Opinion

On Sleeping in Different Beds, and Parental Search Histories

Roe McDermott portrait
Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies. You can contact her at dubinq.com/ask-roe.

Dear Roe,

I’ve been with my fiancé for six years in total, and we’re getting married early next year. I love him to bits, our sex life is great, but one problem we can’t seem to solve is sleeping together – as in, literally sleeping together.

While I love him dearly, he snores loudly and as a light sleeper, it drives me utterly mad. He also tends to run hot while I’m always freezing, so there’s a lot of shoving of blankets. Basically, we wake each other up a lot, and so in the morning, neither of us is really rested. Because it’s a few different factors, doing things like using earplugs or having an extra blanket on my side of the bed doesn’t really help matters.

Recently, we spoke about the fact that when he travels for work, we both sleep so much better because we’re not sleeping together, and the prospect of sleeping in different rooms came up. We do have a spare room so practically it’s possible, but I am worried about what this means for our relationship, and our sex life. I don’t know anyone who sleeps separately, and you only ever hear about people doing so when it’s a loveless, sexless marriage – and I don’t want that! Any advice?

Dear Letter Writer,

As my wedding gift to you, allow me to put your mind at ease: you are not alone. A 2005 survey from the National Sleep Foundation in the US found that one in four married couples sleep separately, while another study from Ryerson University in Canada had the number as closer to 40 percent.

The reason that most of these couples sleep separately isn’t that old trope of being in sexless, loveless marriages; it’s to get some decent shut-eye.

Sleeping together has become one of those hallmarks of intimacy, and with good reason. When you can actually sleep with someone, it facilitates physical bonding as well as the emotional bonding that comes from being in your most vulnerable state around your partner. It’s also something we usually only do with romantic partners, and so it is a way of strengthening that bond by having a ritual you only do together.

However, it’s also a deeply flawed system, because you know what also helps couple feel healthy and happy and loving towards each other? Getting enough sleep. And sadly, the two things aren’t always compatible.

You’ve been struggling with this problem for a while now, and so at the very least, sleeping separately is worth a shot. And remember: sleeping separately doesn’t mean you have to do it always, and neither does it mean that you have to miss out on physical or emotional intimacy. You get to decide what intimacy looks like for you and your partner, and there are a myriad of other ways you can express that beyond staring at the ceiling while he snores like a train.

Maybe for you, cuddling on the couch before bed or even going to the same bed together and having sex or reading or having some quality catch-up time talking will give you that sense of closeness – and then when one of you starts drifting off, the other can retire to the other room.

Maybe you can even come back together in the morning for some more cuddle time or a quickie before work so that you’re still getting the conscious bonding time, but also getting those much-needed Zs.

You also can sleep separately only when one of you has an early morning, and cuddle up together on weekends, or maybe you find that you are fine sleeping together during the spring and summer when you’re not freezing, and are happy to go without a huge duvet.

As a generally vampiric writer living in a different time-zone to most of my editors, I often write in the wee hours of the morning, which is not ideal when I’m dating a morning-bird with one of those weird, proper adult office jobs that starts at 9am.

But when I’m on a deadline, instead of bidding him adieu when he’s off to bed, I often go to bed with him then get up and write when he’s fallen asleep. We get all the benefits of the nice nightly routine stuff, and I still get to do my work.

My point is that you’re adults, and you obviously love each other deeply. You know what’s best for both of you, and what is going to make you feel close while still doing what’s best for both of you, health and sanity-wise.

And try different things. Maybe just getting a huge-ass bed with separate duvets of different tog counts is the answer, or pushing two beds together will allow you your space.

Play around with your options – and enjoy what changing up your routine could do for your sex life. Instead of limiting yourselves to having sex in bed at night before falling asleep together, enjoy trying it all over your house, at different times of day.

Variety-filled sex, good sleep, and a wedding on the way? I think you’ll be just fine.

 

***

Dear Roe,

I no longer live in Dublin, but was back recently visiting my family. One day I was on the family computer, and I found that there had been a lot of visits to porn sites, and the majority of the porn viewed had been gay porn. My dad is the primary user of the computer, and my mam isn’t that tech-savvy, so I’m pretty sure it’s him, and I don’t know what to do.

I’ve always thought my dad was a little bit effete and so it makes sense to me on one level, but he and my mam have a really strong and happy marriage, and I don’t know what this means for them. Should I try talk to my dad about this? Should my mam know? I’m seriously worried about what this means for my parents and my family.

