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July 1, 2021

Threesomes: Who, What, Why & How?

SEX WIITH DR JESS PODCAST Episode 220

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Most people fantasize about threesomes, but not many people actually dive in. In part I of our Threesomes podcast, we dive into the data and get some practical advice from Justin Lehmiller who answers your questions including:

  • How common are threesomes?
  • What counts as a threesome?
  • How does a threesome affect relationships for couples?
  • Who is having threesomes?
  • How do people find threesomes (e.g. through apps like Feeld)?
  • What’s the appeal of threesomes?

Next week, we’ll dive into how to prep for a threesome with prompts, conversations and more!

Justin Lehmiller the Scientific Advisor to Feeld, and host of the Sex and Psychology Blog and Podcast. To stay up to date with The Kinsey Institute research fellow, follow his Instagram and Twitter!

Feeld is the first dating app for couples and singles. They’re a pioneer in allowing couples to explore dating together as a pair — from ethical non-monogamy to alternative relationships and everything in between. Feeld is for everyone from the experienced to the curious.

If you’ve got questions for the podcast, submit them here.

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Rough Transcript:

This is a computer-generated rough transcript, so please excuse any typos. This podcast is an informational conversation and is not a substitute for medical, health or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the services of an appropriate professional should you have individual questions or concerns.

EPISODE 220: Threesomes: Who, What, Why & How?

 (00:05):

You’re listening to the Sex with Dr. Jess podcast. Sex and relationship advice you can use tonight.

Brandon (00:15):

Welcome to the Sex With Dr. Jess podcast. I’m your co host Brandon Ware here with my lovely other half, Dr. Jess.

Dr. Jess (00:22):

Hey, hey. We are talking threesomes today. And it fits that today’s episode is brought to you by Feeld. And Feeld is the first dating app for couples and singles, they’re a pioneer in allowing couples to kind of explore dating together as a pair. And they’re open to all genders, all sexual identities, all sexual orientations, basically for anyone who’s interested in either ethical non monogamy or alternative relationships structures, or simply those who are curious and looking to kind of dip their toe into the pond so do check them out. And you can download the Feeld app, it’s free, and you create a profile and once you have liked someone and they’ve liked you back on the app, you become connections and you’re able to chat. And if you want to you can share photos and they also often offer an upgraded membership option with extra features and yeah, so do check out Feeld. They’re one of the largest online communities for fun stuff like this. And it’s interesting, I actually came across Feeld in my research a few years ago, when I was prepping a training for therapists on threesomes and ethical non monogamy. And they really are the perfect partner for this podcast, because we’re talking about threesomes. And of course there are people on Feeld looking for threesomes.

And later, we’re going to be talking with their expert Dr Justin Lehmiller, but before he joins us, I wanted to kind of dig into some of the data on threesomes. And later on, I also wanna talk if we have time about how to prepare for a three some, like in terms of communication and reflection and just topics to address before you start exploring. I don’t know how much time we’ll have. I might have to split it into a couple episodes, but we will get there. It’s interesting because when you think about threesomes, don’t you think porn has kind of made threesomes seem like the norm? Everybody’s doing them.

Brandon (02:15):

When I think about threesomes, that’s exactly what I go to. I think about boom – somebody shows up, and then all the sudden, like the the mayhem begins.

Dr. Jess (02:24):

Yeah, people with long nails, are sticking them in all the holes they can find. And of course the reality is, that although most people fantasize about a threesome at some point in time, most people are not actually having them. And when you look at the data, some of it actually doesn’t align. So there’s not a wealth of data in this area, but there’s a study by Thompson and Byers, I think it was from 2017 if I recall correctly. They were looking at young people, young heterosexual people, it was a convenience sample, so not necessarily representative. And what they found was that sixty four percent are interested in having a threesome. So eighty two percent of men, thirty one percent of women. And of course the research unfortunately only looked at the binary, but that sixty four percent interest only translates into twenty four percent in men saying they’ve had threesome and eight percent of women say they’ve had one. So the split for men, eighteen percent say they’ve had FFM, so woman, woman, man. Eight percent of men say they’ve had an MMF. Of the women who say they’ve had a threesome, seven percent say they’ve had two women and a guy, five percent say they’ve had two guys and a woman. Just something doesn’t align here right? If eighteen percent of men have been with two women, shouldn’t more than seven percent of women have also reported having an FFM threesome? Maybe I’ll ask Dr. Lehmiller about this. And then there was another study that was nationally representative, so this was a probability sample, and they found that the interest in engaging in a threesome — so interest is different than fantasy right? You can have the fantasy but you don’t actually want to do it — the interest for men was 31.4 percent and for women it was 11.1. The experience for men, so about eighteen percent, have had a threesome, and about ten percent of women had had a threesome. And this was a a broader age range, but I want to note that among younger women, so twenty five to twenty nine, 18 percent had said that they’ve had one. So we got some prevalence. I thought I’d just kind of start with that. In case people are curious. I also wanted to talk a little bit briefly about the reasons why people want to have threesomes, and they’re so highly varied right?

