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Reality Sex : Why Are So Many Couples Having Threesomes?

"It's a fantasy we've both had for a while."

Harriet*, a 24-year-old actress who has been with her boyfriend for four years, recently decided to have a threesome.

While she says the two have always had a great sex life, this is the first time they've moved beyond just talking about bringing in a new partner. "His previous partner wasn't into it, and both of us are still pretty daunted by the idea of actually making it happen," she says. "But we're committed to figuring it out."

In the past few decades, threesomes have moved from dirty taboo to wild fantasy (commonly considered a male-driven one) to a fun diversion for committed couples. Now they're just another option on life's sexual smorgasbord—for couples, sure, but also for women interested in experiencing sex with more than one other person.

Reality Sex : Why Are So Many Couples Having Threesomes?

As cultural attitudes toward sex, sexual identity, and relationships change, three-ways are less "something you saw in porn" and more "something you talk about at brunch." "Threesomes are becoming more mainstream as a topic," says cultural anthropologist Katherine Frank, PhD, author of Plays Well in Groups: A Journey Through the World of Group Sex. "There's stuff on TV now that would have been considered porn a few decades ago."

House of Cards, on Netflix, made waves last year when Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) and her husband, Francis (Kevin Spacey), seduced a handsome young Secret Service agent. (Threesomes used to be typically portrayed as two women and a guy, but the taboos around two guys and a woman are falling away.) On Broad City, Ilana's been gunning so hard for a threesome with best friend Abbi that we'll almost feel bad for her if the series ends without it happening. Celebs as disparate as Lady Gaga, Brody Jenner, and T-Pain have all copped to three-ways. If it's possible to (a) ask Martha Stewart if she's had a threesome and (b) have her coyly reply "maybe," we may have truly reached Peak Threesome.

But what about IRL? How often is the average lady enjoying a ménage? In 2014, 20 percent of women said they'd had a threesome, up from 10 percent in 2012, according to a survey by sex toy company Lelo. An informal survey in the alt weekly Miami New Times found 43 percent of readers said they'd had at least one threesome. And threesomes are common as a fantasy. Next to lesbian, threesome is the most popular search term for women looking for porn online, according to 2014 analytics from Pornhub, one of the world's largest such sites, which also found that the threesome category is 75 percent more likely to be searched by a woman than by a man.

Evolving attitudes about threesomes seem to be partly generational. A 2014 Pew survey showed that millennials display one of the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation of any generation in the past 25 years. Another thing they're disaffiliating from is binary ideas of gender and sexuality. The pop-culture poster child for this way of thinking, Miley Cyrus, recently identified herself as sexually fluid, saying she is "literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn't involve an animal and everyone is of age."

Something millennials are still invested in, however, is a committed relationship. Eighty-four percent of millennials are either married or want to get married, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. Harriet explains how these factors play out in her relationship: "We're in this for the long haul, and we understand that to keep things fresh, we're going to want to experiment from time to time." The threesome as relationship rejuvenator is a common stereotype—one that Frank says holds some validity. "A threesome won't fix something that's deeply broken in a relationship, but if you have a strong bond and want to explore together, it can be really positive," she says.

But how do you make one happen? Farrah, a 34-year-old married advertising executive who has had several threesomes in her current and past relationships, says she and her husband have found partners by "focusing on the more sexually adventurous people in and around our social circle. So when I'm around ladies I'm attracted to who I know are part of those circles, I pay attention to whether they're hugging me longer, making eye contact. If they are, I move the conversation in that direction." Try inviting her to do something sexy and date-like, such as meeting up with you and your guy at a dark wine bar, Farrah suggests, and then if it goes well, consider saying something like "You know, we both kind of have a crush on you.…"

Sites like AdultFriendFinder or apps like 3nder, a Tinder-like app designed to hook up couples and singles, are options that can help people get over some of the initial awkwardness of arranging a three-person sex date, says Frank. "Being able to negotiate everyone's terms over an app or e-mail lets everyone be clear about their boundaries from the start," she says, "which makes for a more positive experience."

Once you do find a third person, there's often an emotional layer to multipartner sex, says Frank. "Jealousy or insecurity needs to be worked through."

Farrah agrees. "It takes a certain level of self-esteem and security to have a threesome with a man and another woman," she says. "In some of my experiences, a little voice in my brain would be going: He probably likes her better. She is skinnier and prettier and has more orgasms." Her advice for newbies? "Acknowledge the insecurity and consciously decide to let it go so you can focus on the things that you find sexy about the experience—the way she's moaning, the way he smells, the way their hands feel running up your body at the same time." Interestingly, that insecure voice never appeared during Farrah's threesomes with two men, "because even when the two of them were playing with each other, my brain would be too busy going: OMG-so-hot! OMG-so-hot!"

Talking about your fears, expectations, and boundaries with everyone involved is key to a good experience. Farrah learned that lesson the hard way. After having a threesome with her then-boyfriend and a female friend-with-benefits, she woke up before they did the next morning and went out to grab everyone breakfast. "I hurried back, concerned that they'd be worried because my phone was dead, only to find them going at it in my bed…without me. I was devastated," says Farrah. "I thought we'd had an unspoken agreement that he wouldn't hook up with anyone without me. I felt so betrayed." Which brings up the point: Threesomes rarely work when your partner is more invested in his sexual needs than your emotional needs. When Farrah and her now-husband began exploring the idea of a threesome with another woman, "I was honest with him about my fears and insecurities. I spelled everything out this time and told my husband and our lover that I wasn't comfortable with their being physical together if I was farther away than the bathroom."

Kay, a 31-year-old musician in a nonmonogamous relationship, who jokes that she's had "more threesomes than regular sex," says a common mistake for threesome novices is thinking everyone needs to be doing something at all times to feel included. "Some of the hottest moments in a threesome can be when you're watching two hot people enjoy each other," she says, adding that it's important to think about why you're having the threesome in the first place. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to do. If it's more to fulfill a fantasy for someone else, that can be okay too, but only if you're with someone who wants to fulfill your fantasies in return." Other mistakes include forgetting to practice safe sex ("switch condoms if you're switching partners") or worrying too much about what a threesome means. "If you happen to figure out a new realm of your sexuality, that's great, but there's no need to worry that a threesome says anything about who you are or that bringing another man into your bed will make your boyfriend gay."

As for Harriet, she and her boyfriend are still looking for the right partner for their first three-way. "I'm excited and nervous," she says. "After being with one person for four years, the idea of a new man or woman is both really sexy and really intimidating. It feels like my first time all over again."

* Names have been changed

This article was originally published as "The Evolution of the Threesome" in the October 2015 issue of Cosmopolitan.


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