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How do I talk about my interest in a threesome with my boyfriend?

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kraken asks:

I've read articles about men wanting to bring another partner, be it male or female, into the game. But as a woman, I'm not really sure how to bring this up with my boyfriend. It's more or less that I would like to bring someone else into our sexual relationship, for sex with both of us, but I'm not sure how to broach the topic or do this. So, I set about asking here. How should I ask? What should I even look into when considering another sexual partner?

Heather Corinna replies:

Before I say anything else, I'm going to say what I often do to people about threesomes (or moresomes), particularly threesomes-in-the-abstract or other kinds of sexual scenarios with an established couple and one or more other partners who they don't know yet or haven't even considered.

Especially since you don't even know who the other person potentially involved is, this is about a fantasy. Making fantasies realities can be satisfying, but it also can illuminate how different things are in the real world, with real people, than they are in our fantasies. You probably aren't fantasizing, for instance, about someone getting jealous or insecure in the middle of everything, for instance, about what seemed really hot in your head feeling really awkward or silly when it's actually happening, negotiating safer sex throughout or someone landing an STI, discovering one is a different sexual orientation than one thought, or managing relationship or social fallout from this for a few months. Those are some things that are realities with this sometimes.

This is also something that, if it happens, will probably happen more spontaneously in some respects than in a planned way, rather than being something you actively seek out or set up, unless you run in circles where it's not uncommon to make these kinds of sexual arrangements in advance. And chances are that this happening, period -- particularly when everyone is sober, thoughtful, honest and very communicative, all of which I'd strongly advise -- will be rare, and may not happen at all, or not for a long time.

For most folks with interest in a threesome, especially without a third party present when someone wants that, it is a fantasy that remains a fantasy, either because the reality of it is less appealing than the fantasy or because the opportunity just doesn't present itself. I also want to put out there that this is a thing that can very easily go sour, especially in an established and otherwise closed relationship, in a relationship that's new and/or not at all the right one for this situation (not all will be, even when both people in a relationship want another partner: want alone doesn't equal able), or with a third partner who isn't a good fit. You have a lot less to lose than, say, a married couple with kids or someone running for a Senate seat, but all the same, it can be precarious.

I'm not saying this must or will automatically be a buzzkill, bad news or just won't happen. It can and does happen and people can and do enjoy sex with more than one partner at a time. I just wanted to start with a reality check.

My saying all of what I have does not mean that you two shouldn't talk about it, and if it seems like something you both might want to do if there's opportunity, that you shouldn't start negotiating and and setting up your ground rules. You're interested in this, so there's no reason not to bring it up if you're in a kind of sexual partnership where you feel comfortable being honest about your desires (which if you're in a sexual relationship at all, I hope is the case!). If it turns out you both share that interest and both want to try to enact it, you do want to start doing a lot of communicating and other groundwork if this is a relationship you want to sustain and if you want to take care of your heart and help anyone else involved to do the same. It's sage to do a lot of communicating before you or I take any big step in our lives or with a partner, sexual or otherwise, that we can't temper with judgment and knowledge from previous experience, especially anything that is being fueled solely by fantasy.

While asking about this as a woman may be or feel somewhat different, on the whole, it's all the same stuff. What I'm about to say to you is what I'd say to someone of any gender. It's also a lot of the same things I say when people are thinking about a new kind of sex or sexual relationship with anyone, including in an exclusive partnership. I would, however, leave room for the fact that it may be tougher for guys to say no to this situation when presented, especially if it's another female partner, than for women. While plenty might not feel or be at all ready for this, a lot of them have gotten the message that this is a sexual brass ring, a mark of ultimate stud-hood that if they say no to, may put their masculinity into question, so that's just something to keep in mind.

