Disturbing the Peace

On the inalienable right to "excessively noisy sex"

“Unlike Winston, she had grasped the inner meaning of the Party’s sexual puritanism. It was not merely that the sex instinct created a world of its own which was outside the Party’s control and which therefore had to be destroyed if possible. What was more important was that sexual privation induced hysteria, which was desirable because it could be transformed into war-fever and leader-worship.”

So wrote George Orwell in 1984, his dystopian vision of a future where mankind’s every thought, desire, and bodily tingle would be policed by the powers that be. Orwell imagined a Junior Anti-Sex League that spied on kissing and cavorting adults, and a ruling Party that sought to squash the “sex impulse.” The heroes of his nightmarish tale had to sneak off to a wood in order to explore each other’s bodies in a bit of peace and quiet. 

It turns out that Orwell was suffering from premature speculation. It was not in 1984 that a major Western government made the “sex impulse”—the grunting, groaning sex instinct—into a police matter; it was in 2009. Here in the U.K., to add to our existing panoply of Orwellian measures—5 million closed-circuit TV cameras that watch our every move; “speaking cameras” that warn us to pick up litter or stop loitering; the government’s attempt to recruit child spies to re-educate anti-social adults—we now have the bizarre and terrifying situation where a woman has been arrested for having sex too loudly. In modern-day Britain, even the decibels of our sexual moaning can become the subject of a police investigation.

At the end of April, Caroline Cartwright, a 48-year-old housewife from Wearside in the northeast of England, was remanded in custody for having “excessively noisy sex.” The cops took her in after neighbors complained of hearing her “shouting and groaning” and her “bed banging against the wall of her home.” Cartwright has, quite reasonably, defended her inalienable right to be a howler: “I can’t stop making noise during sex,” she told The Daily Mail. “It’s unnatural to not make any noises, and I don’t think that I am particularly loud.”

Pleasurable groaning and bed banging are common noises in crowded towns and cities across the civilized world. Most of us deal with them by sticking a CD in the stereo. Those who complain are normally told to stop being prudish or to have a discreet chat with the creators of the offending sex sounds. So how did Cartwright’s expressions of noisy joy become a police case, scheduled to be ruled on at Newcastle Crown Court, one of the biggest courts in the north of England? Because, unbelievably, Cartwright had previously been served with an anti-social behavior order (ASBO)—a civil order used to control the minutiae of British people’s behavior—that forbade her from making “excessive noise during sex” anywhere in England.

That’s right. Going even further than Orwell’s imagined authoritarian hellhole, where at least there was a wood or two where people could indulge their sexual impulses, the local authorities in Wearside made all of England a no-go zone for Cartwright’s noisy shenanigans. If she wanted to howl with abandon, she would have to nip over the border to Scotland or maybe catch a ferry to France. It was because she breached the conditions of her ASBO, the civil ruling about how much noise she can make while making love in England, that Cartwright was arrested.

This case sheds harsh light not only on the Victorian-style petty prudishness of Britain’s rulers, who seriously believe they can make sexually expressive women timid again by dragging them to court, but on the tyranny of anti-social behavior orders themselves, which were introduced by our authoritarian Labour government in 1998. Anyone can apply for an ASBO to stop anyone else from doing something they find irritating, “alarming,” or “threatening.”

Local magistrates’ courts issue the orders, sometimes on the basis of hearsay evidence (which is permissible in ASBO cases). In short, the applicant for an ASBO does not have to go through the normal rigors of the criminal justice system to get a civil ruling preventing someone he doesn’t like from doing something he finds “alarming” or “dangerous.” Once you have been branded with an ASBO, if you break its conditions—by having noisy sex in your own home, for example—you are potentially guilty of a crime and can be imprisoned.

The ASBO system has turned much of Britain into a curtaintwitching, neighbor-watching, noisepolicing gang of spies. The relative ease with which one can apply to the authorities for an ASBO positively invites people to use the system to punish their foes or the irritants who live in their neighborhoods. ASBOs have been used to prevent young people in certain areas from wearing hoods or hats (they look “threatening”), to ban a middle-aged couple from playing gangsta rap (the expletives offended workers and children at a nearby kindergarten), and to prevent a 10-year-old boy from having contact with matches until he turns 16, after he was found to have started a fire.

And now, prudish people who previously would have been told to “put up or shut up” over their neighbors’ noisy sex have been empowered to turn one woman’s private affairs into a very public trial. This, too, is Orwellian: the creation of new layers of spies and inter-communal suspicion.

In Orwell’s dystopia, “the sexual act, successfully performed, was rebellion.” So it is in Wearside in 2009, where the excessively noisy exploits of Cartwright and her possibly very talented partner are a form of rebellion against the arbitrary and interventionist nature of the ASBO-wielding authorities. They are screwing for liberty.

