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‘My flatmate walks around naked and I don’t like it’

Ask Roe: Does this count as her violating my consent, and what can I do?

Dear Roe,

I'm a 31-year-old woman and I moved into a new apartment about five months ago, and am having an issue with my flatmate. She's generally very nice but when I first moved in I bumped into her walking naked from the bathroom to her room. I was embarrassed but she wasn't, and she made some comment about air-drying which I laughed at, because I didn't know what else to say. Since then, she frequently walks to or from the bathroom naked and leaves her bedroom door open when she gets changed.

Recently, she got a new boyfriend and he stays over a bit and I can hear them having sex. In fairness, the walls in our apartment are really thin, but I don't want to hear this.

I’m beginning to feel really uncomfortable. While I don’t want to overstate it, I’m wondering if this counts as her violating my consent and how I can approach her about it? I’m nervous because I don’t want the conversation to blow up as I found it really hard to find an apartment I can afford and am worried she’ll tell me to move out.


It’s really awful to feel uncomfortable in your own home, and having conversations with flatmates who either own the apartment or who have been living there longer than you can be tricky, as it can feel like there’s a hierarchy where your needs are less important than theirs.

But it’s important to remember that you pay rent and are allowed to make reasonable requests – and being able to relax in your home is very reasonable.

However, I do think you need to separate the two issues of your flatmate being naked and you occasionally being able to overhear her having sex. One issue is directly being caused by her actions, while the other is being caused by the physical landscape of your apartment – though you can still address it.

If your flatmate has any decency she'll be mortified and immediately rectify her behaviour

Let’s start with the nudity issue. It was unequivocally wrong of your flatmate to assume that you are comfortable seeing her naked. Nervously laughing when you accidentally see someone naked is not consent. Many people laugh when they are deeply uncomfortable, and particularly for women, who are socialised to always be polite and to not be too demanding or to “cause a scene”, nervous laughter is a way of expressing discomfort while trying to de-escalate the situation. It’s a reaction many women have when they don’t feel safe explicitly saying “You are making me uncomfortable. Stop.”

By walking around naked without checking that you were comfortable with that, and by choosing not to ask what your nervous laughter meant, your flatmate ignored consent and boundaries, and has created an atmosphere where you do not feel safe. Even if this was unintentional, this isn’t acceptable, and is absolutely an issue you should raise with her. If she has any decency she’ll be mortified and immediately rectify her behaviour.

If you feel the need to soften the conversation somewhat, you can keep it casual – but do bring in words like consent to highlight that this is an issue she needs to take seriously.

Say something like, “You’re clearly comfortable in your own skin, but I prefer to have a bit of choice and consent in seeing someone naked, so would you mind respecting this in the apartment? I’m always happy to leave a towel for you outside the bathroom if you have forgotten yours.”

The sex noise issue feels different because she’s not knowingly or deliberately exposing you to anything sexual; she’s just an adult enjoying sex in the privacy of her bedroom, and unfortunately, the walls are thin. As adults living together in small quarters, accommodations will sometimes have to be made to allow both of you to live your lives – sometimes someone will noisily stumble home late after a couple of drinks; partners will visit; and yes, sometimes people will have sex. The best thing to do is to set up a framework where you’re both as comfortable as possible, while also allowing some leeway.

If you ever bring someone home and are having amazing sex, you might be grateful to have a flatmate who will forgive a bit of noise

So have a conversation and treat this as a noise issue, without shaming her for having sex. Acknowledge that the walls are thin and that, particularly during the week, you’ll both need to be careful about disrupting the other. You can tell her that when her partner is over, you can hear them – but in a way that is also about protecting her privacy as she mightn’t realise how much you can hear. You could suggest that she turns on some music so that specific sex noises aren’t as obvious, and request that if it’s very late or during the week, she keeps the noise issue in mind. For your part, some headphones or earplugs might be a wise investment. If the issue gets worse and she fails to be considerate, then a firmer conversation may be necessary, but open up the dialogue in good faith.

Be fair, for both your sakes – if you ever bring someone home and are having amazing sex, you might be grateful to have a flatmate who will forgive a bit of noise.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford