'Help! I Live Next Door To A Loud Masturbator'

What's the protocol on telling a neighbor you can hear them masturbating?
What's the protocol on telling a neighbor you can hear them masturbating? Studio4 via Getty Images

With a population of over 8 million people ― many of them living in older apartments with paper-thin walls ― there’s bound to be some issues with noisy neighbors in the city that never sleeps.

This column’s question comes from a New Yorker who’s feeling secondhand embarrassment for her new neighbor ― a man who hasn’t learned to use his indoor voice while masturbating.

Help! I live in a New York City studio apartment with cement walls that are apparently a little too thin. I know it’s expected that when you share walls with neighbors you’ll hear, uh, intimate noises from time to time, but I have a new neighbor whose solo activities are so vigorous that I can hear the festivities quite regularly. It doesn’t bother me personally, but I’m embarrassed for him and wondering if he has any idea he has so little privacy. Should I somehow let him know by slipping an anonymous note under his door? Or do I let him go on and mind my own business? ― Blushing In Brooklyn

We asked Thomas P. Farley ― a nationally regarded etiquette expert who goes by Mister Manners ― to tackle this very specific noise complaint. (Loud neighbor sex we’ve heard of, but loud neighbor masturbation is a different story.)

“Noise issues arising from a space beyond one’s own walls are among the most sensitive of topics for neighbors to discuss. As a member of my building’s co-op board, I have heard innumerable tales of grief as adjacent neighbors recount the commotion emanating from above, next door or below ― from crying babies to loud music, piano lessons to hard-soled foot traffic. And yes, lest we forget, lovemaking. (Or in this case, solo love.)

For the aggrieved party, the typical trajectory of these matters runs the course of surprise, annoyance, exasperation, and finally, either a temper eruption or frustrated resignation. Vexingly, the neighbor generating the noise is often completely unaware they are making any disturbance at all.

This devolution is unfortunate. I believe firmly that if approached directly, politely and considerately, many (though certainly not all) offending parties will take steps to reduce ― if not completely eliminate ― clamorous incursions.

I would advise anyone in a scenario similar to “Blushing in Brooklyn’s” to weigh the gravity of the matter and then tread carefully if at all. Is the peal of passion something you hear once or twice a month? Or is it morning, noon and night daily? A white-noise machine or a fan can drown out a whole lot. A pair of headphones even more. But if these tactics are incapable of restoring your peace and quiet, it is probably time to have a gentle word with this neighbor.

Find a time outside of work hours (perhaps midday on a Saturday or Sunday) to knock on the individual’s door and have a brief conversation that ― once the pleasantries have been exchanged ― segues into a version of: ‘I’m sure you’re not aware, and forgive me, because I know this is a bit awkward, but I’ve been having difficulty getting a decent night’s sleep the past several weeks because of the activity that seems to be coming from your apartment around [fill in time] each night. I know sound travels in our building, and I’m wondering if there’s anything you might be able to do to reduce the noise at all?’ In the ideal world, the neighbor will apologize immediately and offer to make some significant adjustments. To which the petitioning neighbor should express great gratitude.

Could an anonymous note do the job? In the interest of candor and transparency, I would counsel the neighbors have a respectful face-to-face conversation versus slipping any letter under the door of a noise offender. The moment a note is passed, a guessing game will begin and two possible outcomes may follow —neither ideal. First, the noisy neighbor may wrongly assume it was someone else who wrote the note and begin acting awkwardly around them with no hint as to why. Alternatively, by process of elimination, they may figure out the actual note-writer and — as their feelings quickly morph from embarrassment to incredulity — decide to take their decibels to the next level.

If the neighbor is not conciliatory or makes a brief change only to lapse again into raucousness, the distressed party can elect to escalate the matter to a landlord or managing agent as a potential violation of a lease or of the building’s house rules. In such scenarios, be aware that punitive action may be slow to happen ― if it happens at all. In this unfortunate instance, grim acceptance may wind up being the least contentious way forward, chalking the moans up to being among the many annoyances that arise when residing in such intensely close proximity with eight million other people.”

When it comes to etiquette columns, the questions and advice tend to be a bit stuffy:Who really cares what fork you use at dinner? But that’s not the case here: How To Be Decent will cover topics that actually affect people, like “Should you recline on a plane?” and “How do I tell my neighbors I can hear them having sex?” Got a question about a thorny interpersonal issue you’re having? Email us at relationships@huffpost.com and we’ll get it answered.