Kelly Gonsalves
June 27, 2019 7:08 am
HelloGiggles

Not everyone’s comfortable talking about their sex life, but knowing what goes on in other people’s bedrooms can help us all feel more inspired, curious, and validated in our own experiences. In HG’s monthly column Sex IRL, we’ll talk to real people about their sexual adventures and get as frank as possible.

Threesomes hold something of a mythical allure in our collective sexual imagination.

They’re America’s number one most popular fantasy, according to psychologist and prolific sex researcher Dr. Justin Lehmiller’s study of over 4,000 people in his 2018 book Tell Me What You Want. An impressive 89% of people have fantasized about threesomes, with those in relationships specifying they’d want to do it with their current partner; 58% even revealed that they’ve thought about watching their partner have sex with another person.

Adding an extra body to a sexual encounter is hot as hell for any number of reasons, not least of which is just the sheer visual and physical sensory overload that comes with it. The ménage à trois is also a relatively accessible, low-stakes step into the world of kink, one that allows the average person to get a taste of sexual novelty without directly challenging the heteronormative, monogamist view of love and sex if they don’t want to or are not yet ready. The opposite, of course, is also true: Threesomes can be a gateway into a more adventurous sexual lifestyle or a direct way to engage the full spectrum of one’s sexual identity and interests.

What’s it like having a threesome as a couple?

Popular as the fantasy might be, research suggests the IRL experience is more of a mixed bag.

In practice, threesomes are actually not that common. A 2017 study in the Journal of Sexual Archives found that just 13% of straight people (24% of men and 8% of women) had actually engaged in a threesome, although 64% were interested in trying it. Notably, there was a pretty big gender difference here: 82% of men would be up for a spur-of-the-moment three-way, compared to just 31% of women. That’s just for the straights though—Dr. Lehmiller’s research did find that non-heterosexual men and women were roughly twice as likely to get it on in a group, though there’s unfortunately little research on queer or non-binary folks’ sexual experiences in this area.

For consensually non-monogamous pairs, threesomes are simply one option on the menu of sexual delights they might partake in, which can also include swinging, sex parties, having casual sex separately, polyamory, and more. For monogamous couples, on the other hand, threesomes might be the single exception to the rule of exclusivity—and experimenting with it might involve some unexpected emotional turbulence along the way. A 2016 study in the Journal of Positive Sexuality found 14% of folks said their threesome experience did put a strain on their relationship—and 7% even broke up over it.

But don’t panic! A big portion of people who’d tried a three-way—48%—said their threesome really had no effect on their relationship whatsoever, and another 17% said they actually felt even closer to their partner afterwards. A 2018 Psychology & Sexuality study found that although there’s always the risk of someone feeling excluded during a three-way encounter, couples are pretty good at using open communication to offset those possible negative experiences. Many of them, for example, might develop rules beforehand to use during the threesome designed to bolster and protect their relationship as the “primary” one.

To get a better sense of what the experience is like, we asked seven couples to share the highs, lows, and nitty-gritty details of what it’s like having threesomes together. Here’s what they told us, in their own words.

“The sex is easier to navigate than people imagine.”

Our first threesome was after we’d been dating for five years. She’d had several threesomes with a previous partner and was openly bisexual. The possibility was always on the table for us, but we pursued it more seriously during a period of non-monogamy. Our first one was with a woman she connected with on OKCupid who brought up the idea first, so there was little tension or awkwardness when we all met up for drinks and went back to our place for a one-night stand. Our second partner was a long-time friend we dated for a few months after the first hookup. In both cases, it was either explicitly or implicitly clear that everyone was interested in each other, and we eventually initiated it just by asking the third if she wanted to have sex.

We’ve noticed people considering threesomes tend to be worried about jealousy or inequitable attention between two partners. In all of our experiences, that hasn’t been an issue. The sex is easier to navigate than people imagine; we’re relatively vanilla, so engaged in basic foreplay and intercourse, taking turns among the three of us. He loves the sensory overload of the experience; there’s something to enjoy even if you just want to stop and watch for a while. She likes the communal feeling of it; a third person adds layers of romantic connection that don’t exist between two people alone. Like any sex, communication is key to a threesome. They’re pretty tough to get going if someone doesn’t ask outright, and the additional options for positions make it important to talk about what you want and don’t want to happen. Our biggest piece of advice: If you want to have a threesome, just be open to talking about sex with your friends. One of them will probably eventually want to have sex with you.

—Woman (33) and man (35) from St. Petersburg, Florida, together eight and a half years

“We entered the swinging lifestyle after 18 years of marriage.”

