On Threesomes

by Jason Stotts

I’ve written about having sex with more than one partner before, which I call polysexuality  (or non-monogamy), and I think I’ve covered it pretty thoroughly.  However, recently a friend of mine was asking me about threesomes and I realized that this discussion was very abstract and while it dealt with the same issues, it did it in a way that may not be accessible to everyone.  So, I’ve decided to address threesomes directly here.  Note that I will presuppose the series “On Polysexuality,” so please read that first.

The first question we need to ask is: can a threesome be moral?  I think the answer is yes and I’ve laid out the reasons in depth in “On Polysexuality.”  The short version is that while sex is very important in life and to our happiness, it is not the case that having sex with a person besides your partner necessarily diminishes your capacity to care for your partner or your intimacy together.  Moreover, as long as you are choosing the third person for good reasons (you think they are attractive, you think they have a good character, you share values, etc), then there is no concern on that front either. Finally, as long as you and your partner discuss your plans to have a threesome in advance, are both on the same page, and start at a comfortable pace for both of you, then there will be no damage to your relationship.  This doesn’t mean that your first threesome will go well, but just that you won’t lose your relationship over it.

Next, we should look at the reasons why a couple might want to invite a third person into the bedroom.  There are some reasons that are legitimate and others that aren’t.  If for example, you no longer find your partner attractive, but you don’t want to tell them this and you still want sex (so you need another person), this is a bad reason to have a threesome as it is fundamentally dishonest to both the person you profess to love and care for and also to the outside person.  On the other hand, if you have a really good marriage but are not sexually compatible, then having a threesome might be a good solution (a better solution would be an open relationship or converting your relationship into a companionate marriage).  Generally, and I cover this in “On Polysexuality,” as long as you’re not deceiving your partner or being indiscriminate in your choice of the third person, you’re probably going to be fine.  Good reasons include, but are not limited to: wanting to try new things with your partner, wanting to expand your sexual boundaries, wanting to explore bisexuality, wanting to experience compersion with your partner and enjoy them having sex with someone else.

One perk that many couples don’t realize is that the increased arousal from having new partners actually transfers onto your partner as well so you tend to be more attracted to your partner and have more sex with them as well.  In fact, many couples who are new to polysexuality are surprised to find that their arousal for their partners is also increased and they experience more passion in their own relationship.  Thus, polysexuality actually improves the sex in your relationship as well as providing a new source of excitement.

So, let’s say that you’ve cleared all the moral hurdles (again, refer to “On Polysexuality”) and you and your partner are ready to have a threesome.  Now what?  You need to think about several practical issues:

1) Questions about the third person:

– Who is the third person?

– What sex should they be?

– Should it be someone you know well like a friend or a stranger you will never see again?

– Should you meet several times before the time of the threesome or just meet right before?

The choice of the third person is important.  Not only because it can make the entire encounter either moral or immoral, but also because a good choice of a third can make the entire threesome go smoothly, while a bad choice of a third can make it impossible for it to go well.  The person should be sexually open, they should be respectful of your existing relationship, they should be easy to communicate with and should be open in their communication, the person should be attractive to at least one of the partners (or both if the threesome is a bisexual or homosexual threesome), and the person should be discreet if the couple values privacy.  Although it’s not something you’d know about a person you just meet, but the person should be able to be sexually dynamic and take cues (verbal and nonverbal) from the couple and if you know a person well, you can probably judge if they’d be able to do this.  Having a good third person can make all the difference in the world.  You need to talk to your partner about what you want and don’t want and try to be explicit and think of as many things as you can.  Don’t get too caught up in the concretes of physical appearance, as personality and character are more important here (like most places) than physical looks. For example, if you’re going to wait until you find a 5’9” woman with blonde hair, blue eyes, D breasts, who is bisexual, and an Olympic deepthroater, you might be waiting for a long time.

2) Questions about yourselves:

– Are you going to jump into a no-holes-barred encounter or are you going to start more slowly with the third person merely watching?

– Are you going to use barriers (condoms, dental dams, gloves, etc) for all sex acts or only for certain sex acts?

– What happens after you cum and you’re done?  Does the third have to rush out? Can they stay the night?

– Are you going to drink or use recreational drugs before you start?

