How to Have a Threesome

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by Randall S. Frederick

Many weeks ago, a friend informed me that she had every intention of asking her partner to have a threesome. More or less, she wanted to talk it through with me – to roleplay the conversation and verbally process. This happens a lot. I’m terribly excited to hear about the sex lives of my friends, to tease and encourage them to be kinky and experiment, to try new things, and see their sex lives as a form of adult play as much as a duty and responsibility. Sex very often has consequences, sure – emotional as much as physical. And there’s a great deal of lip service to “spicing things up” to change the monotony or routine feeling of predictability. But what we have only recently begun to give ourselves permission to do is have fun. To accept all of the responsibility that comes with intimate relations and give ourselves and our partners permission to just have fun – to tap into our creativity and irresponsibility, our playful and risky sides, and truly embrace sex as a complicated, complex, messy, stinky, party of fun times.

Let’s face it: Unless you are in an exceptionally conservative community, someone you know has had group sex. Threesomes, foursome, a gangbang, sex parties, even sex with one person while others watch – it’s a thing.

In a study published in 2016 by Ashley E. Thompson and Sandra Byers with the Archive of Sexual Behavior, 274 heterosexual individuals aged 18 to 24 were asked a series of questions about their sex lives. What the researchers found was that, for many, early sexual experiences often involved a mixed-gender threesome (or MGT). Of those who had yet to experience a threesome, over half were interested, even if they lacked the motivation or opportunity.

Overall, 13 % of participants (24 % of men and 8 % of women) reported experience and 64% reported some interest in engaging in an MGT. However, the overall level of interest was quite low and varied according to contextual variables (i.e., what other persons were involved). Men’s interest remained unaffected by third person status as long as the MGT involved familiar others (friends and acquaintances) rather than strangers, whereas women preferred familiar others only for MGTs with which they were the third person, not for those involving a romantic partner.

When I was younger, threesomes were the great white whale of sexual experience – everyone wanted to have one, everyone knew someone who had been a part of one, but those friends-of-friends were removed from immediate circles, giving the experience an air of exclusivity. As Korin Miller points out, “There’s a huge gap between the percentage of men who said they’ve had a threesome and the number of women who said the same. While it’s possible these guys are just getting down with women older than the ones surveyed (or another dude), it’s also equally possible that they’re, um, lying.” Still, perhaps because many have already experienced one, there has been a shift in sexual attitude. Threesomes are no longer a big deal. Thompson and Byers found that participants in their study “reported fairly neutral attitudes toward MGTs.”

Compared to the women, the men reported significantly more positive attitudes and greater interest, and were more likely to report MGT experience. In addition, attitudes, interest, and experience were all positively associated with each other. Taken together, these results suggest that young people are not judgmental about others engaging in MGTs but are not highly motivated to do so themselves.

In my experience, there have been more than a handful of people who have had one. To say you have “expanded” your relationship or “experimented with a third” is not uncommon. Maybe those are the circles I move in, but I keep chalking it up to location. When I lived in Los Angeles, sexual novelty was common. Where I grew up in the South, sex was “for the exclusive union of one man and one woman, as commanded by God.” A survey published in Time Out New York‘s 2016 sex issue records that a third of the New York City residents (31%) surveyed said they’ve had sex with more than one person at a time. “Of that, 48% have been with two people, 19% with three people and 33% with four or more.” Yep, that would mean almost 15% of the population of New York has been a part of a “four or more” party. And, as the survey records, New Yorkers have a lot of sex. While the national average of sexual partners is between 5 and 7 over a lifetime, New Yorkers tend to have upwards of 20.

So what do you do if your partner approaches you about a threesome?

Understand that it’s totally normal! In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine by Christian Joyal and Amelie Cossette, 82% of men and 31% of women said they’re interested in having a threesome – a larger number than the twentysomethings in the Thompson and Byers study. “Compared to the women, the men reported significantly more positive attitudes and greater interest…in mixed-gender threesomes,” says Dr. Joyal, who also found that men favor fantasies that involve acquaintances or women they know in the real world, as opposed to celebrities or fictional characters. Perhaps tellingly, separate research from the University of Vermont shows that one of the key aspects of a sexual fantasy is that it includes activities and partners you would never choose (or have the opportunity) to experience in real life. The key thing here is to recognize it’s normal and healthy if either you or your partner are interested in adding a partner to your sexual experience.

There is, however, a difference between occasionally (even frequently) fantasizing about having a threesome and actively pursuing it. If the idea is distressing to you, think through why it bothers you so much. Has there been tension leading into this revelation? Which is to say, is the interest to have with someone else a result of relational stress, or just the natural progression of two partners slowly unwinding their fantasies to one another? If your partner is actively seeking a threesome and you’re apprehensive, spend time not just thinking about what this means, but instead talking about the state of your relationship with your partner – not a friend or someone outside the relationship. Because, unless your partner is looking for an exit or a way to blow things up, sharing their interest with you is likely a way of opening up to you, testing the idea out with you to see if they can share more, and welcoming you into their fantasy life. Instead of an insult, this may be a strong signal that they love you and want to be entirely honest with you. And let’s face it: Threesomes are a pretty accessible (easy to accomplish) was of exploring sexual novelty together as a couple. As Carol Queen, Ph.D., staff sexologist for Good Vibrations has said, “He gets to double up on all the things he loves to do between the sheets, while also doubling up on his favorite fantasies: sex with two women and girl-on-girl action. Threesomes are basically the dude version of walking in a new pair of Jimmy Choos while eating cake. Just because he’s wanted to add a threeway to his resumé since puberty, it doesn’t mean he wants to cheat,” says Queen. “Usually, guys bring up the idea because they’re frisky and hope you’re frisky too. In some cases, they aren’t attuned to whether their partners would actually be into it or not,” says Queen. “The casual threesome suggestion is a way for him to test the waters.”

Establish some boundaries, if you have any. Will the third be a guy or a girl? Someone you know or a rando you pick up out of town? Kissing and dirty talk are often the most sensitive areas, so be sure and talk about those. Having sex with someone is less intimate, when you think about, than calling your third by a pet name reserved for the relationship or hearing them blow everything up by saying “I love you” to a stranger. Don’t underestimate the role of surprise. Whoever calls for the threesome may regret it later, may enjoy it far more than they initially thought, or may do it once and shrug off later opportunities. Whatever your experience, understand that there is always a degree of relational risk. If you are currently not in a relationship and have a threesome, something may develop – or not. If you experience a threesome with your partner, your relationship may solidify or disintegrate. Or it may simply “migrate into something else.” All adventure comes with risk, though, and it would be reckless to forget that.

Still, should you be willing to dive in, you need to have a gameplan.

Ask the right people.

Well, that’s kind of a misleading subhead. Who are “the right people” anyway? A good friend of mine recently tried to open her relationship and approached someone she knew who she thought would be “right” for her. But when she told him that her husband had given her permission to have sex outside of their marriage, her prospect got fishy about it. He “respected her too much” to hurt their friendship.

“What friendship?” she wondered. She is an attractive woman. Inventive and creative in all areas of life. Fit. Sexy. And this guy isn’t exactly a “friend” so much as someone on the periphery of the friend circle – someone who shows up at big parties, but not birthdays for close friends. And so, she found, it was a swing and a miss. On paper it made sense. In the sack it made sense. But in real life, he got cold feet. This is true of all sexual pairings, whether we are single or coupled, monogamish-or-not-so-much. You might want to have sex with someone, but for whatever reason they might not be into it. That’s fine. So long as it doesn’t affect your daily life, your primary relationship, or your sexual health.

Chances are, you will find the right situation rather than the right person. If you are sexually available and communicate that, anyone who is interested will notice and communicate back. For me, it was workmates. For others, it’s at the gym. Still others go out of town and cruise bars or hotel lobbies. The key here isn’t to find a unicorn, or someone who fits your hundred boxes on the mental checklist but to instead be open to a new opportunity while still playing it safe.