So number one, I do think that there is pressure or the shaping of norms because of porn right, like it just seems like that’s what you do when you have sex. Other people say that they want it because they want that, and the worship, and to be physically overwhelmed. For some people I hear they want it because it’s exciting, it’s risky, it’s novel. Some people wanna do it for the power right, for the validation to know that they can. And I find that with my clients so often, because of the demographic I work with, like so many people who are A type and you know, feel successful, along the lines of our sociocultural norms of success, and so they want to also have done this to say they have, to kind of check the box. And that’s an interesting one, because oftentimes when it’s just to check box they don’t enjoy it as much, it’s just like this really hot thing, that they think is going to be hot, but in reality it’s just kind of another sexual experience that can be hot or may not be that hot. Interestingly I hear from people who wanna do it in service to their partner, so not because they feel pressure from a partner, not because they feel they need to do it to preserve the relationship, because they’re like “my partner wants to do this, and I don’t mind doing it. I’m kind of indifferent. I’m neutral,” and in some of those cases, what’s so interesting, is that sometimes the partner who goes in neutral ends up enjoying it more. So that’s an interesting dynamic to discuss. And then finally there are of course cases where people are having threesomes to safeguard the self, to preserve the relationship, in maybe not such a positive way where it’s like, “my partner really wants to do this. They’re pressuring me to do it.” And they kind of get lead to water, and its maybe not something that they wanted to do in the first place and oftentimes, you know that doesn’t work out. A big question I get about threesomes, is whom to have a threesome with? So if we were to have a threesome, like who would you want it to be with? Someone you know, an acquaintance, someone not, like someone we pay, someone like, what would be your preference?

Brandon (06:16):

Putting me on the spot, ’cause you’re looking over at me. I think the idea of doing it with a friend or somebody that you know, to me just adds more pressure. Because you’re probably going to see that person again, and if the experience isn’t what every single person wanted it to be, I think it would be a bit of an awkward situation. So right now, I think it makes the most sense to pay a sex worker to engage in this fantasy, I think the first time, that makes the most sense to me. Do you feel the same?

Dr. Jess (06:45):

Yeah I kind of, I like the idea that there isn’t the same pressure that you know, you don’t have to see each other over and over again. It’s interesting, because some of the research shows that men actually prefer friends and acquaintances. And women, and it depends on whether they are having a threesome, as part of a couple, or if they are a third party joining a couple, so the research shows that if women are part of a couple, and they’re going to have a third join them, they want a stranger. And what I’ve heard from some people is that they see it as less of a threat to the relationship, and the same thing that you just described to reduce the awkwardness. And then if the woman however is the third party joining either a couple or two others, they are more interested in friends and acquaintances. So I think it maybe varies on your role within the threesome.

Brandon (07:31:):

I’m just thinking about what you said. And I wonder for in heterosexual relationships, if it’s a male, male, female, situation, if the male would want an outside person. So there, I mean there’s just a lot to dissect here. And I wonder how men feel in that situation, versus having an acquaintance that they know that’s a female. If you’re having a MMF.

Dr. Jess (07:52):

So you’re saying that the men who are saying they want friends and acquaintances are more likely wanting an MFF, like they’re thinking about two women. And you’re thinking that it might be different if they were joining two men and a woman?

Brandon (08:03):

Correct yes, yeah.

Dr. Jess (08:05):

I didn’t think about that. That’s interesting because so much of what we believe about threesomes is written along these heterosexual scripts and even the data that I’m able to pull, is from research with heterosexual folks or people who identify as heterosexual. So yeah I think it would vary. I think even for queer people, it’s different like for me, the gender just doesn’t matter, like I wouldn’t be thinking, “Oh I want it in this way.” I can enjoy, when I think about in my head, a scenario with all different types of arrangements.