Once you have a third person in mind, you need to consider how you want the threesome to go.  Are all three people going to be active at once?  Are they going to take turns while someone watches?  Is everyone going to be sexual with everyone else?  Does anyone have boundaries that you need to be aware of?  Is it going to be a one-off experience or will there be several encounters?  If it’s going to be a one-off experience, you’re going to have to consider that this means you’ll have to do everything you want that one time and so going slowly might be harder.  If you have several encounters planned, then you have the option of ramping up the level of action each time to make sure everyone is still okay. But, you should never feel pressured (from your partner or even the situation) to go farther than you’re ready.  It’s much better to not get to some things you wanted to do and do them down the road instead of going too far and having a bad experience.  If all you are comfortable doing is a threesome that includes only oral sex, that’s still a “real threesome” and can be a lot of fun.  It’s better to ramp up slowly to the actions that you might be hesitant about to make sure you won’t be bothered by them instead of just jumping in (although in some ways this does depend on your personality).

One distinction that has grown up in the swinging community is between couples who are “soft-swap,” who only engage in manual and oral sex with other couple, and “full-swap,” who also engage in vaginal (or anal).  I point this out because having vaginal or anal sex is not a necessary condition of having a successful threesome and a threesome can still be fun and exciting without them.

3) What kinds of boundaries are you going to have:

– Is kissing allowed?

– Is cuddling allowed?

– Are certain positions or sexual acts restricted?

– Is it okay if one person stops or does everyone have to stop?

– If one person leaves the room can things continue?

– Are pictures allowed?

This brings us to our third consideration: what are the boundaries?  Are both partners comfortable with kissing, touching, oral, anal, vaginal, cuddling, etc.?  Many people are surprised to find that affectionate acts bother them more than sexual acts and they never discussed this before heading into the threesome.  As a couple you need to discuss everything that you want to happen and everything that you think might happen. Is the third person meeting you at your house and you’re going to have sex in your bed?  Are you meeting at a hotel? Is the third person just coming over for drinks and a threesome? Will they need to leave immediately afterwards? Or is it going to be a drawn out affair with dinner, drinks, a threesome, and post coital chat.

If you can’t talk about it, you damn well shouldn’t be doing it.

You need to discuss what kinds of boundaries will make you comfortable.  I think you should discuss two different kinds of boundaries: soft-boundaries and hard-boundaries.  Soft-boundaries are preferences that you think you would rather not do, but that you might be open to in the future or the right situation.  On the other hand, hard-boundaries are things you absolutely don’t want to do.  While soft boundaries are flexible over time, they should not be renegotiated while actively engaged in a threesome.  Also, many couples find that their boundaries disappear over time and that things that were at one point hard boundaries, become soft boundaries or even fade all together with more experience.

4) Communication and “being on the same page”:

– What happens if only one of you is having a good time?

– What happens if someone feels left out?

The fourth thing to consider is this: you’ve gotten to the point where you know who you want to the threesome with, you know what your boundaries are and how you want it to go and you’re both on board.  The threesome starts and one of you is uncomfortable and not having a good time or even upset, what now?  Do you “take one for the team” and just grin and bear it?  Do you throw on the emergency break and bring things to a screeching halt?  Do you say that you are uncomfortable and ask to do something else or try again later?  You should consider that even though you both want to have a threesome, the fantasy of it and the reality of it can be very different.  Personally, I think that taking one for the team is a terrible idea that has the potential to hurt your relationship with your partner and I don’t advocate doing things with which you’re uncomfortable.  It’s much easier to fix things at the “I’m not so sure I’m ok with this” stage than the “Holy shit, I can’t believe you did that, you bastard” stage. Your partner may not have any idea that anything is wrong unless you communicate this to them, if you don’t and are upset afterwords or later, they will feel blindsided and defensive.

Another option besides using the emergency stop is to use a graduated scale of telling your partner you’re uncomfortable, like: green=good, yellow=slightly uncomfortable, red=stop.  You could also just openly express how you’re feeling and what you want to change with words, like: “Honey, I feel like our third is getting all the attention and I would like a turn too.”  However you choose to express yourself, make sure that you are clear to your partner about what you want and need and that your comfort is also being maintained.

As an aside, I once heard a story about a couple who was fine having sex with other people (this couple was “full swap, same room”, which meant that they’d engage in vaginal penetration with another couple as long as they all stayed in the same room), but as soon as the man orgasmed, they both had to be done (even if the other man and his partner hadn’t finished yet).  This brings up a good point for you to consider if you’ve never had a threesome before: how are you going to feel about it after you cum and the excitement subsides?  Research shows that arousal overrides disgust and things that might be exciting and fun while you’re aroused, might become disgusting after you orgasm.  Now a full explanation of this issue deserves its own essay, but its closely bound up in how we morally view sexual acts and shame around sexuality.  Nevertheless, it can be an unexpected problem, so keep it in mind.