We entered the swinging lifestyle after 18 years of marriage. In order to get past some emotional hurdles, such as jealousy and getting more comfortable with other couples, we thought it might help to start with just one other play partner so that “Adam” [not his real name] could focus all his attention on “Eve” [not her real name] and what was happening with the other man, without ignoring the other woman in a couple. Our first threesome was with a man Adam found on a lifestyle dating website called Kasidie. His profile seemed to match up with what we were looking for, he was very attractive, and had a great personality. Our texting went great, and we decided to meet. We went to dinner first, and since our conversation went really well, we decided to invite him back to our hotel room. Eve interacted with both Adam and their special guest equally and simultaneously, and it was an awesome experience. After this successful experience we branched out, adding others into our shared experience, both women and men. Eve is bi-comfortable, so girl-on-girl play happens most of the time while Adam has penetrative sex with the women.

—Woman (42) and man (43) from Chicago, together 26 years

“Typically it’s a woman curious about trying a threesome, and she is in most cases not very queer.”

We had our first threesome the day we started officially dating; his female partner was over at his house for all of us to meet. All three of us hit it off, and we then were in a triad relationship…a relationship between all three of us. After that relationship dissipated, we slowly started dating as a couple together. We’d meet a girl on a dating app or some in real life and sort of court her together. We honestly have no idea how many it has been since that began, but we’re lucky to have had so many wonderful experiences with some really incredible women. Many of the women we share these experiences with date one of us initially, and then we introduce the other partner. In some cases, it’s people we meet while going out to clubs or bars. Finally, there have been people that we both met while simply shopping and hit on her together. That’s always the best surprise for us.

The hardest part about having these experiences is an uneven balance of attraction. Typically it’s a woman curious about trying a threesome, and she is in most cases not very queer. That’s a big challenge for us that’s very hard to identify before the actual hookup. What we like, however, is the adventure and spontaneity of it all. We love making a third person feel special and adored, showered in attention.

The experiences we have had varied in what one might consider “success.” We’ve been ghosted, we’ve been turned down last second, we’ve been put through the ringer of rejection. But in most cases we’ve shared a mutually wonderful experience. One of our favorite parts of this is waking up either next to someone or texting them first thing in the morning and telling them how amazing the night was and hearing how great of a time they had.

Typically in our group play it starts with me going down on a woman while he has sex with me from behind. Then, once she’s “warmed up,” he’ll come in for some play with her. I am usually touching myself or making out with them both.

—Genderqueer person (26) and man (37) from New York, together 10 months

“This conversation would only be better with less clothes…”

The first time with my husband was about three years into our relationship—we were not married but had moved in together. I should note that we had started “dating” in the [swinger] lifestyle about a year prior. We met this cute girl at a [swingers’] club and ended up dancing the night away—and right into our hotel room. We did catch a wicked case of bronchitis [after that night]. In fact, I do recall some weirdness with her. My guess is she had an unknowing spouse at home (in my book, this is a BIG NO-NO—karma is real and keeps score), and unfortunately we didn’t have the thought until after our romp.

Sex is a big part of our relationship. When we decided to venture into the [swinger lifestyle, sometimes referred to as the LS], threesomes were a topic we discussed and were open to both male or female joining to play (note: I am unapologetically bisexual but my husband is very straight). The hardest part wasn’t talking about possible outcomes, or our feelings on the subject. It’s finding the right person that gets our (or my) motor running. They tend to happen organically—that may sound too general, but it’s true. I think when you open yourself up to those possibilities, the opportunity will present itself. I would call it “asking for the business” or “closing the deal.” What I mean is you have to let your intentions be known, see if you’re all on the same page. I love, “This conversation would only be better with less clothes…” or something to that effect.

Threesomes are part of a much larger conversation on being consensually non-monogamous. Opening up a relationship takes honesty, confidence, and consideration on a higher level. Most importantly, it takes the confidence to tell your partner that you’re NOT comfortable with something that is happening, and everyone should feel good about going “full stop” until those feelings can be discussed and dealt with. Much like lightning strikes, shark attacks, and car wrecks, anything that happens too fast is probably bad.

—Woman (35) and man (43) from Orlando, Florida, together 13 years

“I wasn’t confident enough to perform oral sex on either of them.”

We got together in high school. I had known I was bisexual when we started dating but hadn’t had any experiences with women yet. He’d always been supportive of my sexuality, and a threesome was something we’d fantasized about together. We had our first threesome when we were still teenagers with a close friend of mine, but didn’t really know what the hell we were doing or how to handle things afterward. We fumbled through another one in our early twenties with a friend of a friend from college we happened to go out with one night. In both cases, my partner didn’t actually have sex with the other woman because I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it. I was also too shy at the time to explore anything beyond heavy petting—I wasn’t confident enough to perform oral sex on either of them. After those two experiences, threesomes went back to being a fantasy for a while.

