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Oedipal emergency: If Junior sees too much

Will you spend the rest of your life paying for therapy if your kid walks in on you having sex? Is the pill to blame for one wife’s low libido? And when Viagra doesn’t work, what does?
How parents approach a whoops! sex scenario can make the difference between a teaching moment and trauma.
How parents approach a whoops! sex scenario can make the difference between a teaching moment and trauma.Mike Kemp / Getty Images stock

Will you spend the rest of your life paying for therapy if your kid walks in on you having sex? Is the pill to blame for one wife’s low libido? And when Viagra doesn’t work, what are other options besides the little blue pill? Got a question? E-mail us.

Q: How traumatic is it for an 11-year-old boy to walk in on his mom having sex with her boyfriend? My girlfriend’s son came home early from an overnight at a friend’s house, barged into my girlfriend’s bedroom and caught us in the act. He locked himself in the bathroom for hours, and weeks later, he freaks out if he hears I’m coming over. What do we do? Is he permanently damaged?

A: Well, it depends on who you look to for child-rearing advice. If it’s The Who, he could become a “deaf, dumb and blind” pinball wizard. If it’s Sigmund Freud, the boy has just experienced “The Primal Scene,” and he’s liable to wind up a middle-aged mess.

Or you could look to experts like Dr. Ellen Rome, the head of adolescent medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. How parents approach this whoops! episode, she says, “can make the difference between a teaching moment for the kid and open a door to building a child’s healthy sexuality, or it can be a door closer.”

Your case is complicated because you are not this child’s father, but even if you were, seeing Mom and Dad have sex is a little traumatic for every kid. “There are two groups who do not have sex,” Rome says. “Your parents and your children.”

Taking into account the maturity level of the boy, and your intentions for the relationship, both you and your girlfriend have roles to play. “With a clearly angry 11-year-old who is protective of Mommy, it is worthwhile having a mother-son dialogue where she can clarify, using words, her feelings,” Rome says. “Words like ‘This is somebody I love. This is somebody I can see as my happily-ever-after person’ put it into context so he knows it was not something done casually.” (If it was casual, this is much more problematic.)

It’s important for his mother to be a parent, not a best friend, not to share too much information, but she can have an open dialogue. She can say “I care about this person, but I care about you, Son. Your feelings are most important to me,” but also say that you, the boyfriend, are part of her long-term happiness.

His mother should also admit that it wasn’t fair to the boy that he saw what he did, Rome says.

As for you, make an effort to have some time alone with the boy. Explain that you intend to have a lasting relationship with his mother, that you care deeply about her and about him. Tell him he is very important to both his mother’s happiness and yours. Let him know his feelings matter.

If the boy begins acting out in a disruptive way, or begins “acting in,” like showing signs of depression, you might seek some professional help, Rome suggests.

No more sex in the house, either, at least for awhile. And by the way, you do know that doors have locks, right? Geez.

Q: We are in our early 40s and have been married for 10 years. My wife’s libido is low. She takes the birth control pill. We have talked about me getting snipped so she can get off the pill. Is it true that would raise her libido? If I get snipped and shoot blanks, would that affect me physically and mentally?

A: Ever heard of an IUD (intrauterine device)? IUDs got a well-deserved bad reputation a generation ago, but they’ve changed and doctors say they are woefully underused. They’re not permanent like a vasectomy and your wife can choose an IUD without hormones.

As to the pill and libido, here’s a quote from my favorite study of the subject: “Overall, women experience positive effects, negative effects, as well as no effect on libido during [oral contraceptive] use.” That study, from doctors at Columbia University in 2004, distilled lots of other studies and found results all over the map.

No wonder. As we have said before, libido is a very complicated thing. If your wife’s is low, maybe the pill is to blame. Or maybe it’s your pepperoni addiction, the household budget, Nas playing in your kids’ iPods, or her blood pressure. Oh, and do you two get along OK?

As for vasectomies, there was once concern that men who had them had a greater risk of prostate cancer or cardiovascular disease. But most such fears were debunked by the late 1990s. Vasectomy does carry a risk of post-operative scrotum pain (Ow!). Though they sometimes can be reversed, don’t count on it. Some studies indicate vasectomies increase libido and sexual satisfaction, perhaps because men aren’t worried about Yale’s tuition 18 years from now.

Q: How can an older male obtain an erection when Cialis and Viagra have not helped?

A: Still not throwing your metaphorical football through that metaphorical tire? Well, my friend, you have options. Penile implants, or drugs injected directly into the penis may not sound as appealing as popping a pill, but they work. And research on a genetic therapy called “Maxi-K” is showing promise, too. Early tests seem to show that an injection of “Maxi-K” can reverse erectile dysfunction for up to six months. But gene therapy has a long history of frustrations, so you can’t bank on it just yet. Get yourself to a urologist.