A lot of things need to conspire all at once to find yourself staring down this particular etiquette question, but for most of us it will happen at least once, if not plenty: You will be staying at a friend’s place with a boyfriend, girlfriend or partner—or meet someone new on the town whilst returning home to a friend’s couch—and have to figure out it if it’s OK to go at it on someone else’s futon. Let’s sort this out.

Even if it doesn’t come up often, you should still be prepared for this potentially make-or-break scenario. Sex can turn everyone crazy, it’s important to understand that making the wrong choice here can wreck friendships, traumatize loved ones—which includes pets and children—or earn you a lifetime of mockery because someone heard your dumb sex sounds or saw your dumb sex face. At the very least, you could irritate your host just enough to find yourself with one less place to stay when you need a crash pad in Boston or Wichita Falls or wherever it is you go while also insisting on still getting laid.

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The urgency of needing to fuck on vacay has often been decided for you by fate and circumstance. Couples in the throes of early courtship often rightly feel the need to bone everywhere and should be sympathized with and admired. The solo traveler who happened to meet the perfect one-night stand may be motivated by now-or-never constraints on the hookup and feel he or she needs to do whatever it takes, wherever it takes, and should also be treated with compassion. The more settled-in couple may never feel the need to broach the issue, because they’re fine not doing it for a night, but this could go the opposite way, too: Much like how people are always allegedly having sex at weddings and after funerals, sometimes it’s the inappropriate, inconvenient scenario that turns boring sex hot again for lots of people. Can you blame them?

In other words, it’s not inappropriate to want to defile your friend’s futon. But let’s discuss how inappropriate it is to give in, all said. Women’s Health bravely tackled this question by consulting 19 experts on the question, and the result? No one knows. The consultants were divided into three camps on the issue when it came to how the home or apartment-owner’s presence affected the equation, as well:

No, Don’t Be Gross

Experts who felt it was a bad idea no matter what seemed pretty reflexive about it and said, basically, just don’t:

“Keep your thong on! Although getting hot and heavy with your partner at a friend’s home is not appropriate, it happens. Even if there is a lock on the door and a TV or DVD player available, some sounds are recognizable worldwide.” —Sharon Schweitzer, international etiquette consultant

Others in this camp telegraphed a basic plea for privacy, or warned that you’d almost always embarrass yourself.

Yes, Just Be Discreet

Other experts were like, sure! Welcome to the modern age, get the sex on wherever and however you can:

“Of course it’s all right. This is the 21st century. Just be respectful and leave everything in better condition than when you arrived. If necessary, this may include washing a load of laundry.” —Jay Remer, Canada’s Etiquette Guy

Depends on the Sitch and Your Skill Level

A third group said, hey, fuck on the sly at your own risk, but consider a myriad of ways this could go wrong, and fuck thoughtfully. For instance?

  • Accommodations—private or not? Paper-thin walls or not? Could you get caught? Would that be mortifying or funny?
  • Is it a stranger? Is it your boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse? Because fucking the person you brought with you is different than fucking the person you brought home with you.
  • Ask yourself: What would my friend do?
  • How chill are these vibes?
  • How long are you staying there? If it’s just one night, why can’t you wait?
  • What is your relationship to the host?
  • How would the host feel? (Are they single? Competitive? Recently dumped? A gossip?)
  • What is the lifestyle of the host? Are they swingers? Chill buds? Conservatives? Friends from church?
  • Does your friend have children? Sensitive pets?
  • Can you be quiet? Like, really actually quiet and not the kind where you think you are but you’re totally not?
  • Can you clean the sheets yourself? Or will you be leaving them in a pile?
  • Is your friend hooking up with someone too? Will they get jealous?

And finally, consider asking yourself how you would feel if you were the host and your friends were having sex with partners or strangers.

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This is where I would like to point out that people are always bemoaning a lack of proper etiquette in the world and shaking their heads about its swift decline, as if etiquette is one clear-cut set of choices in all scenarios that any person ought to be expected to make. But while the way to act correctly may sometimes be self-evident, in fact it is highly situational. The best thing to do would really be to sort this out in advance, but no etiquette person suggested that—perhaps because nothing would make the sex at someone else’s place less exciting than having to get permission for it.


Contact the author at tracy.moore@jezebel.com.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby