When I was 10 years old, I wandered into my living room on Christmas morning to find a soft, yellow teddy bear. He had glassy brown eyes, a squishy brown nose, and big paws filled with tiny beads. I loved him instantly. From then on, Barry (as I oh-so-cleverly named him) became my confidant. When my brother pissed me off, Barry heard all about it. When the kids at school teased me for being too fat, Barry was there to catch my tears. When I was happy, he joined in my joy. And of course, he was there to cuddle me to sleep every night.
And he has ever since. Other than a few years in college when I left Barry at home (for the sake of my reputation), he’s kept his place of honor on my bed — except for the nights two years ago when I’d bring my friend-with-benefits home to hook up. And the nights, now, when my girlfriend and I have sex. Having sex in front of Barry just feels wrong. So, most of the time, I toss him off the bed before I and my partner get down to business.
Now, I know how this sounds. An adult woman who still has her childhood teddy bear, and especially one who subconsciously believes her inanimate stuffed animal can “watch” her have sex may seem a little unhinged. Or, at least, naive. But the thought that our childhood toys are watching us might not be that outlandish. After all, millennials grew up with Toy Story — if nothing else, that movie taught us that toys have their own personalities (or we give them distinct personalities, at least). So how weird is it, really, to think they may be judging us? When I ran that theory by psychotherapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, she didn’t think it was too offbase. “Stuffed animals are so much a part of our childhood that doing something as ‘adult’ as having sex in front of them can seem weird and shocking,” she tells Bustle.
For some people, these toys are a stand-in for the innocence of our childhood, and simpler times. So, having sex in front of them feels weird because it’s essentially like having sex in front of your 10-year-old self. “Stuffed animals are such a visceral link to our younger selves that people just don’t feel comfortable mixing them up with sex,” Hartstein says. At least, most people don’t. There are some people, called “plushies” or “furries,” who view stuffed animals as a sexual kink. For them, bringing a stuffed bear into sex is a turn on, rather than a turn off.
I certainly don’t identify within that kink (though I’d never shame anyone who does), given that I prefer to put Barry on the floor before sex happens or at least turn him toward the wall. But, there are of course times in the throes of passion that I forget that he’s on the bed at all. There’s no question Barry has gotten an eyeful now and then. While I’d never beat myself up for forgetting to turn him around (as ridiculous as this all must sound, I really do know that my stuffed bear isn’t real), I still feel a little awkward when I realize that he “saw.”
Psychologist Nicole Richardson, LMFT, has another theory about why that is: “When you were given your first teddy bear, you may have seen it as your friend, your peer, or another child," she tells Bustle. "From that vantage point, you can see why being intimate in front of a peer or another kid may feel awkward."
So, not only do stuffed animals remind you of your own childhood, but they remind you of childhood in general. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I was 10 years old, I still thought sex was “icky.” And so it’s understandable that mixing up sex with something like Barry, who is so intrinsically tied to my younger self, feels kind of gross. So I’ll just keep turning him around, thank you very much.