Brandon (08:34):

I think some of the people that that we know, I just wonder if the men in the couple would be comfortable if it was their friend coming in and having sex, that third person in the relationship versus them fantasizing about somebody else’s you know, a female partner, like a friend.

Dr. Jess (08:51):

It’s interesting because I just talked to a guy, so his partner is a woman and they had a threesome and he arranged it for her, and it was a friend of his. And so he like you know worked her all up and tied her up and there was this whole kind of story to it, where he got her riled up and then he left and then when he came home she was kind of waiting for him. And he blindfolded her, and they’d already talked about it, and he kind of had his friend sneak in to surprise her. And so this isn’t something that he just surprised her with without consent, like it’s something they had discussed, but he brought in a friend. So I think it’s just you know, varies from person to person.

Brandon (09:24):

I think that’s awesome. That must have been, I mean I wonder how the person, how his partner responded, when they found out that was a person that they’d been fantasizing about.

Dr. Jess (09:34):

Oh he didn’t say that they had specifically been fantasizing about this guy, it’s just that it’s who he was able to arrange. I guess like sometimes it’s a matter of, and I’m not saying that’s the case in this person’s scenario, but sometimes it’s a matter of availability and accessibility

Brandon (09:49):

When schedule permits.

Dr. Jess (09:50):

Right? Exactly, and who’s comfortable with it. I know the other thing that people ask about is you know, is a threesome going to ruin the relationship? And so there is some data on this, so there was a study by Morris, Chang and Knox, again, a small convenience, young sample. It was of one hundred and ninety six undergraduates, so that gets us some context as to their age and probably you know the longevity of their relationship to date. And fifteen percent of them had a threesome and about half of them, forty eight percent, said that threesomes kind of had no effect on their relationships, seventeen percent said they felt closer after the threesome, and twenty one percent reported a negative outcome. And so, this is a tiny little sample. I mean I have to say, I’ve spoken to hundreds and hundreds, probably more than a thousand, probably could be in the thousands, I’m not sure, of couples who have had threesomes. Just because I work in groups, I’m not a one on one person here.

Sometimes you know you hear a dozen stories a day. And what I would say is that I think the planning affects the outcome. So if you’ve kind of led up to this, and really talked about it —  I admit I’m speaking more to the couple’s than the singles although I’ve spoken to many singles as well, but not nearly as many as I have couples — I would say, and I can’t give you data because this is just anecdote, that they’re mostly positive reports. Like people have a good time. There’s a good chunk of neutral reports where they’re like “okay that was fine, whatever, I mean it was sex, so that’s good.” I hear some significant reports of letdown, so not disaster but just let down. Like, “oh I thought it would be hotter,” or “this was awkward,” or “I thought it was going to be like this, but all I had someone else’s foot in my mouth and that’s not what I was going for.” I was also thinking that you could never sneak a second or third person in with me, because I’d smell them. I smell everything.

Brandon (11:29):

Yeah that’s true, you’ve got a wonderful sense of smell.

Dr. Jess (11:32):

I don’t know if it’s wonderful, it’s debilitating. I can smell everything. Like even if we’re on a hike and we’re near someone, I’m like “I can’t walk near them I can smell them”

Brandon (11:38):

Seriously, somebody walked by the other day, we’re out for a walk, and you’re like, “I can smell that person.”

Dr. Jess (11:43):

It’s not even that they smell bad, I just have a really sensitive sense of smell. And I’m sure they don’t smell bad at all, so I don’t want to like make other people self conscious. I just have a very sensitive sense of smell. Anyhow back to what I’ve seen. I haven’t seen a ton of significant adverse consequences for people in these threesomes. The times that I’ve heard about adverse consequences is when they don’t plan it, when they stumble into it. It’s when honestly, they’re drinking and something happens. It’s when not all three parties are equally on board. And I’m not saying that you have to have an equal interest, but if there’s any pressure, if there’s hesitation and then somebody pushes through, sometimes you know that can be upsetting. I do hear more adverse consequences from singles than I do from couples, and I wonder if it’s because the couples have spoken to each other more in advance and really played out scenarios and talked about what they’ll do if they feel uncomfortable or jealous or insecure or surprised by a reaction.

