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So, You’re Looking For a Third?

So, You’re Looking For a Third?

**For clarity, this article focuses on welcoming new partners into existing, established relationships between two or more people, regardless of gender, orientation, or what the relationship and/or sexual dynamics are. This is not to say I am only speaking of monogamous relationships, though this absolutely applies to monogamous couples. The concept of introducing a new person within an established multiple partner relationship is equally relevant to monogamous couples. Take what resonates for your unique relationship, and leave what dosn’t serve. 

The idea to introduce a third in the bedroom comes in all shapes and sizes. 

Like many aspects of sexuality, it’s one of those things that maybe gets joked about quite a bit, or talked around in our partnerships, but it’s often quite challenging to actually sit down and have a serious conversation about what it might look like to bring someone new into an established sexual and/or romantic relationship. 

Whether you’re in a long term relationship, a new relationship, or any other form of ongoing connection, the idea of adding another person to the mix can bring with it many different feelings and emotions.

It may sound exciting, thrilling even, to introduce someone else into your partnered sex life. You may feel curious, but hesitant. You may immediately notice fear or nervousness in your tummy or your chest, or perhaps a warmth or a playfulness arises throughout your body. 

Probably more common than having one distinct bodily reaction to the idea, is the experience of a cocktail of feelings happening at different places in your body all at once.

You may feel the joy and warmth of the security of your relationship, but a fear of the change that may come with opening things up to someone else. You may have someone in mind, and feel excitement toward that person, but nervousness for how your partner(s) may feel about them. You may feel tension or blockage around bringing your desire to introduce another person to your partner, while simultaneously feeling a lot of love and tenderness toward how things are between you as it stands. Perhaps your partner proposed it to you, and you’re feeling something like jealousy or frustration, while also maybe a little intrigued. 

If you’ve been in a long-term monogamous relationship, the idea of introducing another person may feel edgy and exciting, it may feel like a way of “spicing things up” in the bedroom if it’s always been the two of you. If you’re already practicing non-monogamy however, there is no less weight to the experience of introducing another person into an established connection. 

I want to take this opportunity right off the bat to remind us all that “the third” is a whole person, with complex feelings, emotions, and sexuality, just like you and your partner(s). A lot of the rhetoric around threesomes discounts the third person as a faceless, emotionless, nameless figure that gets used to “spice things up” for a couple and then never seen again. While “no strings” connections are more than fine if agreed and consented to by all parties, it is deeply important to respect the humanity and emotional wellbeing of the third if/when you are considering multiple partner dynamics of any kind. 

If you’re non-monogamous, you may have had more experience with having these conversations, setting boundaries, and navigating multiple partners, but the actual experience of bringing someone new into a previously established intimate space is always going to feel a bit clunky at first, because at its core it is welcoming change to a known and familiar space regardless of what the existing dynamic may be. It is stepping into the unknown, from the comfort of the known and the safe, opening your relationship up to uncharted territory, and no matter how much we try to prepare, there is simply no way of predicting how things will play out. 

Regardless of your relationship dynamic, if you’re finding yourself curious about how it would feel to introduce another person into an established relationship, whether it be for one night, or as an ongoing connection, or any secret third thing your hearts desire, it can be extremely useful to do some reflection, both alone and with your partner, prior to acting upon these curiosities and desires. 

Even if the entire experience isn’t planned and it does unfold somewhat spontaneously one evening, if you and your partner have taken the time to reflect and communicate about what this situation could look like; how you would maintain boundaries, check-ins, and navigate dynamics during and after together, going into things with this information and understanding of one another will greatly impact your ability to move through this new experience with less risk of anyone getting hurt. With communication, intention and care, multiple-partner and three-way dynamics can be extremely beautiful, rich, healing experiences. It’s just about setting up a framework of understanding and maintaining communication at all stages of the experience, to ensure that care and responsibility are present every step of the way. 

Thinking In Thirds

While it’s fun to envision the spontaneous way we’ve seen these scenarios play out in movies, where you and your partner meet someone, the “unicorn,” at a bar or online, and one thing leads to the next, and it’s all fun and sexy games, and when they leave you’re cool and unbothered and carry on stronger than ever, that isn’t always the case. 

It’s interesting to think of the media portrayals of threesomes actually. On one hand we see these play out in this carefree, easy going “free love” sort of way, and we romanticize this as an enactment of the “chill girl” that’s sexually free and down for anything, and we want so badly to have these wild, fun, thrilling experiences and stories to tell. Simultaneously however, threesomes are often quite scandalized in the media, coming with the message that it’s always going to be messy, someone’s always going to get hurt, and it’s always a reckless and rocky road to go down. 