There's no one right way to voice something you have sexual interest in to a partner. Usually when people ask how to do that, they're worried that a) they'll hurt someone's feelings, b) they'll be rejected or the other person will be disgusted and/or c) they won't get what they want. There's really no way to word a question to avoid not getting what you want, because the other person is either going to want what you do or not. Trying to craft a question so they will want what you do manipulates, even if you don't mean it to, and I'm sure I don't have to tell you that's not okay. You also can't easily avoid being rejected or having a partner be squicked-out by your desires, save making sure that you're asking someone with the maturity to talk about something like this, and the care for you to accept you and your desires for what they are, even if they aren't interested in exploring them with you. Only you can suss out if your boyfriend fits that bill. Avoiding hurt feelings is also not entirely unavoidable, but if you voice desires making clear no one is expected to share them, and talk through any difficult feelings the other person may have around what you're saying, you can make it a lot less likely. You can also be sure that before you put something like this out there, you have a pretty good feeling it's something the person you're telling it to can emotionally handle.

You mostly just say it. Like, "I've been thinking about what it might be like to have another sexual partner with us at some point. Is that something you've ever thought about or might want to talk about as a possibility with me?"

If he says he's not interested, or that's not something he wants to do or feels comfortable with, then that's that. This person isn't a partner who wants to go there with you, or at least, doesn't right now. You can then close the door on this with him by letting him know you accept that, and should he feel differently at any point, you'd be glad to talk about it again.

Your boyfriend might go to a "why" place, too, like, "Why aren't you satisfied with me, why am I not enough for you?" or "Why are you bored with our sex life?" or "Why: is there someone you like better than me?" If so, you just fill him in on whatever your why's actually are, as you know them. He might also need some affirmation or comfort from you around any worries or insecurities. You may talk about these why's for a while, maybe days, weeks or months. Sometimes, when a partner brings up something like this, even if the other partner is interested, too, all the feelings it creates, good, bad and otherwise, can take a while to sort through.

If he says he is or might be interested, next you start ongoing conversations about this. When things like this go well in established relationships, it's usually there's a lot of open and deep communication with everyone involved happening. Unlike in porn or fanfic, in real life, if we don't want to make a mess of something like this, we have to talk about things like safer sex, like birth control, like jealousy and insecurity, like limits and boundaries, like rules and regulations: we can't make easy assumptions or let tough feelings fester. There's prep work to be done, and sometimes it's extensive and even emotionally difficult.

What kinds of things might couples considering an additional partner talk about?

  • What would I want from this? What would you want?
  • What would I NOT want? What am I worried about? What would you not want? What are you worried about? Do we have any sexual activities that we want off-the-table as things to do with someone else?
  • Is this about wanting to add a partner to add to our relationship and experiences together, or is this about trying to find satisfaction in a relationship one or both of us isn't satisfied with?
  • What do I feel I'd need to feel comfortable in this kind of situation? What do you need?
  • Do we see something like this as one-time, or as something we'd like to be ongoing?
  • What makes me or you comfortable or uncomfortable in another partner? What preferences or limits do I/you/we have around their gender, relationship status, communication style, trustworthiness, relationship to me/you, their motives and other areas? Is there someone I or you can think of who I think would want this and be comfortable with it, and who I/you would want this with?
  • How will we manage jealousy, insecurity or feelings of competitiveness? How might we feel if during sex with another partner, it really winds up being sex between only one of us and that partner? How might we feel if one of us seems to be enjoying sex with that partner more than we have with each other? How will we address any or all of these feelings together?
  • How are we going to handle safer sex and/or birth control? How are we going to ask the other person to handle it?
  • How do we think we might handle any serious feelings developing between the other partner and one or both of us?
  • What are my dealbreakers? What are OUR dealbreakers? Are we both on the same page in respecting them as hard limits?
  • What dynamics do we need to cultivate or arrange so that we're each comfortable declining on another partner/sex the other wants? What dynamics do we need to cultivate or arrange so that we're each comfortable affirming another partner/sex the other wants?
  • How does this - or doesn't it -- fit with each of our existing sexual values and ethics, as well as our relationship ideals? How important is monogamy to each of us?
  • Is this point in our relationship the best time for this? Do we have any conflicts or concerns we might need to work out first? Do we need to work on any kind of communication more first?

