Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Thin walls, thin skin?: This morning, the first thing I heard after waking up was the sound of my roommate having sex. We live in a three-bedroom apartment, and his room and mine share a (thin) wall.
Is it reasonable for me to be uncomfortable with this? When my girlfriend and I have sex, we are very conscious of whether my roommate is in his room. I feel like my roommate is being a bit inconsiderate, because now I’m in the awkward position of having to decide whether to say something.
I’m worried I’m just being immature—maybe this is just a part of adult-roommate life (I had a similar issue at my last apartment), and I should get over it. I also have intimacy issues that make me squeamish about sex, and I have been trying to work on this in therapy for years.
But I also feel like it’s not that unreasonable to expect that my roommate not have sex where I can hear it, especially without first giving me a heads-up, especially on a Monday at 8 a.m. I really like the place, but have only been living there a month, so we are all still getting used to each other. Would it be terrible of me to say something?
A: It’s perfectly reasonable for you to experience squeamishness and discomfort when it comes to other people’s sex lives, but I don’t think it’s reasonable for your roommate not to have sex on a Monday morning just because you might hear it. And it’s definitely not reasonable for you to ask him to give you a “heads-up” before he starts.
He should try to keep the noise to a minimum (which it sounds like he’s doing—you’re not reporting absurd sound levels coming from his room, and it’s not what woke you up that day) and not have sex in common spaces while you’re home, but that’s about all he owes you as a roommate. It is an unfortunate reality of communal living that we sometimes hear the more private aspects of one another’s lives.
It’s painful that this also trips a particularly sensitive wire for you, and I’m glad that you’re able to work on this in therapy. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for you to ask your roommate to curtail what sounds like fairly reasonable sexual behavior. Invest in a portable fan for your bedroom, play some music, talk about it with your therapist, move your bed to the other side of the wall, and do your best to block it out.