How to Do It

Getting to Know the Neighbors

Is it bad I masturbate while listening to the people next door have sex?

Collage of an ear listening to neighbors have sex.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by liza5450/iStock/Getty Images Plus and TORWAISTUDIO/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to howtodoit@slate.com.

Every Thursday night, Stoya and Rich will answer one bonus question in chat form. This week, getting to know the neighbors.

Dear How to Do It,

I live in an apartment with stereotypical “thin walls” and with frequently noisy neighbors. This isn’t a complaint. I actually enjoy hearing them have sex and commonly masturbate while listening. I recently had a friend over, during which time we overheard the neighbors going at it. My friend commented that it must be so annoying to have neighbors like that, but I confessed that I enjoyed it and would sometimes masturbate to it. My friend was very offended by this—she thought it was a massive invasion of the neighbors’ privacy and equated it to hiding in their closet. My belief is that since the neighbors would understand the limited soundproofing of the building, they then concede the right to auditory privacy when they’re very loud. So as long as I am within the confines of my own apartment and not trying to actively record them or use some sort of sound-enhancing equipment, I have not invaded anyone’s privacy. Have I overstepped, or am I in the clear?

—Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Stoya: So I kind of just love this letter writer?

Rich: Me too.

Stoya: I feel like if anything the friend is projecting her own privacy or moral panic.

Rich: If we take the reporting here as 100 percent accurate, the friend said “It must be so annoying to have neighbors like that.” Like what? Human? Capable of sexual pleasure and not caring if the people next door know it? I’ve got news for the friend: Those types are everywhere. Her house is surrounded. It’s like Night of the Living Dead, but with fornication.

Stoya: Exhibitionists gonna exhibit and voyeurs gonna voye—which is absolutely not a word. Through some lucky happenstance, a pair that likes being loud lives next to someone who likes listening. It’s serendipity.

Rich: Yes, a symbiotic relationship, like those fish that clean sharks’ teeth and don’t get eaten. Nature finds a way even in urban development. I feel like the writer, whose side I am on 100 percent, is really economical? Instead of turning on their computer, they’re just using the world around them to get off.

Stoya: They’re being truly green. Recycling the byproducts of others’ copulation.

Rich: Look: Living on top of each other the way urban dwellers do can suck for reasons touched on in this very letter: namely, the lack of privacy. But to put it in perspective for a naysayer: If someone’s baking smells waft into your apartment, you might salivate. You might not be able to help that. If you get turned on from hearing sex that you have absolutely nothing to do with that would be going on with or without you, the same thing might happen. What can you do?

Stoya: A delivery guy casually commented on how good the hallway smelled because of someone’s baking like two days ago. So that’s presumably a normal thing?

Rich: It’s a totally normal thing. We overlap a lot in these close quarters, and it creates such resentment. Here’s the rare positive thing to come from living on top of one another. If more people were into the sex sounds of their neighbors, a place like New York might actually be friendlier. More people would be relieved, and presumably relaxed, at least.

Stoya: We could heal the world with the sounds of sex. On the privacy question, where to draw the line, I can see where a problem might come in here. For instance, if this person were using sound-enhancing equipment, or if they were expressing gratitude to the loud couple, that might be different.

Rich: Oh yeah, I agree. Recording it would be messed up, too. It almost has to happen exactly as it’s laid out—something un-ignorable and not conjured by the person who is enjoying it. It seems that this is something the letter writer is at the mercy of, much like weather, and that when their neighbors start to bang, it’s like 77 and sunny with no humidity.

I guess the flip side, though, is how much responsibility do the neighbors have here? The person behind the other wall may not be as amused as our letter writer.

Stoya: I’m just now, after 15 years of adult apartment sex, realizing that I had neighbors. Oops.

Rich: Honestly, that’s the way to do it I think. That is how to do it, precisely, in fact. In big cities, it’s like, just part of the ambience. There are limits on how loud you should be at all hours, like anything else, but that’s it. Really, sometimes I worry I’m not loud enough! And that my neighbors are judging me like, “God, I guess he’s not getting any.” I’m just tender and passionate!!!

Stoya: I’m imagining a world where neighbors do welfare checks when they aren’t hearing sex noises. It’s really great: Sex work is totally legal. Condom dispensers are on every street corner. You can get PrEP over the counter at Walgreens.

Rich: Utopia.

Stoya: This fantasy land rocks. I’m wondering what our writer should do regarding their friend.

Rich: I think just don’t share stuff about sex with the friend. She doesn’t get it.

Stoya: Simple, yet effective.

Rich: Do you think there’s any getting through to her?

Stoya: Probably not, or at least not until she’s calmed down.

Rich: I think the only other potential issue to entertain briefly is whether our writer should alert the neighbors that they can hear them (or even that they’ve been listening). But like you said, I think they shouldn’t. Don’t disrupt the ecosystem.

Stoya: I say absolutely not. If it were me—and let’s be real, it probably has been—I’d feel invaded because they said something. Or uncomfortably seen.

Rich: Exactly, and it’d be terrible for the bystander to interfere with sex that’s bringing them so much pleasure by proxy.

Stoya: Everything is balanced right now, so many beautiful orgasms are happening, and our writer seems to know what boundaries to stay on the proper side of. Why risk making it weird?