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COULD YOU HAVE AN ETHICAL THREESOME?

Committed couples explain what group sex means to them

22.10.2020

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'Have sex’ is often lower down the to-do list than ‘buy bin liners’ in long term relationships. But for couples serious about improving their intimacy and communication, ‘ethical non monogamy’ is a cheaper alternative to couple’s counselling. Having a ‘conscious’ threesome – that is, talking about it together not just hitting a bar and hoping for the best – forces you to share your deepest desires, ask questions of each other and negotiate something that will work for you both. Like therapy, it brings a new perspective, albeit one with a ‘happy ending’ and stops both partners falling into the lazy comfort of familiarity, in which conversations about sexual needs often only happen if one of you has an affair.

According to analysis by public opinion consultancy Deltapoll half (44%) of British adults, including nearly a third (31%) of women, have fantasised about some form of group sex. But just over one in eight British adults (12%) has actually had some form of group sex. Male-female-female threesomes being the most common choice on 7%.

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Yes, even before Covid, out were suburban swingers parties, car keys in bowls, and in are easy to use, well-designed and cool apps such as feeld, a digital space for ‘open expression of one's desires and for safe exploration of alternative relationship structures’, leading ultimately to the kind of real world hook-ups people like 37-year-old Alice and her banker boyfriend Nial, who have been together 18 months, are looking for. ‘Some people just feel more satisfied, more free and able to be themselves, and more emotionally faithful, if they can have threesomes with their partner,’ says Alice.

For Alice, it’s been important to, ‘lay down some boundaries and ask lots of questions of each other, such as, if we all like this, where do we go from there?’ She says, ‘It just feels more responsible to think around the subject a bit more rather than say “let’s all get smashed and have sex”’. ‘Ethical’ threesomes are the opposite of reckless and, instead, meticulously stage managed. ‘Time is always an issue with this sort of thing’ says Jon, a 37-year-old structural engineer and a regular user of the app feeld with his 36-year-old wife Emma, who works at a hospital. ‘It’s hard enough managing two schedules, then you start getting three schedules and even four. Finding the time to do these ‘activities’, gets complicated.’

Feeld currently has 350,000 monthly active users globally. It was started by Dimo Trifonov, who was interested in exploring options for group sex with his girlfriend but found ‘people in conventional dating apps were confused or dismissive, and swinger websites were too much for us’. So he started his own app. You can search by a dizzying array of genders and sexual preferences (from heteroflexible to pansexual) and pair your account with a partner’s.

Emma, who is bisexual and initiated the idea of threesomes (and foursomes) with her husband Jon to satiate her attraction to women, says after they find a couple or single woman (otherwise known as a ‘unicorn’ because they are so rare) up for joining them, by searching through profiles on the app, the next stage is to have a phone call: ‘So many people are unsure if they want to do it at all, and chatting about it is enough.’

Dr Ryan Scoats PhD specialises in the sociology of gender, sexuality, and sexual behaviour and is the author of Understanding Threesomes. He warns that the other person or people in an open dynamic can be considered ‘somewhat an object to be enjoyed to spice up a relationship. Their feelings as an individual and their enjoyment is maybe quite secondary.’

Thinking carefully about the way, as a couple, you are treating this other person or the other people entering your sexual relationship is encouraged by the feeld app. On its blog, an article about ‘ethical non monogamy’ posits that this means: ‘being mindful of your sexual or romantic partners’ needs alongside your own and, accordingly, treating them with respect and honesty.’

And it can be awkward, Jon and Emma tell me, when they hook-up with another couple ‘there can be a huge disparity in the attractiveness of couples. Sometimes it’s like, really hot women with, I assume, wealthy men’. Jon doesn’t have sex with the man, ‘oh no, it’s more of a locker room vibe with him’, he explains. But Emma will, as she puts it ‘try to take one for the team’ if the guy isn’t her type. ‘So much work goes in to meeting up, I think fuck it, we’re here already. I’ll just do it.’ As for the effect these kinds of experiences can have on a marriage or long-term relationship, Dr Scoats suggests that whether it is ultimately positive or negative ‘goes back a to the kinds of discussions which had happened before. Then talking about it afterwards and saying what someone didn’t enjoy and working through that is a really positive factor.'

Emma and Jon tell me there’s a ‘taboo allure’ to having threesomes but that it has only strengthened their relationship: ‘We are partners in crime,' says Emma. But I can’t help wondering if it’s really worth it? What with the scheduling, the effort of finding an appropriate partner, factoring in their feelings and boundaries as well as yours and your primary partner’s. Not to mention the risk that one of you will grow more attached to the third person. You have to be prepared to put in the work to make it happen ‘ethically’ and to handle the complicated emotions and nuanced sexual dynamics it brings up.

Perhaps Bill Withers was really on to something: ‘Just the two of us… We can make it if we try’.

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