With couples, I hear that it kinda gets them more excited for each other right, because it’s something new they’ve done together, sort of that formula for passion, where there’s trust and risk and they make it through. From singles, I hear that the greatest benefit and again, this is just what I’m hearing, is the friendships. Like these cool people they’re connecting with, to be friends. So there are all these different outcomes. And beyond the data, I also really, I’m hoping to have some time to share dialogues and prompts for I think reflections and conversations that I think are useful, and I might have to do that next week just depending on timing. But before we get to that, if we get to that, we’re going to chat with our expert from Feeld now, Justin Lehmiller. Justin is a research fellow at the Kinsey institute, host of the Sex and Psychology podcast, scientific advisory to our friends over at Feeld, and the author of the book “Tell me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How it can Help to Improve Your Sex Life.” Justin, the last time I saw you, we were kind of bouldering in the San Diego area weren’t we? We were climbing mountains, the world was in a state of normalcy. Are you still climbing and exploring? How’s life in your world?

Justin Lehmiller (13:48):

I’m starting to get back out there a little bit, day by day. But some things haven’t changed. When we were out, you know bouldering, we were also talking about lube and sex toys and all that other good stuff, and still doing that now. So some things haven’t changed. There’s been a lot of sex talk and work over the last year, but not so much interaction with the world. But like I said, getting back out there.

Brandon (14:10):

I want to jump in really quickly, just because if you hadn’t given some context as to bouldering and climbing between the lube and the sex toys, like we went bouldering and what is that? That’s something I need to learn about. Or what’s going on here now man?

Dr. Jess (14:25):

Nah, man, we were just between rocks. Justin, don’t you run into that, that you use a very innocuous term and people are like “oh what is that?” I remember posting on facebook once, that I was going snow tubing, and people are like “what’s that?” Well, it’s going in the snow in a blow up tube, but they want something more perverted right?

Justin Lehmiller (14:41):

Everyone thinks I’m talking about sex. Even when I’m not talking about sex, if anyone can relate to that it’s probably you, and every other sex educator and researcher out there.

Dr. Jess (14:50):

Absolutely. So we’re here to talk threesomes. You are the scientific advisor to Feeld. Let’s talk threesomes. So from your perspective, and I think I know what you’re going to say here but what counts as a threesome?

Justin Lehmiller (15:02):

Well the easy part of defining a threesome would be that there’d be three people involved. It’s one of the few sex acts where I think there’s a bit more consensus. For example, if I asked people what counts as an orgy, they’re like all over the map, in terms of the minimum number of participants. But at least with a threesome, that’s pretty clear. Now, when it comes to like actually what takes place during a threesome, that’s where we run into different people defining it in different ways. So for example, does a three way kiss count you know? And when you ask people how do you define sex, you see that, they’re kind of all over the place. Some people define kissing as sex. Some people don’t count sex as sex, unless there’s some penetrative intercourse taking place. And so that’s where you know the definitions get a little bit messy. And so if you ask people, “have you ever had a threesome?” You’ll have a lot of people who will say yes, but some people might be talking about a three way kiss. Some people might be talking about you know, there was just mutual groping and mutual masturbation. People might be penetrative intercourse or oral sex. So it’s kind of hard to know what people are meaning or referring to when they say they’ve had a threesome, unless you ask about the specific activities that took place.

Dr. Jess (16:14):

Right, and it’s not easy to get funding for in-depth threesome research right? It’s not at the top of funders lists, in terms of well, did you touch them with your left hand, was there anal tickles, was there nipple play? And I hear from folks sometimes, especially I’d say M.F. hetero couples, where one partner is sort of complaining that they haven’t had a threesome right? So they’ve played around, they’ve maybe had some petting, kissing, and as you said groping, and maybe they’ve had sex with their partner in the presence of another person or people, but oftentimes folks will be lamenting the fact that their partner won’t have a “real” threesome. And I think we need to get away from that notion that you have to check a specific act off the box and instead just focus on you know, what feels good. What feels exciting. But what role do you think porn has played in prescribing to us what a threesome must be?

Justin Lehmiller (17:02):

Well I think we all get a lot of ideas about what sex is supposed to be from porn, and porn helps to guide a lot of our scripts about kind of how sex should go. And so I think when you’re talking about something like a threesome, which most people have never experienced in real life, you know if you look at the best nationally representative data points we have on threesomes, you find that about one in five men and one in ten women say that they’ve had a threesome before. But when it comes to how those experiences actually go, I think a lot of people go into it thinking it’s supposed to look like what it looks like in porn. And that’s actually one of the big misconceptions about threesomes, is that everyone’s going to go in and is just going to know exactly what to do with everybody. Everybody’s going to have a great time, there’s going to be this simultaneous orgasm by everyone at the end you know? It doesn’t really work like that. So you know, porn can give us this idea. But I think we have to step back and say, “you know, that’s really the fantasy, that’s what a scripted threesome looks like,” and that’s not what most threesomes are like in reality right?