How to Ask

Again, be available, be willing to communicate what you want and what you are looking for – for example, are you wanting a threesome as a birthday present for your partner? Are you looking to open your relationship? Are you wanting this to “even the score” or something? Are you or your partner bi-curious? It’s probably a combination of explanations, so really process and think through your motivation here. If you are in a partnership, of course you should talk about this – your hopes, your reasons, your fears, and so on – and see that talk as more of a “trial run” with a new partner as much as it is roleplaying and a gauge of interest. For example, in one of my relationships, my partner expressed interest “maybe someday.” But once we started talking about it, she absolutely shut down and lost all interest because she realized that while she was interested and curious, the reality was too scary for her. Was this a problem for me? Not at all! I was glad we talked about it before it happened because we could have really blown things up if we hadn’t talked about it first!

Knowing your reasons and being able to verbalize them, and then being open and available to new opportunities will put you in a better frame of mind than having a script of “If I say this and they smile, then I can ask them this and this and that.” Scripts don’t work in real life like that; it’s far more helpful to be honest and true to who you are and you’ll be able to answer and ask any question the moment necessitates.

Have Some Rules (and be Flexible)

Gosh, I can’t stress this one enough. Have. Rules. Decided. Ahead of time. Be flexible to each moment as it happens, but know your limits.

Does it seem I’m saying two different things there? Have some rules and limits, but also be flexible? Well, sure. I probably am. What I mean by that is: You probably can think of some “absolutely nots” right now, but once you are in the middle of the threesome – especially if you are with your relational partner – your attitude might change. You might suddenly resent an agreement you made going into this thing, or you might find that the line you swore you would never cross seems okay once you’re in the moment.

The key here, whether you’re horny or sober, is to know that you have to have rules and limits that work for you and that you won’t regret later. If you say, for instance, that your partner is “not allowed to kiss the third person in this thing we’re doing” and then, caught up in the moment, you encourage it knowing full well that you will regret it later, then 1) You’re going to regret that later and 2) You can’t really fuss at your partner later because, hey, you encouraged it. Yeah, you might have been super horny in the moment. But you were also the one who encouraged them to break a rule you wanted respected.

Think it through. Be safe – not only by having safer sex, but be careful with everyone’s emotions. Have an agreement beforehand, and stick to your rules pretty hard for those first few times you explore this side of your sexual experiences.

Have These Things On Hand

Have a vibrator. Have condoms. Have lube. Have a pillow. Have all the usual accouterments you, as an adult, should already have available or that you like to use.

You want some wine to loosen up? Fabulous! Think there’s even a remote chance of oral? Super! Take a shower ahead of time! Want to try a strap on? Great! That’s awesome! Talk it over with your partners and have that thing unpacked, lubed down, and ready to go when the moment approaches. Have wipes or a damp washcloth handy. Have bottles of water stocked. Be prepared to have a snack or a meal afterwards – especially if you want to hang out and chill afterwards so things don’t get weird. Most of all: Have some common sense on hand.

Jump In

Don’t overthink this one. You’ve already thought about it, fantasized about it, masturbated to the very idea of how and where and when it would happen, what you’ll say, what they’ll say. For goodness sake, just jump in and do this thing.

Post-Gameplan

Seriously. Have some aftercare. Have a snack or meal. Have some water on hand. Cuddle. Spoon. Watch a movie. Have some options available for the cool-down. Otherwise, it can get weird and awkward pretty fast and ruin the whole experience.

And… well… that’s kind of it.

As with most sexual activities, there’s a lot of thinking and planning that goes into all this so it’s okay to swim with your thoughts for a while, but take a deep breath and move forward. Or come to a complete stop if you realize threesomes sound cool but aren’t something you want to do right now. The thing here is: Be true to yourself, move carefully and at your own pace, talk with your partner and your third ahead of time to make sure everyone is on the same page and then have fun!

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