Relationship Tips

How To Have a Super-Satisfying Threesome, Whether You’re Currently Single or in a Relationship

Photo: Stocksy/Irina Efremova
While Liz*, a bisexual cisgender woman, tells me she's always been interested in threesomes—aka sexual ménage à trois—she says she never knew how to broach the subject with her previous partners, so she would float it as a joke. But when she joked about it with her current partner, Tucker, a heterosexual cisgender man, he didn't laugh it off. Instead, he asked if learning how to have a threesome might be something she'd be interested in exploring together. She said yes, and since then, they've been having regular threesomes for almost as long as the few years they've been together.

And they're not alone. Liz and Tucker are part of a growing number of couples who are expanding the bounds of traditional monogamy to create a relationship structure that works best for them. “A lot of couples, including those who identify as monogamous, are interested in exploring threesomes,” says pleasure-based sex educator and sex-positivity advocate Lateef Taylor. Not to mention, threesomes can be of equal sexual interest and intrigue to non-coupled and non-monogamous folks, too. "It's important to note that threesomes are not exclusive to couples and a third person," says Max Ma, founder and CEO of threesome app 3Fun. "For example, they can include three people who are not in any kind of relationships with each other, or three people who are in a poly relationship."

“A lot of couples, including those who identify as monogamous, are interested in exploring threesomes.” —sex educator Lateef Taylor

One 2018 survey of more than 4,000 Americans conducted by sociologist Justin Lehmiller, PhD, for his book Tell Me What You Want nods to the growing threesome trend across the board. In fact, he found group sex and threesomes to be the most common sexual fantasy for Americans, with less than 5 percent of men and 13 percent of women claiming to have never fantasized about it. However, in a 2015 survey of about 2,000 Americans, only 10 percent of people who identified as women and 18 percent of those who identified as men reported having ever actually had a threesome.

Given this disconnect between fantasy and fruition, it stands to reason that a number of people are curious about threesomes, but are running up against a roadblock to having one. Often, people in relationships get stuck in this belief that a threesome is considered cheating or could ruin their partnership, says sex educator Nikki Goldstein, author of Single But Dating. "If communication and boundaries are present, however, threesomes can be very rewarding and enjoyable for many people," she says.

And that can include people of any gender or sexuality and with any kind of fantasy, she adds. "There's a heteronormative myth that a threesome is about a man wanting to see his woman partner with another woman," she says. "But when it comes to threesomes, we need to move beyond the stereotypes, and open our minds to different situations, different people, and different reasons why—which might be as simple as 'because someone wants to.'"

Myths dispelled, it can still be tough to close the gap between wanting to have a threesome and having one. Below, you'll find a guide to learning how to have a threesome—from getting started to managing the logistics—according to sex experts and real-life threesome aficionados.

How to set up a threesome for the first time, whether you're single or in a relationship

1. Figure out your "why"

“If you're in an existing relationship, a threesome should happen only because you and your partner both want to have one,” says Nova*, a trans woman who regularly has threesomes with her partner, Rachel*, also a trans woman. So what threesomes aren't, then, is a relationship Band-Aid or a gift of some sort, used by one partner to please another. To make sure your reason for exploring group sex satisfies this rule, identify your individual 'why' for wanting to have a threesome, including what you're hoping to get out of it.

Also consider what you want group sex to mean, if anything, for the structure of your relationship. Do you want to continue being romantically and sexually closed to non-monogamy, with the exception of joint threesomes? Or might threesomes be a means for exploring non-monogamy more generally? Are you interested in a triad, or in having an ongoing relationship with the third person? Are you open to romantic involvement with the third person, or do prefer to keep things purely sexual? These are all questions you should be able to answer before diving in.

And if you're not currently in a relationship, consider your desires and well-being all the same, says Goldstein. In this case, do you prefer to know the people with whom you're engaging? Are they friends or previous partners, or are you likely to see them again? Answering these questions for yourself will push you closer to the threesome you're actually hoping for, and away from anything else.

2. Find your partner(s)

Everyone has different preferences regarding this point: Nova and Rachel only have group sex with other trans women who are also their friends. Liz and Tucker only have threesomes with, as Liz puts it, “women who are acquaintances, but not my best friends.” But, there's no right answer here.

Maybe you only want to have threesomes with strangers. Or with people visiting your city on vacation. Or with people in other cities while you’re on vacation. “There are pros and cons to strangers, acquaintances, friends, and best friends,” says Liz. Figuring out what works best for you will take some sexual introspection.