Dr. Jess (18:05):

So you bring up fantasies, and you’re the expert in fantasies. So in your book, “Tell Me What You Want”, you explored the fantasies of, I believe it was Americans correct?

Justin Lehmiller (18:14):

Yeah there were 4175 Americans I surveyed. And threesomes were really the most popular fantasy, more than ninety percent of people across genders and across sexual orientation said they’d fantasized about a threesome before, of some type. Again, there’s a lot of variability in how that’s going to take place. And one of the other things I find when I look at people’s threesome fantasies, that most people want to be the centre of attention. And that kind of creates this conflict intention, when people actually go into a threesome situation. Because everybody wants to be the centre of attention, you know you gotta take turns, and you have to communicate that it, if everybody’s going to get what they want out of that situation.

Dr. Jess (18:57):

That’s really interesting, so that desire to be the centre of attention, babe is that sort of your, would you say that’s your perspective, that’s why you’d wanna threesome?

Brandon (19:04):

Thinking about it, I don’t, I’m not trying to make excuses. I don’t necessarily always wanna be the centre of attention. I think it’d be nice sometimes to have that. But I think there’s a lot of fantasy that could just incorporate in your partner or the third person and you know focusing on them and that being very arousing. But I also think that the idea of a threesome sometimes is much easier than the threesome in reality right? In my mind, everything can play out perfectly. And I don’t have to think about any of the after intercourse, or after sex elements right? Like I don’t have to think about the emotional side. I don’t think think like, do I  have to make somebody food after or who gets the cab, or “are you staying the night?” So anyway, going back to your question, yes, sometimes I focus on myself, I think about it. And sometimes I think could also take pleasure in focusing on somebody else in the fantasy.

Dr. Jess (19:59):

Now Justin, you mentioned that people wanna be the centre of attention. Why else do people fantasize about threesomes, did that come up in your research?

Justin Lehmiller (20:07):

Yeah, and I should mention well, most people said they wanna be the centre of attention. There’s a lot of diversity and variability in how these three scenarios play out. And I think that speaks to the fact that different people are trying to meet different needs through threesomes. And so for a lot of people, there is that wanting to be overwhelmingly desired by more than one other person. And so it’s very validating, and it can increase your feelings of sexual competence and self confidence, and so that’s part of the appeal for some people. But another part of the appeal is, it’s a novelty and something like I said, most people have never experienced. And human beings are just inherently turned on by sexual novelty. So the idea of having another partner there, another set of body parts to look at and to touch and all of these things that that novelty is another big draw for a lot of people as well. And it can also be a way that some people can explore their sexuality right, so if it’s a mixed gender threesome, some people are interested in that because it’s a way to explore bisexual or pansexual attraction that they’ve never otherwise had a chance to experiment with in real life. And we know that there’s a lot of sexual fluidity in people’s sexual fantasies, a lot of people who identify as exclusively heterosexual who have same sex fantasies. You know a threesome is a perfect avenue for starting to explore that.

Dr. Jess (21:34):

That’s so interesting. Because so much of the research that I came across in threesomes, the folks identified as heterosexual. And that’s I mean, just speaks to the fact that the way we identify or the way we label ourselves doesn’t always reflect our behavior. Because at some point if you say you’re straight and you’re having sex with someone who, I mean I don’t obviously subscribe to the gender binary, but if you’re having sex with someone who is either the opposite gender or a different gender or whatever the case may be, your identity can still be had. And of course I’m not telling you you’re not hetero, but behaviourally people might see that differently. I gotta ask you about the disparity in research. So we have this research that says that about twice as many men are saying they’ve had — heterosexual man okay — about twice as many hetero men are saying they’ve had threesomes as hetero women. And then again if you dig deeper into the data, they’re saying they’re having more MFF threesomes, so how does this, is there any way to reconcile this data? Like is it the same, I don’t know, women in the world, who are having these threesomes over and over again, or are women under reporting threesomes and men over reporting both? What do you think?

