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Sexual Wellness

How to Have a Healthy, Happy Threesome

| 11/08/2019

Illustration by Weronika Marianna

If you’re a sexually active adult, chances are good that a threesome has at least crossed your mind. Many people now understand as well that sex with two people isn’t sexually deviant or weird, no matter what the adults who shaped their views on sex might have told them. It’s not an orgy, either, despite the wild celebrity sex stories in Rolling Stone or the videos you might see on PornHub.

In fact, a threesome is the most popular sexual fantasy people have, according to Dr. Justin Lehmiller, who interviewed some 4,000 people for his book Tell Me What You Want. And the interest in three-ways is understandable; they’ve been the subject of numerous, successful movies over the years, from Truffaut’s Jules and Jim in 1962, to the more recent Andrew Fleming film Threesome (starring Stephen Baldwin, Josh Charles and Lara Flynn Boyle) that still pops up on Netflix.

Interest in real threesomes is on the rise, and the younger generation is particularly accepting of the idea. There is something sexy about bringing a new person into the bedroom to explore new sexual terrain with your partner, or being a third for a couple in a safe, fun way. 

But how do you actually make it happen? The idea of a threesome may sound amazing, but putting it into action is not as easy as it sounds. No matter how accepted group sex becomes, you still have to make sure you know what you’re doing before you bring a third person into the bedroom. In a threesome, everyone involved deserves to have their needs met, and must be able to walk away feeling good about themselves. This takes finesse.

Needless to say, it’s also crucial to be sure that both partners in a relationship are truly OK with the idea. There are too many stories to count about threesomes torpedoing otherwise-satisfying sex lives. Only take the plunge if you’re sure you’re not endangering your sexual happiness and wellness – or your partner’s.

Ready to go? Here is everything you need to know about having a healthy, happy threesome.

Set up a threesome efficiently and respectfully

Unsurprisingly, the first challenge of acting on a threesome fantasy is figuring out how to find a third person (if you’re in a couple) or how to find a couple (if you’re solo and looking to guest star).

While some threesomes may happen spontaneously after a night out, most are found via dating apps. You may luck out on Tinder or Grindr, but there are apps specifically designed for people looking for alternative relationship-styles and hookups. Check out Feeld, FetLife, and #Open.

When it comes to drawing up a profile, be open and honest about what you’re looking for. If you’re in a couple write the profile together, and be clear about what you’re looking to get out of the experience. When it comes to sex, you do not want to be sketchy or cagey about what you’re after. Be truthful and you’ll be rewarded. No one has time for games when they’re trying to have a hot group sex experience, you know?

Thorough communication and explicit consent is needed before you engage in a threesome.

If you’re looking to go old-school, you can find a third participant (or couple) in person. The bar scene may occasionally lead to chance encounters, but the best in-person, neutral option is a sex party.

If you happen to be in a big city, there are lots of these parties you can attend. Most places only accept single women or couples, which makes sense because it’s smart to always think about safety first (a lesson that’s certainly been driven home by Covid-19). In New York, NSFW is the place to be. This cannabis-friendly, kink-focused membership club in Soho has some of the most fun parties around. Chemistry is also a great starter sex party that’s more geared to couples.

Other options include Killing Kittens and Kinky Salon. While I haven’t personally been to these parties, I’ve heard good things.

Meet up in a neutral place (if possible)

Meet up with a potential third or couple for coffee or tea and get to know each other a little bit. This will allow you to decide whether you have chemistry, and to start preliminary negotiations before any clothes come off.

A good rule: Don’t sleep with a friend, even if it’s your best friend. In fact, especially if it’s your best friend. You may wind up compromising your friendship or, at the very least, making things really awkward going forward. Obviously it’s your life and you can do whatever you want, but believe me, it’s a risk. It’s best to make friends off-limits when setting up a three-way.

Lay out some ground rules

Thorough communication and explicit consent are needed before you engage in a threesome. Even if you pick up a third at a bar (or are the third at the bar), you need to express your needs, wants, hopes, and fears for this particular experience.

It’s not a good idea to fumble your way through group sex, especially as a newbie; you may wind up inadvertently crossing a personal boundary. In short, the logistics are a lot more complicated than a high school first date. Details matter too; are blowjobs or penetration ok? How about anal or double penetration? And who’s bringing the condoms, sex toys and lube?

