Managing fear of sex noises/PDA
December 16, 2013 12:45 PM   Subscribe

How can I manage my fear of PDA and sex noises?


I am a college student who's living with an apartment with two other people. I didn't realize I would have a problem with this until I had to be exposed to it, but I'm uncomfortable with other people's displays of affection and sex noises.

I seem to get really uncomfortable whenever my roommate (let's call her Alice) brings home her friend-with-benefits. Hearing them (and to a lesser extent just knowing he's there) makes my stomach knot up. My other roommate (we'll call him Bob) has noticed I start to clam up and act irritably whenever this happens too.

It got really bad when I was at a friend's party and Alice and Bob came with me, and everyone except me and Bob ended up essentially making out with each other. I tried to keep my composure until Bob wanted to leave, but then I became incredibly afraid of the situation. I left in a rush and acted pretty hostile when people asked me what was wrong. I was simultaneously scared that I might be raped or molested and that I wasn't being asked to "join in" because I wasn't "good" enough in some way.

It's worth noting I don't feel afraid or uncomfortable when:
-I view porn
-I am making out/having sex with someone

I'm pretty sure I know that the discomfort comes from these things:
-Fear I am not attractive enough to have sex
-Fear of having my boundaries violated
-Fear I might be attracted to friends who I don't want to be attracted to
-Fear that my fear makes me a bad feminist/prude
-Fear that my fear is weird and that people will disrespect me for it.

And this is how I tend to react:
-Avoidance (occasionally to the point I want to leave the apartment)
-Becoming keyed up and on edge
-Becoming irritable
-Slight nausea and stomach discomfort
-Pent up resentment towards the people having sex/making out/etc.

So how can I manage my fears and not let Alice's sex life destroy me or our friendship? My friends think I just need "more exposure" to these kinds of situations, but the idea just seems counterproductive and makes me sick to my stomach. I'm wondering if I have a phobia of some sort, but my reactions don't seem quite bad enough to be the result of a phobia.
posted by bluekazoo to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

I know it's a cliche, but: Therapy.

Fears and phobias and anxieties and suchlike aren't rational. I don't mean that in a negative way, I just mean that you can't apply principles of logic and *poof* you're not afraid at or upset by something anymore.

Check with your student health center or the equivalent and see whether you can get some assistance in dealing with this. In the meantime, talk to your roommates and say, "Look, I know this isn't about you, but here's a thing that I'm having a problem with. That doesn't mean you have to stop, but I want you to be aware that I'm having a problem with it, and that I'm taking steps to deal with it." If they want to help, they can. If they don't, well, you'll be working on it and at least it's out there and you know how highly they value your comfort.
posted by Etrigan at 12:49 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

You sound traumatized. That doesn't mean that anything terrible happened to you, but that your emotional reactions to fairly normal stimuli are*way* out of whack. If your college provides therapy, I'd start there.

Since you feel like you understand your fears, you might also try writing them down and then writing down reasons why they are not realistic/reasonable.
posted by chaiminda at 12:49 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've never enjoyed listening to other people have sex and I'm not at all comfortable when other folks in the room start making out. It IS gross! This is why the phrase, "Get a room!" was coined.

You have a roommate who is so indiscrete that you and your third roommate can hear her and comment? That's...not good. I don't think you're out of bounds for wanting Alice to take her friend and go somewhere private.

I'd leave a party that turned into an orgy too. That's uncool.

But for the fear part, yeah, therapy.

But don't let the fact that other people don't have these boundaries convince you that yours are wrong.

You are perfectly within your rights to ask roommates to keep it the fuck down. Pun intended.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:54 PM on December 16, 2013 [12 favorites]

Okay - it is actually okay to not want to be in a room where other people are having sex. I'm pretty sex-positive and described myself to one of my more conservative friends as "a bit of a hedonist", but I still wouldn't want to be in a room where other people are having sex. It's just how I'm wired, and there's nothing wrong with that.

So you may actually have two situations going on here - fortunately, they can be handled separately.

A) The fact that your roommate is thinking nothing of gettin' it on with you in the room. This is probably an easier problem to fix - have a conversation with her about how you'd prefer if she tried to keep that out of your business. And then you two can work out how you do that - either you come up with a deal where if she knows her boyfriend is coming over, she gives you advance warning so you can go somewhere else for a while and they can get their ya-ya's out so they can be done when you get back, or she makes a deal to go somewhere else, or whatever. You don't need to get into WHY you don't want to watch her having sex, because the "why" you don't want to watch doesn't matter. (And if she does demand to know why you don't want to, tell her I said to M-her-OB.)

B) The fears, though, are a different issue. One that therapy can help you with, fortunately. Because that is a bit....strong. Mind you, therapy doesn't mean that there's anything wrong or bad about the way you are - therapy is more a way for you to understand WHY you are how you are, and once you know then it's much easier to decide whether to keep that trait in yourself or fix it. Understanding the root of these fears could lead you to believe that it's keeping you out of trouble, who knows. But your not knowing why you're so scared about sex is making it more difficult for you.

