Ask Debby Herbenick | How do I politely quiet the sex crazed neighbors above?
Answers to your most penetrating sex questions.
Q I am a thirtysomething hetero male and have lived in my second-floor condo for six months. Now I have a male/female couple that moved in above me. Let’s just say the building’s soundproofing is poor, so now I find myself awakened multiple times a week to the sounds of them having intercourse, including the female making squeaky, frequent “uh, uh, uh”s. What can I do? Do I tap the ceiling? Do they not realize how audible it is? Do they not care? I know sex is good, but some common decency would be nice. I have never even seen them and I fear it will be awkward when I do. The first time, I wasn’t that bothered, but now I am awakened on work nights at 2am to the sounds of sex. Is there anything I can do?
A Some people don’t realize their sex sounds can be heard, some know but don’t care, and some are getting off on the fact that others may hear. Now, I don’t know what your neighbors’ sex romps are like, but if they are “there’s-no-one-in-the-world-but-us” experiences, then ceiling taps are unlikely to be noticed. Plus, all that tapping might only serve to ignite your anger. Depending on how thin your walls are, you could take the passive-aggressive route of pretending to talk on the phone with a friend and complain about your upstairs neighbors’ loud sex, which they might happen to hear. Or you could take the civilized-neighbor approach and knock on their door, introduce yourself, be nice so that they like you and want to keep the peace (bring a plant or cookies?) and add that the walls and floors are a bit thin, and one tends to hear everything that goes on. Asking them to let you know if you’re ever too loud may be a nice way of hinting that sound—including “uh, uh, uh”s—does travel, without directly calling them on it. It also gives you an opening should you want to return a week or two later and ask them to keep it down. Some people who’ve been unable to change their neighbors’ habits opt for sleeping with ear plugs. While perhaps not your first choice, it may be one way to stay asleep on work nights, and it’s much less awkward than walking upstairs to explain just how vividly you can hear the two of them knocking boots and having (or feigning) orgasms.
Q I have a question regarding genital herpes. Is it ridiculous to completely avoid physical contact with possible partners out of fear of getting infected? I already have gynecological issues (nothing bad), and that is not one I’d like to add to my list! My mom says I’m crazy, but if condoms can’t protect you from it, and some people are asymptomatic…how can you avoid it, besides not having sex when your partner has an outbreak?
A Given your anxiety about herpes, I hate to break it to you that it’s possible to get herpes from someone even when he or she is not having an active outbreak. Yes, it’s more likely for people to transmit herpes during an outbreak, but it can be transmitted during other times (such as in the days leading up to an outbreak). That said, it’s a risk that most people who have sex live with, and there are other ways to look at it. For example, most people who have sex never get herpes. Those who do get herpes can be enormously helped by advances in medication that greatly reduce the risk of outbreaks and greatly reduce the risk of transmission. Having herpes doesn’t have to spell the end of a person’s sexual or romantic life. My feeling is that people should aim to have the sex that they’re comfortable having. If you are terrified of herpes, then perhaps right now is not the right time to have sex. If you want to have a sexual relationship, however, you might want to reexamine your fears. For example, maybe casual hookups—in which people are unlikely to share, or be honest about, their STI histories—are not for you. However, perhaps taking time to get to know someone before being sexual with them will set you at ease. You might find that there are relationships you could develop in which you would (a) feel confident that, if this person had herpes, he or she would tell you, (b) feel comfortable insisting on getting tested for STIs together, or (c) decide that you liked or loved a person so much that, even though he or she had herpes, it was worth it to you to risk getting it so that you two could be together. You might also consider talking with your health-care provider about your concerns and asking for information about how herpes can be prevented. Also, you may find that meeting with a psychologist (find one at apa.org) would help you to learn ways to deal with your anxiety. Take some time to figure out what you want your sex life to feel like and how you might go about dating or getting to know potential partners in ways that help you feel comfortable and relaxed about having sex or getting close.
Q I am a 22-year-old female who has been with women since I can’t even remember. I’ve been with my girlfriend for the past four years and she has cheated on me constantly with men, which is making me think twice about my current sexuality. We have had a couple of fallings-out, because I hate the fear of her cheating on me again, so I pick arguments over the smallest things (text messaging, being on Facebook all day). Then again, when we have sex or I watch a porno and masturbate, I imagine her having sex with a guy. It has even made me curious about going back to men! Thinking about her with men, as well as thinking about myself with men, turns me on a lot. I’ve been with a few men before. I don’t know how to control these feelings. Why is it that I hate for her to cheat on me but I love the thought of her having sex with men, while we are having sex?
A In real life, you cannot control her cheating behaviors. In your fantasy life, you can. And what you’re asking me is how you can control your feelings, so your feelings about control (or lack thereof) may be something to ponder. The fact that thinking about your girlfriend being with men turns you on doesn’t necessarily conflict with how much you hate that she’s cheated on you. Many people get turned on thinking about things that, in waking life, turn them off, make them angry or are completely repellent to them. Women and men sometimes have rape fantasies, for example, or get turned on by imagining having sex with a family member or cheating on their exclusive partner. Some people, like you, get off thinking about their partner having sex with other people. I can understand the confusion and frustration about what these fantasies mean for your sexuality. However, I’d encourage you to envision your sexual life in a way that allows for you to feel comfortable and as though you have options. If you want to explore with men, there’s nothing that says you can’t, even if you identify as a lesbian. However, I’d encourage you to be open with your partner about any such plans you make, rather than lying to her in retaliation. You should also examine why it is that you are staying in a relationship that involves repeated lying and cheating. You can locate a counselor or therapist via apa.org or aasect.org