Dear Letter Writer,

There are a few things here, and most of them come with this advice: please calm down.

First of all is the glaring point that the porn might not be your dad’s. You say you found it on the family computer, not his personal laptop. Do you have siblings? House guests? A mother?

Don’t scoff at the last option – many straight women like porn with gay men, enjoying the hot guys without the straight-male gaze nonsense and a lot of the degrading tropes that occur within porn featuring a man and a woman. So the viewership of the porn still seems to be up in the air.

Second is the issue that no matter who was watching the porn, porn does not a sexual orientation make. Many people watch porn for a variety of reasons (see straight women’s enjoyment of porn above).

When we use terms like “gay porn”, “lesbian porn”, “straight porn”, we’re using those terms in a sexually reductive, search-friendly way to describe the gist of interactions onscreen – not the orientation of the viewer.

This is why I find the ubiquity of the term “girl-on-girl” porn interesting, when we generally refer to man-on-man porn as “gay porn” – which brings me on to another question for you. Had you discovered girl-on-girl or lesbian porn, would you have written in?

As a culture, we’re used to seeing women sexualised constantly, and we’re used to everyone – men, women, straight, gay, bisexual, non-binary folks, etc. – being exposed to that sexualisation.

We’ve also largely normalized the fluid sexuality of women to a certain degree – think of all the jokes and tropes and realities of women “experimenting in college”, or straight young women kissing each other on nights out for a bit of attention and a bit of giggle.

This is socially acceptable because it fulfils a lot of male fantasy and desire, and as we sadly know, male fantasy and desire have a way of driving culture – thank you, patriarchy.

(Tangent: the fact that we say “girl-on-girl” instead of “woman-on-woman” is another gross facet of our sexualisation and infantilisation of women in so much of porn, but I have a word count, so that’s a rant for another day.)

So, before you start worrying about the sexual orientations floating around in your house, be aware of the narrative you’re placing upon this porn you discovered, and how it is a little homophobic. It disallows for the fluidity of fantasy or desire just because it’s porn with men.

Your description of your father as “a little effete” also indicates you may be operating with some rigid standards of masculinity and gender expression, so I’d just be a bit self-aware about that.

Thirdly, allow me to jump with you to the conclusion you’ve (erroneously, I believe) drawn: what if your dad was watching gay porn because he’s attracted to men, and not in a sexually fluid way, but a sexual orientation way?

You realize this still doesn’t mean he is necessarily gay, right? He could be bisexual, in which case, who cares? He’s attracted to men, he’s attracted to women, he’s chosen your mother and even you say that they have a really strong and happy marriage. There isn’t really a conversation to be had here.

And if he is gay, he’s still chosen to be with your mother, they still have a strong and happy marriage, and if there is a conversation to be had, it doesn’t necessarily involve you, and neither should you be the one to start it.

If he has chosen not to be out to you, he has his reasons. Demonstrate through your speech and your actions that you love him, that you support everyone’s right to their sexuality and orientation, and make sure that he palpably feels that support and respect and openness from you. If he isn’t straight and feels the need or desire to share with you, he can.

But you do not have a right to that information. Do you understand that? No one owes you a big disclosure about their sexuality. And using the search history on the family computer to force an awkward conversation upon someone, let alone to try to force them to come out to you, is pretty terrible.

Particularly when it comes to parents and children. Yes it’s wonderful when they can talk with each other about sex as adults, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to, and that’s fine.

My parents know I write about sex. Seeing as I and my siblings exist, I know they’ve had sex, at least a couple of times.

And because I love my parents, as individual people and as a parental unit, I hope they have a fulfilling sex life, and that if they need to talk about it, they have someone – be it each other, or me, or someone else.

That doesn’t mean I burst into rooms going, “Here, Ma, tell me about your sexual fantasies there!” And I think the entire family is grateful for that.

So please stop worrying, and stop needlessly assuming that this is a problem, and one you need to solve. The only thing you know is that someone in your house has watched porn – welcome to the realities of existing in the world.

It’s not a clue, or a mystery to be solved, or an indicator of familial collapse, so put down the magnifying glass and Scooby snacks. Be a loving and supportive child, a good ally to LGBTQ people, and if people choose to talk to you about their sexuality, listen.

And in the meantime, breathe.


Do you have a question for Roe? Submit it anonymously at dublininquirer.com/ask-roe

 

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