Threesomes for Couples

A threesome refers to group sex between three people of any combination of sex or gender.  All three may be single, or the situation may involve a couple inviting another man or woman into their bedroom. 

  The threesome, or its more relationship-oriented form, the ménage a trois, is a common sexual fantasy.  Threesomes have found their way into literature (Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden), film (Vicky Christina Barcelona), songs (“Triad”), and the “how-to” section of your bookstore (Threesome:  How to Fulfill Your Favorite Fantasy),[1] along with countless works of erotica or pornography.

Whatever the gender and sexuality composition of your threesome, or the amount of ongoing involvement between the individuals, there are a few things to keep in mind if this is virgin territory for you as a couple. 

Consider how to make the fantasy come alive for everyone. 

If the fantasy is shared, you’re ahead of the game.  If not, you have some work to do. Try to find ways to broach the subject of a threesome without being pushy.  Ask your partner about his or her fantasies and see if you can find some common ground.  Don’t assume that your girlfriend is bisexual and “just doesn’t know it yet.” The worst experiences that my interviewees have relayed to me have been those where their partner put them in a situation “hoping” that they would like it, without really thinking about their sexual preferences and comfort levels.

Assess the primary relationship before, during, and after the experience. 

Introducing a third party into the bedroom should probably not be used to jumpstart a flagging relationship.  However, even if everything feels solid, seeing your partner being intimate with someone else—or having them see you in such a situation—may trigger jealousies, insecurities, or resentments that you may not have even realized you were harboring.  Talking together about expectations, boundaries, and emotional responses to both the fantasy and the reality is extremely important.

Discuss your boundaries ahead of time with each other

Discuss with your partner how far you each feel comfortable with going, how you will handle safe sex, how you might get out of the situation gracefully if necessary, and whether you want to have code words or signals to share with each other. Couples I have spoken with have detailed dozens of different boundaries and limitations:  no intercourse or orgasm with the third party, no kissing, no contact by phone afterwards, etc.  It is also important to alert third parties to the limits you have decided upon to avoid confusion or misunderstandings. 

At the same time, expect that occasionally your boundaries may be crossed inadvertently and prepare as much as possible for a way to deal with that possibility.  One woman told me that she was fine with watching her husband have intercourse with another woman; however, when he reached up to brush a lock of hair off the woman’s face, she had an intense moment of jealousy.  With prompt communication and attempts at understanding all perspectives, such moments do not necessarily have to end in disaster. 

Some couples develop private systems of communication using signals or code words.  These should be clear and unmistakable, however.  Leaving the room might be done to get a glass of water or in anger.  One couple tried using a triple squeeze on the leg—but in the heat of the moment, they found it difficult to count squeezes or to know their meaning.  Think ahead of time what will work for you to make communication, and even a speedy exit, graceful. 

Select the person carefully.

Realizing that you’re not alone in your fantasies may be comforting.  However, if you’re a couple hoping to add a bisexual woman to the mix, you’ll probably need to get in the back of the line.  And it’s a long one.  Women who are open to such a scenario—sometimes termed “unicorns” because of their relative rarity—will find that they have hundreds of options and may grow tired of being approached.  It may be easier to find a single male just in terms of numbers. 

Sometimes a friend or neighbor seems like an obvious choice because everyone is at least comfortable with each other and there may be some sexual attraction already energizing the relationship.  Yet it is important to realize that sex can trigger unanticipated emotional reactions and feelings, and bringing another person into a pre-existing intimate relationship can muddy the waters even more.  It may be wise to select someone you will not have regular contact with afterwards, at least until you become accustomed to the possible emotional aftershocks.  There may be problems with choosing a complete stranger, however (beyond the obvious worry about physical danger).  Couples have told me stories of driving for miles and being stood up, or of meeting someone who looked nothing like their pictures online, or of failing to feel a connection when everyone met in person.  There is no single scenario that will work for every couple; rather, you’ll need to weigh the options in light of your own relationship. 

Select a neutral location. 

If something goes wrong, it is probably not worth defiling your own bed with a memory that is difficult to come to terms with for one or both of you.  Also, if something becomes uncomfortable, it is easier to leave a hotel room than someone’s home. 

Don’t micromanage

While talking about some of the basic logistics and boundaries beforehand is a good idea, try not to plan out every minute of the encounter with your partner or in your fantasies.  It is hard enough to plan out a sexual encounter involving the emotions and bodies of two people—adding a third is exponentially more complex. Also, you don’t want the third partner, whether a woman or man, to feel like a blow-up doll, existing only to fulfill your fantasy and serve your needs (“…and then, you’ll move over here and I’ll…”).  Asking if your partner is feeling okay with the activity is useful and often appropriate, just make sure that the third person also feels included in the communication. 

And if you get to the point where it’s actually happening… 

Don’t overindulge in alcohol or other substances.  If your nerves need so much calming that you need to down a bottle of tequila first, you might want to postpone your adventure. 

Be reserved when interacting with the non-primary partner.  Not so reserved as to make the third person feel uncomfortable, but reserved enough to be respectful to your primary partner, who may need to adjust to seeing you with someone else. 

Try not to leave anyone out and to communicate during the experience.  Three is a difficult number of people to work with in many social situations because of the tendency to pair off, but in sexual situations people may be even more vulnerable and need reassurance or attention.  If you are the one who needs attention, ask for it lightheartedly instead of sulking off into another room.  If there is a serious issue coming up for you, don’t be afraid to take a break and let the others know why. 

Don’t expect the sex to be mind-blowing.  It might be.  It might not be.  It might not be spectacular at the time, but lead to a highly erotic encounter later with your partner.  If you relax and try to enjoy the moment for what it is, you are less likely to be disappointed.   

And finally, don’t be afraid to laugh!  Sometimes, sex is funny.  Sometimes sex with more than two people involved is even funnier.  You can’t expect to have sex like a porn star and maneuver perfectly around the mattress during your first (or perhaps even your tenth) threesome. 

Copyright 2010, Katherine Frank (first published on www.ifriends.com, Love and Health channel).


[1] Gammon, Lori and Strong, Bill.  (1997)  Threesome:  How to Fulfill Your Favorite Fantasy.  Triad Press, Inc.

Katherine Frank