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Does co-sleeping kill your sex life?

In a mommy-gripped culture where kids come first, the question is touchy - and rarely flung in mothers' faces as brusquely as it was by free-loving, Fear of Flying author Erica Jong this week.

"Our current orgy of multiple maternity does indeed leave little room for sexuality," Ms. Jong wrote in an incendiary opinion piece for The New York Times. Mothers who co-sleep with their kids, she wrote, "give up men" in favour of their children.

In one paragraph, Ms. Jong brought a quiet debate back to the fore; blogs have been buzzing with women piling on in defence of co-sleeping. It's a perspective that doesn't typically get such a public airing, but one that moms have suddenly rallied around.

"If you have kids in your room, you don't have sex. That is a mainstream thought," says Judy Arnall, author of the parenting book Discipline Without Distress.

Co-sleeping moms defend the practice by saying that sharing a bed is beneficial to a child's development. But Ms. Arnall and others say that doesn't mean it trumps intimacy.

"You can find an hour any time, if you really want to. Just give the signal," says Ms. Arnall, a Calgary mom of five who co-slept with four of them (and a husband).

She says the arrangement forced her and her partner to sneak around when the children were asleep or otherwise occupied. For her, that was a thrill.

There were several exit strategies: "Mommy and Daddy need a meeting to discuss a surprise," "Mommy and Daddy need a nap," or more plainly, "Mommy and Daddy need a time out!"

As for where to consummate when your bed is taken up by grubby, snoozing toddlers, she's also full of ideas: the bathroom shower or tub; garage or workshop - or the kids' room. "Hey, they are not using it," she points out.

"Now a lot of parents just put mattresses on the floor and the whole family sleeps in one room, but in these big houses, everybody has a guest room and that's your love room."

Why not just put the kids in the guest room?

"They won't sleep there. ... That's tiring, to spend the last two hours of your me-time dragging kids back to bed and fighting with them."

Not to mention libido-zapping: "The worst thing that kills desire in the early years is lack of sleep. If you co-sleep with your baby, you're more rested and more there as a person."

Montreal teacher Wendi Hadd co-slept with as many as four of her six children at one point.

"Having a baby sleeping in your bed doesn't mean you'll never have sex again. I managed to, many, many times. The evidence is there," says Ms. Hadd, 46.

Now divorced after 18 years of marriage, Ms. Hadd says the co-sleeping arrangement had "absolutely nothing to do with us separating."

"Even having really good sex doesn't mean a relationship is going to survive."

In Ms. Hadd's case, ground zero of lust was the laundry room, convenient since she was doing 14 loads a week, at one point.

"When you have a bunch of little kids, it's like, 'Okay, I've got 10 minutes honey, meet me in the laundry room. Make sure when you get there you're already really excited because there'll be no foreplay.' But that's still sex."

Ms. Hadd's philosophical about it: "Life is long. Sometimes it's long, drawn out hours of sex and then it's a quickie."

Aside from missing the logistics, other mothers took offence to Ms. Jong's suggestion that women are using children as a wedge between themselves and their spouses, be it through co-sleeping, breastfeeding or "man-distancing slings."

"That is full of the assumption that these kind of parenting decisions are being made by the mother alone, which is obviously not true," says Stephanie Ondrack, instructor at the Childbearing Society in Vancouver.

Ms. Ondrack has indulgeds in some extended co-sleeping, with three kids aged 9, 6, 3 and a husband playing "musical beds" every night between a king-sized bed and a double in adjoining rooms.

"Almost nobody goes to sleep where they started, except for the three-year-old," says Ms. Ondrack, 43.

She thinks Ms. Jong is "seeing this paradigm shift happening around her where instead of leaving your babies with nannies and daycare and running off to work right away, defining yourself that way and thinking of freedom as this me thing, people are putting their needs aside a little bit for the needs of their children, which is temporary."

Well, maybe more than temporary as some parents co-sleep later and later into a child's life, but Ms. Ondrack insists it's all good.

"Parenting together has led to way more intimacy than was ever enjoyed before. It might be getting to know each other differently."

Mom Hallie Palladino may have summed it up best in an online post: "Children are infants for a short time; a couple married at 30 might easily have 50 years of marriage ahead, perhaps five of those years with infants in the house even if they participate in this sordid 'orgy of multiple maternity' (most people call it raising a family)."