Ten Tips for Dealing with Neighbors Having Noisy Sex 
1. Remember, you’re not alone. Many people live in close quarters or visit thin-walled places. View this predicament as a common challenge, and have faith that you, too, can find solutions that work.

2. Know that it’s natural for you to feel embarrassed. Your embarrassment may be directly related to how mortified you’d be if you discovered that you’d been overheard. Yikes! Give yourself points for being so proper and polite.

3. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Certainly there are those who might thrill at making public displays. But most people are shy about discussing the details of their sex lives, instead of the type who would shout it out. The root of the problem is that too many people are naïve about how well such sounds travel through open windows, thin walls, floors, ceilings, parked vehicles, tent fabric, and across fields of daisies.

4. Accept that it’s normal to be turned on when you hear sex noises. Your brain is wired with mirror neurons, which make you automatically imitate the physiology, actions, and emotions of others. They yawn, you yawn. They’re aroused, you’re aroused. You’re not a perv.

5. Keep perspective. Acknowledge that sex is a normal, natural, pleasurable, and often blessed act involving love. And love makes the world go ‘round, right? In fact, hearing noisy sex is far less stressful than hearing a couple scream angrily at each other. And the episode won’t last as long as a colicky baby or a lonely barking dog. Awwww. On the other hand, you'd be a hero to those neighbors if you could gently, helpfully intervene by offering to hold their baby or play with their dog. Intervening about the sex would not be so well-received. Still, you could....

6. Ask them to change their ways. If you are desperate enough or brave enough to intervene, you could write an anonymous note and post it where they’ll see it. Remember, you get more flies with honey than vinegar.

7. Change your ways. This strategy is generally most successful and Zen-like. It mainly consists of blocking the noise at your end. Shut your own windows. Install your own soundproofing. Procure noise-cancelling headphones. Move to a deserted island. Other noise-blockers of varying effectiveness include earplugs, listening to music, running the vacuum cleaner, turning on a window fan, or even getting out and going for a walk. Of course, being awakened in the middle of the night reduces your options, but earplugs and/or using a fan or white noise machine might do the trick.

You can also geek out on the evolutionary science of our mammalian tendencies. Some researchers postulate that noisy sex can be adaptive; perhaps female vocalizations encourage the partner to keep up the good work as well as enhancing the partner’s pleasure. And voilà!

8. Enlist outside intervention. For example, you could alert an apartment complex manager and ask them to handle it. Or talk to other neighbors for support and strength in numbers. Some people resort to calling the police, but this should be a last resort. Loud sex is not exactly an emergency, unless you’re chronically distressed, sleep deprived, or think someone’s safety is at risk. Then, don’t hesitate to call 911!

9. Contemplate this: Do you have loud sex? Given the pervasiveness of this problem, it's quite possible. Remember, it's common courtesy to refrain from invading others’ private spaces with vociferous displays of your private activities. Be a good neighbor and practice self-awareness, monitor your noise levels, use soundproofing, and be respectful of others. This courtesy is especially important for multi-generational family households.

10. Alternatively, embrace the loud sex. If this works for you and your living situation, take it in stride as a fact of life. And if your nearest neighbors are noisy, this grants permission for you to be noisy too. Back atcha! If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! Of course, you risk embarrassing yourself and others. Though, wouldn’t that be sweet justice—if the loudest offenders, the ones who drew you over to the dark side, ended up tacking a note on your door? Let the hilarity ensue!

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Do Not Apologize for Having Loud Sex 

I once had a boyfriend who lived in one of those creaky old apartment buildings with noisy steam pipes and radiators that clang. Due to some mystery of its construction, noises carried vertically. In the kitchen, we heard neighbors three floors up cooking their dinner. In the bedroom, we heard sex. Everyone heard the sex. Sometimes we heard multiple sex acts, occurring simultaneously but, we believed, in different apartments. It was a symphony of sex noises, a grunting glee club of unseen strangers humping in beds directly above or below ours. Annoying, on nights we would have preferred quiet. Embarrassing, awkward, and occasionally arousing. (“Did you hear that girl last night?” a neighbor once asked. “She sounded hot.”)

But the most important revelation of the noisy-sex apartment was how quickly we learned to live with noisy sex — and to have our own noisy sex, and not give a damn who heard.