So, now that you’ve really given it some thought and you feel like you’re as ready as you’ll ever be, what now?  Well, now one or both of you have to approach the third person and see if they’re interested.  Hopefully, they’ve shown some kind of interest before this or you know them to be open to sexual experimentation and trying new things.  I think it’s best to approach the third person together, so that they don’t get the wrong idea that one of you is looking for an affair.  But, since you probably know this person already, you can figure that out for yourselves, given what you know of the person.  If you’re trying to find someone to have a threesome with and you don’t want it to be someone you already know, I would recommend a “lifestyle” website, like Kasidie where you can find someone who will be interested in the same things and who will hopefully abide by the swinger rules, since swingers have created their own subculture with rules to help this kind of sex go well.  You could also use OKCupid, but if you’re going to do that, you need to be really upfront with your intentions and not deceive someone that you might also be interested in a relationship (unless you are).  I would probably not use Craigslist, but that’s up to you.

Before you actually attempt to have a threesome in real life, make sure that fantasizing about it, talking aloud about it with your lover, and even fantasizing together about it during sex is arousing for both of you.  If it’s not hot in your fantasies, it’s going to be even worse in reality.

Lastly, please do remember that your third is still a person and you should take their needs and feelings into account.  Your third is not a sex toy and you need to treat them with respect , especially if you want the opportunity for a repeat performance.

Now, to take a different tack, the foregoing is primarily considerations for people who are already in relationships.  However, what if you’re the third?  The third can be a single person or someone who is already part of another relationship. I think that being the third is more complicated than being in a couple in some ways, but easier in others.  Whether you’re single or in a relationship, as the third you need to get to know the couple.  You need to make sure you’re comfortable interacting with them and that you all get along.  You need to make sure that you clearly understand what is being asked of you (are they expecting you to sexually interact with both of them or just one of them?) and if they have any boundaries of which you need to be aware.  Now, if you’re single, you need to make sure that you don’t develop the habit of taking sex lightly and divorcing it from values and intimacy (I discuss this at length in “On Polysexuality”).  There can be great value in fun and novel sexual experiences, but this should not come at the price of sacrificing your ability to have true intimacy with a partner, which is an important part of happiness.  If you’re the third and you’re already in a good relationship, this is much less of a risk for you.  But, even someone who is in a relationship can end up divorcing sex from values and intimacy, even if you never have sex with anyone but your partner.  Maintaining the close connection between sex, values, and intimacy is more about your approach and your own values than how many sexual partners you have.

Now, you might ask whether this doesn’t take the fun and excitement out of a threesome.  I don’t think it does.  There is no doubt that a spontaneous threesome can be a lot of fun.  However, it also has the highest risk of something going wrong.  This isn’t to say that I’m against spontaneous threesomes, but I think that if you’re already in a couple and you have never talked to your partner about it, they are ill-advised.

I hope that this essay has helped with some of the moral and practical considerations that you should be thinking about before you have a threesome.  If you have more questions, feel free to leave a comment below or email me at Jason(at)JasonStotts.com.

As a closing thought, just remember that your relationship is your own and you should structure it in a way that works for the people in it and if threesomes are something you want to do, embrace it and live your life with integrity, no matter what other people might think if they found out.  Besides, it’d be a far better world if we could all be who we really are.

4 Responses to “On Threesomes”


  1. ZT

    This looks like a really good guide for anyone considering a first threesome. I like the idea of hard and soft boundaries, because it leaves room for expressing a preference to not do something without coming down as totally against it. It could be really hard in the moment to keep track of all the shifting boundaries and what types they are though. Do you have any tips for that, and what to do if you forget about a boundary and accidentally violate it?

  2. JasonStotts

    That’s a really good question. I think it’s important to minimize the number of boundaries to things that are important to you and to not multiply them beyond necessity. It’s important to reiterate them before going into a situation and not expect your partner to guess boundaries you may want, but haven’t communicated.

    In terms of what to do if you violate them, I guess it depends on why you did it. If you forgot, then I think you should apologize and explain that you forgot and be really careful in the future to not make the same mistakes. If you willfully violated your partners rules, then I think you should not be engaging in non-monogamy until you learn better self-control and respect for your partner.

    ~Jason

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