I want to take a minute to talk seriously about safer sex. I don't know what you and your boyfriend do now, but safer sex is very important once anyone has had more than one partner, and/or once anyone is with more than one partner. Safer sex is important in these sexual situations, but also after them. If you've been sexually exclusive for a while, or for always, and haven't been so large with the safer sex -- like say, only using condoms for intercourse and not for oral sex, or only using condoms sporadically -- after this, you're back to square one when it comes to safer sex protocols and exclusivity. What's that mean? It means you've both opened yourself up to a new set of health risks -- not just emotional ones -- that you have not been exposed to before, and to best take care of yourselves and each other, you'll need to protect yourselves well.

To best reduce all of your risks and protect your health, that means either six months of latex barriers for any oral, vaginal and/or anal sex, six months of exclusivity, and a new round of tests for you both at the end of all that. If all results are negative and you've remained and gone back to being exclusive, then you could ditch barriers again with very reduced risks if that's something you want. If a sexual relationship with a third partner is ongoing, or this happens more than one time, that means barriers for all those things indefinitely, both with that other partner and with each other, alone. Some people choose not to do that, but I'd personally strongly encourage you to make your choices figuring -- and agreeing on -- the best health protections you can provide.

If you two don't already get regularly tested, to take the best care of your health, you'll each need to step up your game and start getting regularly tested for STIs, once a year and more often if new partners come into the picture. For some people, ongoing safer sex and testing is no big shakes at all, and what they already do, so it's not a major consideration. But for others who have already become fluid-bonded with someone or who aren't so hot on safer sex, it can be a major consideration. If you or your partners do not want to have to deal with extra sexual healthcare and barrier use, this may be a no-go on that merit alone.

You probably also want to have some serious discussions about unintended pregnancy with each other and the third party if anyone additional is going to be having vaginal intercourse besides just you and your boyfriend. Will additional contraception be used besides condoms? How would any of you feel about an unintended pregnancy happening because of this scenario?

So, about that other person. Maybe you've experienced that you're not just attracted to anyone, and that a person you're attracted to both physically and emotionally and also want to be sexual with isn't someone you probably meet every day. If you know what that's like, then you can grok that someone who is physically and emotionally attracted to you AND your boyfriend, and who also wants to have sex with you AND your boyfriend, and then who both you and your boyfriend want to have sex with is rarer still. Suffice it to say, a heterosexual person often isn't going to want to have sex with someone of the same gender, and a gay or lesbian person often doesn't tend to be too keen on being sexual with or in front of a person's partner who is a gender they're not attracted to in the first place. That slims the list down some more. A third partner isn't a unicorn, but it's someone that's probably going to be tough to find, especially if you don't do any socializing in polyamorous or sexuality communities. You two may also have many times where one of you is all-go with a potential partner, but it's a no-go for the other. It's sound to know that going in, not just to manage expectations, but also to be prepared that you may sometimes feel frustrated with each other because of that, which you'll need to work out.

What you should look for in that person, if you decide this is something you want to do, is largely individual and something you'll have to come to your own conclusions about. I don't know what you were looking for in a boyfriend that had you choose this one, so I can't know what you want in another partner. I don't know anything at all about what your boyfriend wants in a partner. But some basics can certainly be helpful. For instance, if you value your current relationship, you want another person who appreciates and respects its value, too. Sometimes people come into these scenarios as third parties because they already have romantic feelings for one or both of the people involved, and see it as an in to an ongoing relationship: if that's not something both of you want, you want to do what you can to screen for that. You certainly will want someone with the maturity to handle this, who you think is pretty trustworthy, and who already manages their own sexuality well. Someone who is super gung-ho on this idea and will talk sexay-sexay-sex but will not talk about the more serious kinds of things I've brought up here isn't likely a good choice. Keep your radar on for people who don't seem safe or like they have their own stuff together, who seem over-eager, or who just don't feel totally right to you. Trust your instincts, big time.