I’m thinking here of the third season of Gossip Girl, when the threesome between Dan, Vanessa and Olivia happens, and inevitably, relationships fall apart, people get hurt, and everything ends up in chaos because the way the male looked at one of the women meant there were unexpressed feelings there, which lead to jealousy between women, and ultimately, heartbreak. Other characters in the episode claim “the other person always has to be a stranger” to avoid these confusing situations, insinuating that if the other person is a stranger they can just disappear back into the abyss and everyone can carry on as though nothing happened because the couple isn’t accountable to this other person having any emotions or receiving any aftercare. 

The media is always an extremely messy place to seek guidance on relationships and sexuality, and yet this is still one of the first things that comes to my mind while I write, because it was the first time my adolescent self was ever exposed to such a thing. 

Learning about sexuality from the media is somewhat inevitable in a world where sex education stops at putting a condom on a banana, so we can’t blame ourselves for having confusing, conflicting feelings about what we’ve seen and how these images interweave with our desires. Of course it’s going to linger, and of course this Gossip Girl episode had an effect on how I initially felt about threesomes as an adult. If we take a second to reflect, I’m sure we can all think of a media portrayal of a threesome that went horribly wrong. It’s an edgy and alluring, and for many people, unknown and fascinating, plotpoint to a story, and it’s often riddled with both misogynistic, male-gazey hetero-hypersexualization, and stigma. 

The media tells us that cool girls have threesomes and that threesomes are every guy’s fantasy, as long as it’s with another woman because another male would be too gay, and then there’s either terrible emotional chaos that ensues because women can’t have casual sex without catching feelings or getting jealous, or, if the girls are chill (because it’s never the guy that gets the feels) everyone carries on like nothing happened and it was just a fun night that we can all laugh about. 

The reality is that these things most often sit somewhere on the outskirts of these narratives, due to identities of the people involved, the dynamics or situation that prompted the experience, how the experience played out, and what the agreement, or lack thereof, was going into the experience and how it is upheld after the physical things come to an end. 

There are endless factors that influence both how we come into, and leave from, threesomes, and while it may not be realistic, or even possible, to have everything planned prior, there are things we can do that can support the journey no matter how it looks. 

Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t always going to be smooth and sexy all the way through, it might not be smooth or sexy at all. Emotions might differ for all parties involved, and there is really no way to predict the aftermath. 

I’ve compiled a bit of a guide below, from the initial curiosity, to the introduction, to the aftercare, so you can exhale a little into the messiness and confusion of the process while also setting yourself up with some tools with which to move forward feeling a bit more prepared. 

It’s going to be clunky because it’s new, and that’s okay! All we can do is our best, and honestly, we never truly know how things are going to feel until we’ve experienced them. There is no fool-proof way to prepare yourself for introducing a third, so try to have some compassion for yourself and your partner(s), as you embark on this journey. 

What Does It Mean?

Probably the best place to start if you’re considering looking for a third person to bring into your relationship, is to consider what exactly this means to you. 

As mentioned, we all have preconceived ideas around what “a third” actually means in the context of established relationships, so it is very likely that we all may have different expectations and desires linked to the idea in the first place. 

If you’ve found yourself curious about this idea of bringing a third person into an established relationship, you may find it useful to take some time to sit and ask yourself:

Why do I want to bring someone else into our relationship? What feelings arise in my body when I think of this dynamic?

What would the nature of our relationship to them be? Would I want something romantic? Intimate? Purely sexual? Platonic Intimacy? What would be the “right distance” for me?

What am I hoping to get out of sharing our relational/sexual space with another person?

Would I prefer an ongoing connection, or a one-night-stand with this other person?

Do I have someone in mind? Am I fantasizing about someone in particular, or am I more so inspired by the idea itself?

What parts of this experience excite me, and which parts do I feel tension/discomfort/nervousness/fear around?

What have I been told about threesomes, and how has this shaped my expectations?

Through the process of getting clear on why you’re personally interested in looking for a third, what feelings and images are connected to this idea for you, and what sort of dynamic you’re looking for, the next item on the agenda would be to bring these findings to your partner(s) to have a chat and get clear on where you both stand in relation to multiple partner dynamics. 

There will likely be differences, and similarities, in your answers. Both are absolutely okay, that’s why we’re talking and feeling it out together. 