However, again, the fear thing is a completely different problem from you not wanting to watch people have sex. Fortunately, you not wanting to watch people having sex is a much easier and cheaper situation to fix.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:01 PM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

While therapy may not be the most helpful or useful option, there may be solutions for dealing with the feelings that manifest themselves when you encounter this situation, so you might want to speak with a doctor or something to see what the best route is to take.

That said, I don't think it's unusual to not want to actually hear your roommates having sex. I had a roommate with a very vocal girlfriend, and you could hear them on the street. A real pain in the ass.

And a houseparty degenerating into a makeout session is kind of weird, if you ask me. Perhaps from the others' point of view they were doing nothing strange, but it's not strange at all if you felt unsettled by the experience.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:10 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you may be misreading the question.

....Okay, for showbiz-Liz's benefit - bluekazoo, the reason why I was stating that it was okay to not want to be in a room where other people are having sex was because it sounded to me like you believe you should be comfortable in that situation. I did read and understand that you have fears of sex noises, but I wanted to emphasize that your fears are a separate issue from not being comfortable with sex noises in general.

In other words, the reason why I said it was okay to not want to be in a room like that was because I wanted to emphasize that your discomfort with being in a room where other people are having sex was a separate issue from your fears about sex.

That was unclear to Showbiz liz - in case it wasn't clear for you either, I hope that helps.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:21 PM on December 16, 2013

First things first, this is totally normal. I'm an adult, totally comfortable with myself, sex, etc. and yet I still HATE IT when I can hear other people's sex noises. So you're not alone, or a freak, or a prude, or anything.

You talk about a few different things, and I'll address them all separately.

1. Someone making out (especially if it goes beyond just kissing) or having sex in your presence: I ran with a crowd of people who all thought this sort of thing was hilarious fun at parties, while I did not. I just left the room when they started doing that, and hung out with people who weren't doing that. If that became impossible to do, I just stopped going to parties with people I knew were sure to start stripping down and getting freaky ASAP. I may have lost some friends that way, I'm not sure. It's been no great loss in my life.

2. Hearing your roommate and her partner's sex noises from inside the apartment when you are not in the same room and the sex is going on in a private area: this is what stereos were invented for. Just turn up the music, TV, etc. If it's to a point where that doesn't cover it up, you're probably going to have to have a chat with your roommate, which is awkward, and I'm sorry.

3. On the off chance that Alice and FWB are having sex in public parts of the house: you have the choice here between having a stern talk with Alice about how inappropriate this is, or moving. If you find yourself in this situation, I'd leverage Bob and make a House Meeting of it where you both sit Alice down and tell her this has to stop.

And, again, seriously, it is TOTALLY NORMAL to not want to be around PDA or hear your roommates having sex. This is not weird, prudish, anti-sex, anti-feminist, sex-negative, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 1:22 PM on December 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm pretty grossed out by people who make out in public. I try to leave when this happens.

I definitely don't want to hear them having sex. The point about the stereo is good, earplugs are helpful too. You are within your rights to ask her to tone it down.

I'm not going to suggest that you re-enact that scene from Forgetting Sarah Marshall where the two couples engage in competitive sex-noises through a hotel wall, because that would not at all be an adult way to express your discomfort.
posted by bunderful at 1:30 PM on December 16, 2013

"I was simultaneously scared that I might be raped or molested and that I wasn't being asked to "join in" because I wasn't "good" enough in some way."

Those are such a deep, keen insights into yourself, OP. Good for you. I'm not convinced you need therapy to understand your motivations because I think you have nailed them exactly, though CBT certainly could help you come up with better coping mechanisms, and perhaps a script for setting tighter boundaries with Alice.

You asked: "So how can I … not let Alice's sex life destroy me or our friendship?"

Who "owns" the problem that the sounds of Alice's sex life are entering your personal space in your home? I say all of you who live there do, but mostly this is on Alice.

Have you asked Alice to keep it down, or to alert you in some way to the fact that her FWB is going to enter your home? Could she text you when they're about to come home together? Put a sock on the door or some other signal? Limit it to one night per week at your place? A real friend would accommodate your understandable need to NOT hear a close friend having sex and would understand how that is triggering for you.

I'm sure you're probably already doing some things to minimize your hearing it, e.g. earplugs, box fan, white noise, stereo. etc. But since the knowledge that Alice's FWB is simply in your home in the first place is also hurting your stomach physically, you're going to need to reach Alice about her making some reasonable accommodations for you. That, or move.
posted by hush at 1:33 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

bluekazoo: Hearing them (and to a lesser extent just knowing he's there) makes my stomach knot up.

For whatever it is worth, I think you are well within the normal spectrum of human behavior to not want to her other people's sex noises, but there is a difference between moaning, grunting, screaming "yes, yes, YES!" every night and some squeaky springs and headboard banging once in a while, and there is a further degree of difference to the two of them just being in their room privately. You are going to be exposed to a certain amount of sex noise in any kind of shared living situation, and it is not reasonable to require other people to be silent. It is certainly not reasonable to suggest to her that even the possibility that she is having sex is distasteful to you.