Sexual etiquette and neighbor relations being relatively prickly social negotiations, the issue of noisy sex often comes up in advice columns. New York Times “Social Q’s” columnist Philip Galanes recently fielded a question from a widow who, after finding and making love once again, received a note from a neighbor that “pointed out the walls in our building are thin and politely asked that I take that into account while being intimate.” Galanes advised the widow to quiet down and move rooms during sex; the note-slipping woman “handled an awkward situation with grace.” Likewise, Slate’s “Dear Prudence” columnist Emily Yoffe once advised the neighbor of a noisy-sex-haver to seek a face-to-face conversation to request he “keep it down.” Both columns represent what I have come to believe is the dominant view on noisy sex: That the noisy-sex-havers are at fault, and the onus is on them to quiet down or seek alternate venues for climax.

I could not disagree more.

Because if adults can’t have noisy sex in their own homes, with the doors and windows shut, then where can noisy sex occur? Galanes and Yoffe both recommend the sex-havers simply cease to be noisy — but this strikes me as a horrible injustice. The whole point of being a wage-earning, home-owning (or -renting) adult is that you can do whatever you want to do in the privacy of your home. And noisy sex is fun. You don’t make noise unless you are enjoying sex, and since the creation of an enjoyable sex act can be a delicately balanced thing, impeding on any component — sonic or otherwise — risks ruining the enjoyability. What’s more, making noise is itself a primal pleasure. This is not to say quiet sex is not fun. Merely that, of the many types of sex a human can have, “noisy” is a legitimate and useful variety to have in your repertoire. Noisy sex may not be appropriate every time — perhaps you are saving your vocal chords for an upcoming operetta — but it is a reasonable and relatively harmless enhancement.

By “relatively harmless,” I mean that sex noises don’t actively injure or oppress anyone. They may be awkward; overhearers are forced to think about sex at a moment when they would prefer not to. (Or worse, when they, too, are having sex, in which case they suddenly feel like they’re taking part in an orgy with Bob from 3A.) Like an accidental glimpse of an acquaintance’s naked body, overheard orgasms may be seared in the mind.

Nevertheless, the overhearers’ inconvenience is relatively minor. As far as noisy neighbors go, sexually noisy neighbors are really not that intrusive. The noisy part lasts only a few minutes, which is more than can be said for some colicky babies and barking dogs I have known. (To say nothing of the ongoing jackhammer renovations in the building outside my window as we speak.) But to tell the noisy-sex-havers to remove an entire genre of sex from their repertoire in the privacy of their own homes due to some third party’s minor discomfort is a significant burden. And so the onus is on the overhearing-sex-listener to deal with it. You can dull the noise by turning on a radio, putting in earplugs, or making some noise of your own. You can simply ignore it for a couple minutes. Neighbors who throw noisy parties are generally allowed a few hours of indulgence. Shouldn’t vocal sex-havers be afforded a few minutes?

In the rare event that noisy sex lasts longer than an hour, the noisy neighbor can be assumed to be filming a porno, in which case the problem is more of a commercial-zoning issue or something.

There are some exceptions to this rule. Roommate arrangements may demand a conversation, and multi-generational households require some delicacy. If you believe your neighbor’s noisy-sex act also breaks the law (his orgasm noises coincide with those of an animal, for instance) you may need to alert the authorities. When the sex in question occurs in a private apartment between presumably consenting adults, however, the noisemakers owe nothing to the neighbors. Sex happens. Sex noises happen. That’s life.

This is not to say the neighbors have no recourse. When a neighbor’s melodramatic orgasms wake up the whole building, bystanders can laugh. They can gossip. They can raise their eyebrows at fellow neighbors they encounter in the stairwell. They can even express mild arousal behind Screaming Sally’s back. These communal acknowledgments are sometimes necessary to cut sexual tension or reduce awkwardness, in the same way one might acknowledge a foul smell in a shared elevator. But just as confronting the person who caused the smell would be rude (do not shout “J’accuse!” at a stranger who farts), confronting strangers about their sex lives is unacceptable.

“But what if Screaming Sally doesn’t know how loud she is?” you may ask. “She might be embarrassed — maybe I should alert her.” No. You should not. Striking up an unprompted sexual discussion with a stranger — particularly a female stranger who lives alone, whose door you may or may not be lurking outside of, while slipping handwritten notes under her door — is creepy. If she’s worried about her volume, she will pay attention to noises coming from other apartments and adjust accordingly. Someone who is loud enough during sex to be heard through a wall, however, probably knows she is noisy. And she probably just doesn’t care. And that is her prerogative.

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