All Jokes Aside

While it may be something you’ve touched on in a joking matter in the past, or not, if you’re feeling quite serious about your curiosity toward bringing in a third, I hate to break it to you but you’re going to have to talk about it with your partner. 

We can’t just make some joking comments here and there and call that our chat and then fling ourselves into the public. Quite frankly, that’s reckless and irresponsible. 

Intentionally changing your relationship dynamic is quite a tender, emotional topic of conversation, and the communication around it requires all the attention, intention, and tenderness that you would bring to the experience itself. 

If you’ve never discussed how it would look to bring someone else into your relationship before, it may feel completely foreign to discuss such things.

The way I’ve found works best for me to ask the tough, or sticky questions, is literally to just ask directly. 

If you find yourself and your partner with some relaxed time together, it might be somewhat of a rip the band-aid situation to just ask the question; So, have you ever thought of what it would be like for us to introduce a third? and plunge right in. You may be met with some confusion or shock, and I find it most useful to remain soft in your tone and intention if your partner(s) don’t meet you for this conversation right away: 

I’ve just been thinking about how it would feel, and I felt now might be a good time to open the conversation. 

I know this may feel surprising, but I just felt I had to share what’s been on my mind. 

There’s no rush to respond, take your time. I will be here when you’re ready to explore this together. 

I felt I would never bring it up if I didn’t just ask, but there’s no pressure to respond right away. 

If the directness of coming right out with it feels less accessible for you, you can absolutely go for something a little more conversational to open up the floor; 

Have you ever had multiple partners? 

If you could choose any celebrity for us to have a threesome with, who would you choose?

Have you ever watched porn with multiple people involved?

What’s your relationship to monogamy/non-monogamy?

Do other forms of relationship dynamics interest you? 

Again, if this is the first time you’re bringing something of this nature up with your partner, you’ll most likely be met with a bit of shock and/or resistance. Try not to take this immediate shock as rejection. If it’s brand new to be having discussions of this kind then it may take some patience and massaging to get to a more flowy conversational place. Give them some time and space to reflect on what you’ve asked and let them reflect as you have. 

When they’re ready to come back to the conversation, hear their perspective with an open mind. Ask questions and get curious about their responses, their past experiences, and how they currently feel about introducing others to your relationship, or the idea of a threesome in general. 

Interestingly, many monogamous couples view “having a threesome” as somewhat of a bypassing of the monogamous structure they’re in, like it doesn’t count as opening their relationship if it’s just a bit of fun one night. When the connection becomes ongoing is where things usually get confused within this thinking framework. 

For the sake of this article, I won’t get too much into the politics behind stigmatized and hierarchical relationship structures and non-monogamy. I will say however, that by definition, having a threesome means you are no longer in a monogamous relationship. You can very well have been monogamous prior to having a third person join you, and you most definitely can return to monogamy at any time, but this idea that a threesome “doesn’t count” removes recognition of the humanity of the third person, literally says they “don’t count” as another person in your relationship contract, and can lead to harmful behaviors during intimacy. It is crucial to check-in with the more fundamental thinking around things because it allows us to dive deeper into the conversation, and ultimately formulate an agreement or understanding of how to keep the whole thing within your boundaries as a partnership. 

What’s The Protocol?

There is no “right way” to introduce a third, there’s only a “right way” for you and your partner(s). 

To learn what this is, the next step is to discuss how you may move forward together. Somewhat of an agreement should be formulated, and the respect and upholding of this agreement is essential to ensuring things move forward in a consensual manner. 

Because of the way the relationship dynamic changes, or has the potential to change, when a third is introduced, it is important to get on the same page with your partner about how this will look in your unique dynamic. 

Once you’ve both had some time to reflect on the subject on your own, bring your thoughts and findings together, compare notes, and notice where things align and where your perceptions differ. Get cozy, and make an evening of it!

Some further questions to ask one another:

How will this look for us? What feels exciting/scary/manageable/threatening/safe/sustainable?

What is the right distance for us to have collectively from this other person?

What are some boundaries around communication and intimacy we’d both like to put in place?

How will we maintain communication during a multiple partner sexual experience? Can we come up with a safe word, a gesture, or another way of checking in with one another?

Will we actively seek another together, or will we simply move forward with openness and wait until the opportunity presents?

If we are actively seeking, how will we find this other person? Will we use dating apps, or do we have someone we know in mind? How do we ensure alignment between us as we open ourselves up to seeking?

How will we navigate feelings of jealousy/discomfort should they arise? How can we comfort and reassure one another as our dynamic changes?

How will we provide after-care for one another?

These questions should support your creation of the agreement, and from here you can move forth as you have discussed, however that looks to you. 