Brendan O’Neill (Brendan.ONeill@spiked-online.com) is the editor of Spiked.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • <strike>Strike through</strike||

    No (noisy) sex, please. We're British.

  • Spoonman||

    Um, wasn't this posted months ago?

  • threeofclubs||

    isn't this just a noise issue?
    The author of the article seems to be twisting the story.

  • Jeff P||

    It's not my neighbor's noisy sex that bothers me, it's when I hear then both calling out my name...

  • ||

    Shut down the thread, Jeff P's already walked away with it.

  • ||


    Anyone can apply for an ASBO to stop anyone else from doing something they find irritating, "alarming," or "threatening."


    Ok then, I'll apply for an ASBO to stop these goddamned bureaucrats from issuing any more of them.

    -jcr

  • Fluffy||

    John Randolph is definitely on the right track.

    If these ASBO's are a problem, then a bigger problem is that libertarian-minded Britons [if there are any] are hugely fucking lazy.

    This system cries out to be fought by overcompliance. Are there seriously not 1000 people in Britain who care about this who could be organized to file tens of thousands of frivolous ASBO requests a week?

    If every ape who refused an order was sent for reconditioning, Ape Control would be overwhelmed.

  • kilroy||

    Nice timing. From today's Brickbat:

    The British government has told communications companies to keep track of all Internet contacts anyone makes-emails, visits to social network sites, websites visited-and organize them in case law enforcement needs the information. The government says people should not worry because the databases will merely record contacts, not the content of those communications.

  • Cabeza de Vaca||

    I remeber reading an article a couple years ago that British teenagers considered getting ASBO's cool.

  • ||

    "Pleasurable groaning and bed banging are common noises in crowded towns and cities across the civilized world. Most of us deal with them by sticking a CD in the stereo."

    Maybe you - most everybody else listens avidly.
    and if they are really bold, asks for some video to go along with the audio

  • ||

    Does my wifes snoring count as sex noises?

  • Tomcat1066||

    Hell, those noises just mean the guy she was with was doing it right. Perhaps he should have gotten the ASBO instead? ;)

  • Warty||

    Getting an ASBO must be a badge of honor for limey teenagers. "You young hooligan! I shall punish you with this official government certificate of coolness!"

  • jtuf||

    Times of London did an article online a couple years ago about teenagers seeking ASBOs. It reminds me of the civil rights era questions. "Have to ever been to jail? Why not?"

  • Cal Lipigian||

    Brotherben is the Sammy Sosa to Jeff P's Mark McGwire on this thread.

  • MonkeeHeadinSouth||

    "Most of us deal with them by sticking a CD in the stereo"

    Not when I've gotta go to work in a few hours

    smashing their windows is the only libertarian Marxist response to such infringements on my personal freedom

    :)

    Fucking great book review on Spiked today though

    They reviewed an anti-consumerist book which has the following introduction

    "Anyone wanting to buy a book attacking consumerism is faced with an embarrassing range of choices. There are so many different tracts, using so many different terms, saying more or less the same thing. The differences between competing brands of soap powder are more significant."

    Great stuff

    www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/reviewofbooks_article/7213/

  • DADIODADDY||

    The first step in banishing all sex from the British Isles, and none to soon if you ask me.

  • Rich||

    No (noisy) sex, please. We're British.

    Just nosey sex.

  • ||

    Anyone wanting to buy a book attacking consumerism is faced with an embarrassing range of choices.

    Not to mention that they will be buying a consumer product.

  • ||

    So I said to myself, "Click on this article, it might be better than it sounds".

    I was wrong.

  • Syd||

    brotherben | July 31, 2009, 1:23pm | #
    Does my wifes snoring count as sex noises?


    Depends whether she snores during sex.

  • ||

    It's always a bad sign when someone can't resist taking a swipe at "Victorian prudishness". It's not just that it's laughable to call the people who averaged eight children a couple and usually witnessed the births (and deaths) at home prudes. It's that this is yet another attempt to pass off trailer-trash behavior as a laudable exercise of freedom, in the never-ending libertarian campaign to turn us all into amoral, purely economic actors. Imagine, making "sexually expressive women timid again" ! The horror ! As if there were any danger any Western government would even be capable of thinking along these lines. And can there be a more moronic analog for "timidity" than merely behaving with a modicum of restraint?

  • coyote1284||

    If there's anything I've learned from Gary Coleman it's that "you can be as loud as the hell you want to be when you're having sex" and that sometimes your purpose in life may be as an example of what not to be.

  • ||

    I think if I were to scream while masturbating and playing porn loudly, I might not get such friendly remarks here.

  • abercrombie milano||

    My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I'm sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won't get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there's more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I'm not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It's just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight...the Bible's books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on...the Bible's books were written by people with very different mindsets...in order to really get the Books of the Bible, you have to cultivate such a mindset, it's literally a labyrinth, that's no joke

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