When we think of teaching kids about sex, we usually think of buying books for them and having “The Talk” (or, better, a series of many talks). But the way we behave in our own marriage/partnership is at least as important for our kids’ future sex lives.
From watching how the two of you interact, your kids learn:
How you balance power; whether and how both partners can get their needs met
How openly you communicate; whether it’s okay to disagree or ask for what you need, or whether some things can never be spoken
How kindly you speak to one another; whether they should expect to be treated with gentleness and patience by their future partner
Whether you take each other’s concerns seriously; whether they should expect to be listened to in a relationship
How faithful you are to each other; whether commitments matter and whether partners can be trusted
How affectionate you are with each other; whether affection “should” be part of couple interactions
How playful and flirtatious you are together, which hints at the fun and joy that can be part of sex
All of this will affect their adult sex lives. If your relationship is distant, cold, or angry, they will internalize that as what marriages “should” look like (even if they consciously don’t want to follow in your path). If you treat each other well, that’s what they’ll expect in their own lives; they’ll reject possible partners who treat them poorly. If you subtly convey that physical connection is a pleasurable part of couple-hood, they’ll seek that in their own lives.
As some young adults commented in my survey:
“My parents set a pretty solid role model for a healthy relationship. Learning by watching them has shown me what I need, deserve, and want out of a partner.”
“They made sure to tell me that I could talk to them about anything at any time—and this was true! Neither of them were good examples of a relationship, but that was a lesson in and of itself about how difficult and real stuff like that can be. They tried to instill a sense of self-respect, which is important especially for girls.”
“I like that their example made me a more considerate lover. They were very affectionate with each other.”
If you don’t like what your relationship is modeling for your children, change it. Adjust your own attitude, reach out to your partner, rekindle the playfulness and patience you once shared. If necessary, work with a couples therapist. Both you and your kids will benefit.