If you land on strangers—or there's no one within your circle who you think fits the bill—consider using a threesome-focused dating app, like 3Fun, Feeld, or 3rder to find your people. "This type of platform provides an easy way to communicate and be straightforward about sexual preferences in an online community where threesomes already exist as the common ground," says Goldstein, who recently partnered with 3Fun. "Our members can either sign up for an individual account or browse the app as a couple, if they're just looking for a third," says Ma, of 3Fun. "Outside of the app, we also find that our users meet others at polyamorous-centric bars, events, or social gatherings with like-minded people."

3. Clearly communicate your intent

It's essential that all potential parties to a threesome are fully on the same page beforehand—which will require some communication. Often, you can clarify certain preferences or situations by using threesome terminology, says Ma, like "swingers," which refers to people who are in a committed relationship or marriage but who like to have sex with other peoples' partners, or "unicorn," which refers to a single person who's interested in having a threesome with a couple.

From there, other helpful terms to note in pre-threesome convos are "ethical non-monogamy," which refers to a romantic dynamic where all people agree to a relationship that's not exclusive between two people, and "emotional monogamy," which signifies a decision by a couple to remain in an exclusive emotional relationship with each other (aka not developing feelings for anyone else), even if they decide to have a threesome or group sex.

5 pointers for how to have a successful threesome

1. Set boundaries for yourself and/or with your partner

This is easily the most important step of them all: “If you're in a relationship, you and your partner need to be able to talk openly about what each of you want, what each of you are looking for, and what would make you each feel uncomfortable in the threesome,” says Nova. And if you're single, apply the same exercise to yourself, carefully considering your boundaries, so you know you'll be able to clearly communicate them with the other two people (more on that below).

Liz and Tucker went about this conversation by making a "Yes, No, Maybe" list, outlining where they felt completely comfortable, where they didn't, and where they weren't totally clear. (Jotting down notes on any piece of paper will work, but for guidance, this example—which includes words and activities that can be triggering, birth-control practices, and more—is a good place to start.)

And if this pre-action chat with your partner or with yourself makes you feel uncomfortable? Consider pausing on the group-sex plans. “If you and your partner struggle with communicating, a threesome is going to put additional strain and stress on your relationship," says Nova.

2. Figure out the logistics of the threesome

For Liz and Tucker, sex parties and sexually liberal atmospheres have proven to be great places for living out their fantasies. For Nova and Rachel, it's more of a when-the-opportunity-arises type of thing among their friend group. In any case, Ma suggests that for your first threesome (particularly if it includes a stranger), you carefully consider the location. "We recommend finding a neutral accommodation after at least one meeting in a public place where everyone has a chance to get to know each other," he says.

3. Establish boundaries, rules, and safer-sex practices with the third person

You’ve considered your own boundaries, and, if you're in a relationship, you've talked to your partner about those boundaries. Now, it’s time to loop in the third (or the other two folks, if you're single), and learn about their boundaries. What's off-limits? What is the protection plan? Is kissing okay? How about pegging or kink? Come up with a safe word, or establish that you’re going to use the consent traffic light. There’s no such thing as being too detailed here.

Also, make sure to have a sexual-health check-in: “You need to know your own STI-status, talk to the person [or people] you're inviting into bed about their sexual-health status, and come up with safe-sex plan before the clothes start coming off,” says Taylor.

4. Stick to the rules, but be adaptable

Ongoing consent is imperative for pleasurable, healthy sex with any number of people. That means the communication must also being ongoing, even once things start heating up.

For example, even if you thought you’d be okay with your partner penetrating the third person's mouth, maybe you change your mind in the midst of the action and now have a bad feeling about it. If this is the case, say so—and as soon as you feel this way. Or, let's say you thought you’d be excited to explore your foot fetish within this threesome dynamic, but now the prospect feels uncomfortable. Just press pause. You can always talk things through, regroup, and then restart when everyone’s comfortable and on the same page.

5. Have a postmortem chat

“Tucker and I have some serious post-game analyses the next morning," says Liz. "We originally said it would be okay to have a sleepover with the third, but the next morning when we woke up, we both felt weird about it." So, they talked through those feelings and established new rules for the next time.

This is also a great time to address any jealousy that may have cropped up. "It's normal to feel jealous, and it gets easier to manage the more you learn what's making you jealous," says Nova. "What's important is that you talk about the feeling with your partner."

*Names have been changed

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