Intentional Uncertainty

So, you’ve done your reflection, you’ve had ample conversations, you’ve agreed on a sort of guide for how things might happen, and you’re ready to venture out into the world to put your desires to action. But how do we ensure it all goes according to plan?

As previously mentioned, we can’t. 

By nature, this experience involves another whole human, so there is no way for us to control the experience if this other person isn’t aware of the dynamics and boundaries you and your partner(s) have agreed upon. 

It’s important to be upfront with the other person, even if this up-front-ness looks like “hey we don’t know where this will go, but here are some things we’ve discussed, some things we’re open to, and some things we’re still working out.

I am absolutely not saying you have to have it all figured out, this really isn’t often possible. You’ve never been in a relationship with this new person before, so you can’t ever fully control how it all plays out. What’s important then, is getting clear on what you can control along the way, communicating as you go, and having intentional ways of checking in with all parties, so everything remains above the surface. 

Ensure that everyone is on the same page, whether it be for one night, or for an ongoing, undetermined amount of time. If you and your original partner(s) have previously agreed upon ways of checking in during the process, prioritize the maintenance of this practice. And ensure that you’ve established a way of checking in with the new partner as well, so everyone has space to use their voice and hold agency in their experience. 

Some questions to ask your new partner:

How can we provide a safe space for you?

What/where are your boundaries, and how can we best respect them?

What are some words/names you’d like us to use for you? What doesn’t feel right for you?

What are you desiring from this experience?

How can we check-in with you along the way?

How do you best communicate? 

What are some ways we can provide after-care?

Fear lives in the unknown and the out of control. We’re human, it’s okay. 

In the knowing that we can never control everything, if we can get clear on the things we can control, we can often find a bit more groundedness in the overall experience when things start to feel a bit slippery. 

We can’t control or predict how we’ll feel about an experience before it’s happened, but if we have tools for how we’ll communicate what we’re feeling along the way, we can stay within our means, our window of tolerance, a bit more effectively. 

After-Care

Like the stretching portion of a work-out, this part often gets skipped. We’ve done the exciting thing, so we want to ride that high back out into the world while the oxytocin and adrenaline is still coursing through our veins. 

Like stretching, it is actually crucial to the wellbeing of the body and relationship to stick around for aftercare, however this looks for you. After-care should include all parties in some way, though after-care for each person can look different. 

Ideally, how aftercare will look would have been 

Some ways to provide after-care:

Cuddling all together after a sexual experience.

Making tea and/or food together to enjoy as our bodies come down. 

“How was that for you?” and other check-in based questions reflecting on the experience. 

“How are your feeling now?” and other questions that uplift the current emotional experience in the aftermath. 

Going for a walk.

Watching a TV show or movie together.

Showering/bathing together. 

Doing something creative together. 

Checking in either in person or over text/phone calls in the days following.

It will also be important to recall the communication boundaries set in the prior agreement regarding how contact will look with the new partner following the experience. 

Will you continue to communicate with this person? Who will communicate? Did you decide not to remain in contact? What will be the nature of your communication? How can you respect this agreement and still provide after-care? Does this agreement still resonate, or do we need to re-evaluate things? 

Ultimately, the bottom line is that communication is key in all stages of the arrangement, as this will keep everything above surface and consensual. Emotions can be unpredictable and confusing and difficult to control, so rather than trying to control all aspects of our experience, it can be most useful to get clear on what we can and can’t control and move forward with intention and care. 

Stay connected, stay communicative, check in with yourself and your partners along the way, and surrender to the messy, confusing, non-linear, clunky, beautiful experience as it unfolds in your unique way. 

 

About the writer

Taylor Neal

(she/they) A Canadian multi-disciplinary artist, writer, yoga instructor and sex worker's advocacy support worker, Taylor strives to dive deeply into the endless complexity that is raw, authentic human experience. They are committed to an ongoing exploration of intimacy, sexuality, and how humans can foster loving relationships with their bodies, and they strive to offer this space with their teachings, art and writing. Practically, Taylor combines their background in dance and performance, their passion for the written word, and their curiosity within contemporary visual art and photography, with their studies in Communications, Art History, Feminist Theory, Design for Theatre and Fashion Design. Their cumulative work and practice comes together as a holistic exploration of identity, movement, sexuality, and how the embodied subject navigates space and the natural world. To connect with Taylor, you may find them at their website taylorneal.ca, on Instagram @nzzltea, or through their podcast, Full Bloom Pod, on Apple Music and Spotify.

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