“It’s essential to understand — without question — what works and doesn’t work for all individuals involved before getting into bed,” explains Charyn Pfeuffer, sex and relationships writer and author of 101 Ways to Rock Online Dating. “Nothing kills a mood faster,” she adds, than hearing “You never told me that” mid-threesome. Misconceptions can end your dream hookup in a hurry.

Pay special attention to sexual health

When having a threesome, you need to be sure you’re having the safest sex possible. This means getting regularly tested for STIs, using condoms (and other barrier methods), and disclosing any STIs you may have to potential partners. 

“Remember, if you are having vaginal and anal sex, to change condoms [between sex acts] because you don’t want any anal bacteria in your vaginal canal,” says Lucy Rowett, a certified intimacy coach and clinical sexologist.

Create a list of things you want to experience

There’s what threesomes look like in porn, and then there is real life. The two deviate substantially. Screw what society tells you threesomes should be like, and take the time to think about what you actually want the encounter to be like.

Rowett suggests acting like your own erotic movie director, taking time to create a list of things you want to experience or how you want things to go. “It’s really helpful to fill out a ‘sex menu’ or ‘red, amber, green’ worksheet spelling out what you really want, what you are curious about, and what is a hard ‘no’,” she says. “The clearer you are about what it is you want and like, the easier it is to plan ahead and communicate with your partners.”

“Nobody is a mind reader, and a lot can get lost in translation, especially when there are multiple partners (hot and bothered) at play.”

Sit with yourself and really think about it deeply. Reach into your feelings as you imagine each experience. This will help you get comfortable with the idea of moving forward IRL.

Check in with each other during sex—and troubleshoot dicey moments

Navigating three people’s needs during sex means there’s going to be a lot of talking – not only beforehand, but during the deed, too. It’s not only necessary, Pfeuffer says, but “so damn sexy…make sure you and your partners are communicating before, during, and after sex.”

If someone sets a boundary, respect that boundary. If you’re unsure if something is OK, ask. If something doesn’t feel right, you’re not into it, or you feel uncomfortable, you should be able to speak up freely and say so. Being able to acknowledge these feelings and take a break will only enhance the experience, because it will make everyone feel safe and cared for. Be sure to set up a mutual safe word as well.

“Nobody is a mind reader, and a lot can get lost in translation, especially when there are multiple partners, hot and bothered, at play,” Pfeuffer says. It’s a learning process, especially when you’re with new partners.

Manage your expectations

Every threesome experience is different, and not all of them are going to be great. You can minimize the likelihood of a straight-up bad situation by following the steps we’ve discussed, but even so, stuff happens. That’s just how sex works.

Since this group sex thing is new to you, there can be performance anxiety, strong emotions that pop up, or general awkwardness. Manage your expectations accordingly. Go in understanding that this is a new experience – one you want to have, but one that may not be as mindblowing as you’ve imagined in your fantasies. Successful threesomes, like all sex acts, take practice. It may take several rendezvous with the same people to really nail down each others’ moves and wants.

Have an aftercare plan in place

Rowett says that an aftercare plan is another thing that should be predetermined before a ménage à trois. Aftercare is the way in which we take care of our partners after intense sexual experiences.

This can range from cuddling to massage, from being totally left alone to anything in between. Discuss the aftercare each person needs with the entire group, so everyone feels comfortable and emotionally well. 

In this same vein, be sure you know what the plan is once the experience is over. Is the guest star sleeping over? Are they staying for dinner the next day? Or are you calling them an Uber right away? Everyone should be on the same page, to avoid feelings of rejection or even outright anger or hostility.

A few other important notes, for those who may be wondering:

  • A threesome is usually not the same thing as a polyamorous relationship, which is more often like monogamy – just with more than one partner. Of course, some polyamorous people do enjoy variety, making threesomes a possibility in just about any relationship.
  • Media and film portrayals may make three-ways seem to be either “male-female-female” or “MMF,” but threesomes aren’t gender-specific. The mechanics may vary, but threesomes can work for all combinations of genders and orientations, as well as those who are gender-fluid. Just be careful out there!

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