One last word on this (okay, way more than one)? You're 16. Wait -- don't make any assumptions about my saying that just yet. Humor me for a minute or twelve.

I don't think there is anything essentially wrong or right with someone your age having sex with more than one partner at a time, or being in a poly or open relationship. What's right or wrong for all of us in consensual sex and relationships, at every age, is diverse. However, I do know that these scenarios are typically challenging for people with far more life, relationship and sexual experience than you've probably got, people with more tools, resources and supports than you probably have. More people do tend to screw them up than do them well, including people who already knew all the things I'm telling you now going in and who are supposed to be older and wiser.

I feel confident saying most people your age have a lot of challenges managing just one partner at a time: that often tends to feel overwhelming all by itself. Managing more than one partner at a time, even in a limited context, asks way more of everyone involved than managing one. It takes more time, more patience, more honesty and more communication. Talking about the discussion points I suggested above may involve a level of discussion, honesty and communication you two haven't ever had before, or maybe aren't even at yet as a couple or as individuals. It also tends to take ace self-evaluation on everyone's part, and honesty with oneself, including the ability to want something, or find something exciting, but know if and when it's something that, however wanted, we or a partner just can't handle right now or in a given scenario.

There's also the larger social aspect of this to think about. Some young people living in the fishbowl that high school is are infamous for handling what they consider sexually unusual -- or sexual at all -- poorly, and for clearly never having looked the word "private" up in a dictionary. What you're thinking about doing is going to be something that will be the most provocative or interesting thing some folks have heard all year, and that's gossip gold. If word gets out, which it always might (especially if that third person isn't someone you know is trustworthy, or if they get their feelings hurt in some way), that could mean you, your boyfriend or the other person involved dealing with a lot of crap about it: from friends, not-friends, even teachers, parents or the Lifetime channel. I don't know what either of your sexual orientations are, but if neither of you are queer and out, at least one of you -- whoever is the same sex as the third party -- may have to deal with gossip and harassment about being queer. If one or both of you are queer, your orientation may be made public before you want to be, or feel ready to be, out. I don't know how you feel about being called or considered a slut, but that can happen, too. I'm beyond not okay with behavior like this, but it's real, happens often and it's good to account for in these choices.

I'll probably take a load of crap myself for answering your question at all, let alone saying anything but "This is for grownups only! Stay away!" or "This is not what upstanding people/people who love each other/good girls do!" The thing is, I made an informed decision to sign up for some of that crap in doing the work I do and saying the things I say, knowing I'd have to deal with bad fallout sometimes, especially from people who don't know me well, or who are very different than I am. I made my choice after first making sure I was up for that, and that it was worth it to me. I want to make sure you also make an informed choice about any ugly fallout you may have to deal with based on your choices.

I'd take some time to have a big think about if this is something you really want now, and that you feel you, your boyfriend and any other party could do possibly right now and have go as well for all of you, before, during and after, as I'm sure you want it to go. If you get through all this communication and groundwork together and still want to move forward, when you two know who that other potential partner is, you're going to have more information to work with and to make a judgment calls with. But for right now, this is only about fantasy, and I want to make sure you know that fantasy does tend to keep very well, and sometimes gets even richer when left to marinate.

If you decide that now isn't the time for this, for you, for your boyfriend, for your relationship, for any other person, that doesn't mean you have to decide that forever, or that something was wrong with you having this desire. Maybe it means you or anyone else involved just need a few more years, life experience, maturity or lower stakes first. Maybe this isn't the right relationship for this while another will be. Maybe a lot of what I said sounded like way more than you bargained for or want, so this turns out to be something you use as a fantasy in your head during masturbation or as a shared -- but not enacted -- fantasy in partnered sex and enjoy that way.

Or, maybe this is the right time and relationship for this, and everything I've said here sounds doable to you. If so, time to start talking together and see where those talks take you. I'll leave you with some extra links that might help in all of this as well as my best wishes, and my confidence that you'll make your own best choices:

written 20 Sep 2010 . updated 21 Sep 2010

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