I think, if the situation involves yelling and screaming and rattling the windows, there is a "roommate expectations" discussion to have, but if the sounds you are exposed to seem reasonable and acceptable to Bob, it may be that you need to try some form of CBT-type therapy to better deal with your personal feelings and reactions.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:46 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think being made uncomfortable by other people's sex noises is pretty common, and certainly fine to set boundaries around. However, being frightened or panicked by other people's sex noises is unusual, and it sounds like it's causing you a lot of discomfort. As was said above, you sound like you have a pretty good handle on exactly what your fears are, but you want them to be less intrusive on your life. That is a situation that is almost tailor-made for CBT, and if you have access to therapy services, I think you'll find that it will help you a lot.
posted by KathrynT at 1:52 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding many of the suggestions already mentioned, including that phobias aren't rational and your reaction, particularly the physical / emotional effect it has on you, certainly suggests that you may want to talk it over with a professional so that it doesn't get worse or start to affect your life socially.

In the meantime though, and assuming that your roommate is going off into her own bedroom to have sex and isn't doing it in front of you — which would be really inappropriate and definitely worth having a 'boundaries' conversation about — can you just turn on some music, or better yet maybe put on your headphones and then turn on music, to drown out the noise? Unless they are really, uh, athletic, it's probably only a few minutes worth of noise anyway. Sex noises are sort of part of shared living situations and to a lesser extent apartment dwelling generally.

I've definitely lived in situations where it was de rigueur to turn up the stereo or TV in the common room before heading into your own bedroom to do the business, just as a politeness to others because the walls were thin. If your apartment is of the usual common areas + bedrooms type, and there's a TV in the common area, maybe you can try turning that on when your roommate has company as well as use your own stereo/headset. A little white noise goes a long way.

That's really only a band-aid on the bigger problem of how uncomfortable the sounds and/or knowledge that your roommate is having sex makes you, though. Nobody (well, not most people) enjoy listening to their roommates get it on. But the physical reaction you're having is disproportionate and you seem to know it, which is good because you can start dealing with it at the same time that you also try to avoid having to listen to the sounds themselves.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:55 PM on December 16, 2013

My perspective is that your boundaries are being violated, and that is a valid reason to feel intensely uncomfortable, and would seem to me to be a valid reason for all your reactions. You're being placed in situations where the burden has been placed on you to take action to intrude into people's private lives and be confrontational in order to get your boundaries respected - or leave, which could be anywhere on a scale of 'no big deal' to 'I really shouldn't have to do this' to being somewhat confrontational in itself. If it was something that happened rarely, and rarely by the same person/people, it would be easier to walk away or grit your teeth or let it go, but when it's a common occurrence and by the same people, it becomes more of an issue, and one to which (I feel) it's valid to react to with a sense of 'I am not ok with being an involuntary participant in/observer of your sexing, and it is not appropriate to expect me to put up with it or leave my own space or take some non-normal action in order to avoid it'. I could totally see knots in the stomach, etc., whenever Alice comes home with a dude because you'd be anticipating potential discomfort and squick that you feel powerless to do anything about other than change how you feel or leave.

One person's freedom ends where another's begins. They are taking licence and it isn't cool. The party was a bummer and your only option might be to stop hanging out with people who make those choices or be prepared to bail on 'parties' where everyone breaks out into small groups to pay exclusive, sexual attention to each other - unless that's the intention, and I suspect that you wouldn't have this reaction if it was a party that was intended to be like that and that you had intentionally decided to go to. Because agency and boundaries.

Having noisy-sex neighbours is just a fact of life, but it is ok to feel the way you feel, and especially with a roommate it is totally within your rights to ask for some respect and consideration. I mean, sure, talk to someone about it, because maybe you'll get some validation for your feelings and maybe help working out why you feel the way you feel and also how to handle situations where you feel uncomfortable and you shouldn't have to feel uncomfortable.
posted by you must supply a verb at 4:04 PM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think it's quite common to be squicked out by other peoples' sex noises, and to not be thrilled by others' PDA. I do not think its common to be afraid of these stimuli. I think therapy would help you.

This part of your post in particular makes me think you would be a good candidate for therapy:

It got really bad when I was at a friend's party and Alice and Bob came with me, and everyone except me and Bob ended up essentially making out with each other. I tried to keep my composure until Bob wanted to leave, but then I became incredibly afraid of the situation. I left in a rush and acted pretty hostile when people asked me what was wrong. I was simultaneously scared that I might be raped or molested and that I wasn't being asked to "join in" because I wasn't "good" enough in some way. (emphasis mine)
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:31 PM on December 16, 2013

« Older Shopping for large-breasted women?   |   Home buying tools, maps, data crunching etc. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.