The housing crisis has left a record number of young adults stuck living in the family home. According to official figures, a quarter of people aged 20-34 in the U.K. are doing so, a figure that rose from 2.7 million people to 3.4 million in just two decades. Not only is it frustrating for many of us, it also means we're increasingly forced to delay major life milestones, like getting married and starting a family, and affects how we nurture our romantic relationships day to day – including how we have sex.
Stephanie, 22, from London, has been with her boyfriend, also 22, for a year and a half and they both still live at home. They've been together long-distance since she finished university in May 2017 and most of their time together is spent either at her family home or at his parents' house in Suffolk. She told Refinery29 how they maintain a thriving relationship — and active sex life — under these circumstances.
After graduating from university, it made sense that I moved back home to east London. My boyfriend isn’t on a high wage and I hadn't yet secured a job, so we couldn’t afford to live together. On top of this, we only started dating in December 2016 and decided to get into a relationship in February, so it was way too early for us to live together.
At the moment, we see each other every weekend and have sex every time — maybe twice or three times. Having sex in a family home is awkward. When we first got together, I was living in my old family home and the upstairs bedrooms were very close to one another, with thin walls. I postponed sex when he came over because I was petrified someone would hear us. I didn’t have a TV in my room either, so there was no possible way to block any noise. At his house it was a bit easier, because his family were always at work and he had a TV, which helps enormously.
They said, 'Oh, we could hear you both going at it upstairs. It sounded like you were enjoying yourselves!'
I’ve since moved into a bungalow with a loft converted into a room. My parents' bedroom is upstairs and mine is downstairs, so it’s easier to have sex without being heard, but I’m still much more comfortable having sex at his family's house than mine. I’m not tense because I almost don’t care what his parents think. They're so much more open about sex, too, which makes it feel more natural. My family don't discuss sex at all, so I’m more on edge and listening out for the tiniest sounds that could indicate someone might have heard us.
There have been many awkward moments along the way. One time, my boyfriend's family heard us and brought it up after we'd finished and went downstairs to join them for dinner. It was the most awkward 20 minutes of my life. They said, "Oh, we could hear you both going at it upstairs. It sounded like you were enjoying yourselves!" Then they continued to be crude — you wouldn’t want anyone, let alone your boyfriend’s parents, to say what they said. I just sat there cringing at the dinner table and gave my boyfriend a look that could be translated as, "Please shut this conversation down right now!" It made me feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to talk about my sex life in detail. I think it’s nobody’s business and the last thing I would think of doing was to bring it up at dinner.
It's given us the chance to discuss serious subjects that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise discussed so early on in our relationship.
The most difficult thing about our arrangement is having to be conscious about how loud we are. If our beds make the tiniest sound, I’m on guard and tense up. When we first got together, it created awkward conversations between us as he didn’t understand why we couldn’t have sex at my family's house. I explained how awkward I found it and that if I wasn’t comfortable having sex in the house, then I wasn’t going to push myself to do it. He understood and it didn’t impact our relationship – if anything, it just made us have sex at his house more often.
Having to be conscious of how vocal we are during sex does impact the quality. My boyfriend likes me to be vocal so he knows I'm enjoying myself, and the same goes for me. Being vocal urges your partner to orgasm quicker, and sounds contribute to the overall experience as much as feeling does. When we've had to be silent in the past, it was hard to tell if the other person was enjoying it.
There are a lot of advantages, though. It's taught us a lot about each other's views on sex and how comfortable we are with it. It's also given us the chance to discuss serious subjects that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise discussed so early on in our relationship: dirty talk, fantasies, the seriousness of our relationship, our likes and dislikes during sex. Topics you wouldn’t initially be so open with your partner about for fear of upsetting them – especially at the beginning of your relationship, when you're just getting to know each other. It means we got to know each other fairly quickly. Of course, even after a year we’re still learning new things, but I think we're paces ahead in terms of the conversations we’ve had about sex so early on.
Overall, the experience has definitely strengthened our relationship. Sure, it can be awkward living at home, but you learn a lot about each other quickly and it makes you more respectful of each other’s families, too. It has made me interact with his family more – even if some of the conversations were uncomfortable – and this has strengthened my relationship not only with him but with his family, too.