Leading Article: Forced to indulge in aural sex

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The Independent Online
SO THERE is not just oral but aural sex: according to a survey in House Beautiful magazine, one in seven people living in converted flats has heard their next-door neighbours having sex, and nearly half of them are regularly kept awake by such activities.

If they suffer no other form of acoustic harassment, they are among the lucky ones. Sexual intercourse does not normally go on for hours at a time and - unless recorded - it cannot be mechanically amplified. For anyone obliged to listen, there is always the prospect of a climax of some sort soon being reached. Compared with battery by loud music - much the biggest source of complaint - or the sound of a television set with the volume up, or the endless ringing of a burglar alarm, sexual intercourse is a finite phenomenon.

It requires, after all, a measure of physical effort - even, beyond a certain point, of endurance. In that lies the element of hope for the involuntary aural participant. When the source of noise is a machine, there in no guarantee of any such relief. Quite the opposite: the more couch potato-like is the presiding genius at the controls, the more likely the noise is to go on and agonisingly on.

Although the magazine's survey associates overheard sex with converted flats, it is almost as likely to be experienced by those who live in terraced houses with thin walls. This category of potential victim may be spared the sound effects notoriously associated with living directly under a sexually vibrant bedroom. But they may well not be spared the moans or cries of pleasure that mutually satisfying intercourse is wont to precipitate. Thus it was recently with Edith and Ambrose Firth, two elderly denizens of Jarrow, on Tyneside, who claimed the moans and groans from their young female neighbour kept them awake and made Mrs Firth sick.

It is all too evident that, sex apart, we live in an age in which the sources of noise are multiplying not just in number but in sophistication. Noise has become arguably the single greatest nuisance of modern life. Not so long ago many households had just one radio and television set. Today two TV sets, three radios and a high-fi set is, if not yet the norm, not uncommon, all of them emitting a far higher - and thus more penetrating - quality of sound. Too often they are sited against walls, which are transformed into a reverberating skin.

Naturally, old buildings have not been adapted to cope with this new reality, and to soundproof them is very expensive. What is not widely enough known is that for the past five years builders (and landlords of new buildings) have been obliged to meet certain new standards of sound-proofing in all new residential buildings. Not a few have been taken to court by well-informed tenants and obliged to bring walls and floors up to the required standards. Gradually, the concept of acoustic insulation is spreading, like that of thermal insulation but more slowly. Half a century hence, who knows, our children may look back with nostalgia on the good old days when you could hear your neighbours having sex.