Fast forward six or seven years: now we’ve transitioned our relationship from a monogamous one to a polyamorous one. We have a few different partners we have threesomes with somewhat regularly. Some of them my husband and I date together and are bisexual like me, others are his solo partners who play with us because they are bicurious. In addition to threesomes being a way to explore my bisexuality (now I’m totally comfortable with and enjoy giving oral sex to other women, as well as having sex with them with a strap-on), they have also unearthed a hidden kink in me: I love watching my husband have sex with other women! It was a surprise to both of us, given our hesitancy in our early experiences, but it has become one of the most pleasurable aspects for both of us. We like to joke that we’ve both hit the lottery—threesomes have become such an important part of our sexual narrative. We only wish it hadn’t taken us so long to figure out how to do them the right way!

—Woman (28) and man (30) from Berkeley, California, together 13 years

“I had a lot of performance fears prior to the meeting.”

We decided to open up our relationship and to start swinging at the very beginning. We both were always open-minded to new sexual experiences, but never found the right partner to explore. I think our first threesome was about a month after we came together [at a fetish party], and I don’t know how many threesomes we’ve had since then. We had multiple constellations of sexual relationships with other singles or couples, sometimes with one additional person, sometimes more. Sometimes we had threesomes with more people around watching…so it’s difficult to count and also difficult to define a threesome in those circumstances where we maybe start with a threesome but later more people join us.

“Marco” brought up the idea somehow. I was nervous about maybe being jealous, but also wondered if we made the right decision and if everybody will be satisfied and if l am able to please someone else (sexual performance and appearance). I also had a lot of performance fears prior to the meeting: will I know how to make her happy, how to make her come, etc. And, of course, I was unsure if Marco might prefer the other person over me. I wasn’t sure if I was able to see him having sex with someone else. It was a great challenge first, a change in my mind and of course an emotional risk. But as our relationship was strong and healthy and we were totally in love, we gave it a try. I also was so curious about those new sensations.

The first threesome was with a girl. It was a friend who modeled for Marco (he is a photographer). It turned out that this girl was open-minded and curious. He contacted her for another photo shoot, but made clear that something else may happen. She agreed. We already talked about an eventual threesome or couple swap in the past, so this was a great opportunity to get started. We touched each other in the home photo studio and got excited. Then we went to the bedroom and continued there. My husband watched first, but because he is a leader/dominant, he helped us find the best positions by moving our bodies until he liked the visual. After a moment he got naked too, and the other girl started to blow him when I was still down on her. Marco sent me a smile. We were always connected by looking or touching each other. Then he gave me a sign to join the other girl to blow him together. This was a very sexy moment. Later he had sex with her while I kissed him and touched [her] clitoris. Then he had sex with me, and she touched us sensually. At the end we had some great food to end the journey.

—Woman (35) and man (46) from Luxembourg, together seven years

“We find ourselves even more attracted to each other in the days following.”

We’d both been curious about having threesomes for a long time but had been in relationships where it just wouldn’t have been a good idea. We knew from early on in our relationship that we’d want to try it out if the opportunity ever arose. We talked about it a ton, and for sure, there was some anxiety the first time. You really can’t know for sure how you’re going to react when you see your partner with someone else for the first time. Relationships end over threesomes gone wrong. The talking beforehand is really important to addressing that.

For the most part, our threesomes have been great. There’s so much happening, so much to touch. Hands and parts everywhere! We’ve found that if there is good chemistry, it feels like just really great sex, as opposed to an awkward novelty experience. There have been a couple of times when the third is clearly not as into women as she thought she was, which ends up making “Clara” feel a little awkward and extra, so we’ve realized that’s important to flesh out ahead of time. More often than not, though, the third is actually more interested in Clara than “Guillaume,” which is never a problem for him.

We also found that there is something so sexy about the whole experience and knowing how much trust you have in your partner to have been able to successfully pull off an experience like this. That feeling carries over, and we find ourselves even more attracted to each other in the days or weeks following. I think one of the most interesting realizations we’ve had is that the best part of the threesome isn’t the penetration, for lack of a sexier word. Bad porn and misinformed imaginations had us trying to imagine weird positions that mostly involved penetration, but the connection is really the best part.

We really enjoy kissing and watching each other kiss. Taking it slow and building up trust and communication makes it all the more enjoyable for everyone involved, but above all, I’d say that everyone has to be able to laugh. If you’re too serious, and can’t laugh about bumping heads while both going for the dick, then you are screwed (in all the senses!).

—Woman (32) and man (34) from Philadelphia, together four years

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

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