It was common for lower classes families in the XIX century to have families of 6-10 children living in an extremely small flat, having only one bedroom for the whole family, and usually only one bed for many kids, if not one bed for the whole family.

Was it also common for kids to witness intercourse of their parents? If not, I do not see how the parents could do that discretely without anyone noticing.

  • Children those days played outside most of the time, only coming home when food was served, and for bedtime.
    – vsz
    Apr 8, 2016 at 14:02
  • But weren't the parent also working outside (i.e. in the fields) at the hours when the kids played outside?
    – Bregalad
    Apr 8, 2016 at 14:05
  • You mentioned flats, so I assumed you were talking about people in the cities.
    – vsz
    Apr 8, 2016 at 14:08
  • I had mostly rural people in mind, but urban people aren't necessary ruled out.
    – Bregalad
    Apr 8, 2016 at 14:30
  • 1
    I do not see how the parents could do that discretely without anyone noticing Obviously, they used screens and curtains.
    – Matt
    Apr 8, 2016 at 19:26

3 Answers 3


Parents would wait for the kids to fall asleep before intercourse and try to do it quietly.

If a kid would wake up, s/he would usually not understand what was happening.

PS. "sex usually in private" is one of the very long list of "human universals" in the appendix to Pinker's "The Language Instinct" (yes, I know he was citing someone else).

PPS. This is relevant not just to 19th century. Many families in the Soviet Union lived in a single room (kids, parents, and grandparents). This is, actually, my source - anecdotal.

  • Nice try spinning that. Apr 8, 2016 at 16:42
  • 6
    @TylerDurden: I am afraid I don't quite understand what you are saying.
    – sds
    Apr 8, 2016 at 16:45

This is a question without anything possible but anecdotal answers. The first comprehensive sexual scientific study wasn't until 1948 when Alfred Kinsey produced Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. In 1966, Masters & Johnson produced Human Sexual Response. Unfortunately for your question, neither of these studies concentrated on Sexual Awareness of Children in Lower Class Families of the 19th Century. (First, thank you for allowing me to use the word sexual legitimately so many times and second, that sounds like a great title for a thesis... hmmmm)

During the major industrial revolution, in the cities, families were actually down-sizing, but your description of family nighttime life is pretty spot on, in that there was often a single room, and if lucky a single bed. This was not only true for lower class first world countries, but second- and third-world ones as well. My own thoughts on the matter are that youngsters (pre-pubescent) wouldn't be likely to understand or comprehend the moans and groans and movements they may have witnessed, but the older teenagers certainly would.

However, as the majority of older children worked, be it on the farm, or in the city, they'd be more likely to be sound asleep rather than spying on mom and dad's shenanigans.

  • The question is answerable by finding either a source of 1. Parents documenting how they had to find tricks to hide their intercourse their children for a "no" answer, or 2. Peopole documenting that they indeed witnessed their parent's intercourse when they were kids for a "yes" answer. If you can find both of those sources, then there is an "it depends" answer. Also I didn't use the word "sexual" exept for the tag.
    – Bregalad
    Apr 9, 2016 at 11:32
  • Parent's documentation would be along the lines of diaries, which would be fairly singular in scope. Just because one family diary states either side of the answer doesn't make the event common. For an answer to "was it common", you'd need a scientific study, and there are none.
    – CGCampbell
    Apr 9, 2016 at 23:42

Yes, it was (and is in many places around the world) common for kids to be around while adults are having sex. Before 1900, most people in the Europe and the United States were farmers. So, not only did kids watch their parents having sex, but they watched the animals on the farm having sex on a daily basis. I knew a kid who came from a farm and he told me that one of his duties was to give the stallion a hand job to "get him started" in cases where the horse was bushed and was not mounting on his own.

  • 1
    It would be nice to have a source for the 1.st part of your answer. The 2nd part is completely off-topic.
    – Bregalad
    Apr 8, 2016 at 18:44
  • 1
    @Bregalad AS I point out in my own answer, there IS no source to prove or disprove Tyler's assertion. Also, the 2nd part while anecdotal and perhaps more information than anyone not raised on a farm might want, is not "completely off topic" ... the question, boiled down, is sexual awareness of children, and on a farm, that's how I know I learned about sex. I didn't make the connection with human reproduction for another year or so, but still....
    – CGCampbell
    Apr 8, 2016 at 20:09

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