of impermanence. That “men don’t stay.”

Too much sex?

Children at any age don’t need “in-your-face” adult sexuality. Granted, in other cultures, nudity and sexuality are integrated fully into family life, media, discussions – and from an early age. And I’m all for that – but we live here, in the (publicly) sexually conservative USA.

Put yourself in your kids’ shoes. Imagine embarrassment or confusion they might experience, particularly during the stages when the puzzle pieces of sexuality and love are just beginning to form – pre-adolescence and the early teenage years.

Observation: Knowing your parents are sexual – seeing them hold hands, kiss, embrace – is different from seeing and hearing the antics that are exuberantly enjoyed behind closed doors. Or waking up to a parade of strangers over a bowl of cereal.

Let’s Be Realistic about Adult Sexuality

A healthy sex life over the course of years – and a number of sexual partners – seems inevitable if you allow yourself a full life. Whether you’re a parent or not, what is deemed “too much sex” or “too many partners” is a matter of personal and individual judgment, within a cultural context, and for some, a religious or moral one.

When I’ve been in love, it’s been my pleasure to introduce a man into the household. Gently, and observing the reaction of my sons. Allowing them the time they need to get comfortable.

If I was cautious about growing attached to someone who would be in my life for a few months or a year and then move on, I certainly didn’t want my children to grow too attached.

But I did want them to have the experience of seeing me happily holding hands, sharing an occasional kiss, the knowledge of affection and sexuality that floats in the air when adults care about each other. When they are committed enough to spend time together, both in and out of bed.

The Model I Wish to Show by Example

I am not a revolving door; nor is our home.

I am discreet in relationships, and only bring someone into our lives when there is a relationship – and one which is more than sexual.

I want my sons to see me happy.

I want them to understand that sexuality is natural and fun and an integral part of adult life.

And I certainly don’t want them feeling guilty about the years I’ve raised them, alone, and the sadness that I know they have observed from time to time.

My job as parent is the most important I’ve ever had.

As my sons ready to leave the nest, I “reclaim” more of my life and my sexuality. If I’m fortunate, I’ve been a reasonably good model for them. And I wish for my sons to find women who fully and responsibly own themselves – their dreams, their opinions, and their sexuality.

© D. A. Wolf



  1. Franco says

    There were many truisms in this article and kids do want to see their parents happy. I do think that they are looking for stability and security and gravitate more towards the long-term relationships, as how they see their parents.

    For years I wanted to find someone nice for myself and also for my children’s sake. I never wanted them to think, despite the years of hell and high water, that I was no longer in need or search of a companion. I think it is about normalcy and feeling good. As you say, that is different for different people. It is not that our children think less of us for being alone, but rather, are happy to celebrate in our joy.

  2. says

    These are such honest, intelligent and so down to earth feelings. I deeply appreciate reading you, I wish I had free hours to do so. But I have nights, and I will read these texts during my next midnight hours, your words will have even more exciting atmosphere… Nicolas

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