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 already-existing panoply of Orwellian measures—5 million CCTV 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.
At the end of April, Caroline Cartwright, a 48-year-old housewife from Wearside in the north east 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. 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, which later this month will 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 Behaviour Order (ASBO)—a civil order that is used to control the minutiae of British people's behaviour—that forbade her from making "excessive noise during sex" anywhere in England.
There've been a couple of times over the years where I found myself thinking "If somebody doesn't call the cops it'll be a miracle!"; the idea of somebody actually filing legal action because of a little overly verbal appreciation of how things were going is flat amazing. And idiotic. And that the British government and cops, with all the actual crime going on, can waste time on this...