Justin Lehmiller (22:40):

It’s a great question. And you know it reminds me of this other finding in the literature, where when you ask men and women — and generally talking about heterosexuals here, because that’s where most of the research is based — when you ask how many sexual partners they’ve had in a lifetime, on average men report having about twice as many partners as women. And it’s like you know the math just doesn’t totally add up there. And so some researchers have tried to look at well, what explains this disparity? And so part of it is that there’s some lying. There are some socially desirable responding that’s going on, where women are under reporting and men are over reporting. And one of the best demonstrations of this is, they’ve actually done a study where they asked men and women about the number of sexual partners they’ve had in one of two conditions.

One is where they can just report it as they would on a survey. Another is, they’re hooked up to a lie detector — or what they’re convinced is a lie detector — and what they find is that the difference between men and women gets a lot smaller when they’re in the lie detector conditions. So that’s part of the story, that’s part of what’s going on here. But there’s another factor at play, which is that when you’re talking about something like number of sexual partners, we find that men and women have different counting strategies. And women actually go through and count, whereas men tend to ballpark it. And so you know, that’s another part of the story here. And when you’re talking about threesomes specifically you know, there might be a difference in what people are counting as a threesome. I haven’t seen any research that specifically looked at that, maybe men have a broader definition of what a threesome is, maybe they’re counting more things as threesomes. And so, maybe that’s partially what’s kind of explaining it. So it gets back to that definitional question of what does sex mean? How are people thinking about this? That just makes it a little bit hard to interpret what people actually are saying on surveys, if you don’t ask really specific questions.

Brandon (24:31):

I have a question about the average number of partners. So can you just tell us what is the average for, and assuming this is part of your study, hetero, like males and females.

Justin Lehmiller (24:42):

So it depends on the study that you consult and whether it’s a college age population or you know an older more diverse population. You know in a lot of the college age samples that I’ve seen, you know you’re looking at women reporting like three, and men reporting like six. You know it’s something like that. If you look at nationally representative surveys, you find that the overall average is somewhere closer to eleven or twelve, that people are reporting. And there’s usually a gender difference. Study after study you’ll find different inconsistent findings. But on average, men are reporting about twice as many partners as women.

Dr. Jess (25:13):

I mean this aligns with men reporting higher measures in so many realms right. So if you look at performance in the workplace men are more likely to rate themselves higher than women, like we see this just kind of across the board. And so I guess we always have to change our lens or take data with a grain of salt. Let’s go back to threesomes, when you work with Feeld, so this is an app that allows couples to date online, there are people who are looking for a long-term ethical non monogamy on there, but there are also people just simply looking for threesomes for that hookup. And I understand the app kind of leaves it open for people to define how they use it. Do you have any advice for first timers who are interested in exploring threesomes, in terms of how to approach it? I think you wrote a whole guide on threesomes.

Justin Lehmiller (25:59):

So there’s things to think about here. One is just kind of like, how you going to find a threesome? And a lot of people kinda start threesomes spontaneously. They’re out at the bar. People are having a few drinks, and it just kind of like happened. Those are the situations that people often end up regretting, when there are threesome when it’s unplanned, spontaneous. They don’t know the other people and so there’s not like that kind of establish communication between them and it’s harder for everybody to get what they want out of that situation. And so I think that’s where an app like Feeld can be really handy because threesomes are actually the number one desire reported by users of the app. And so you know it’s a good way to start by finding like minded others and then you can have this communication beforehand, about what is it that you wanna get out of that experience. What are you looking for? What are the other people looking for? And you can kind of talk through some of that stuff. And when you have that greater communication and intimacy, with everybody going into the threesome, it tends to promote a much more positive experience.

Because it’s very easy when you end up in this sort of group situation for things to move beyond your comfort zone very quickly, and it can be hard to communicate in that moment, in that situation and to express, “Hey this is something I’m uncomfortable with.” People have a hard enough time doing that when it’s one other person, but when you’ve got two people, the normative pressure is higher, especially if you’re a single person with a couple, you might not want to interrupt that dynamic between the partners. And so greater communication beforehand can make you feel more empowered in the moment to say what it is that you want, to ensure that just everybody is on the same page going into the situation.

Dr. Jess (27:45):

And so you’re talking about planning, how is planning different for a couple versus a single?

Justin Lehmiller (27:50):

So that’s a great question. And there’s all different kinds of threesomes. It could just be three single people going in, three people who are friends, or it could be a couple with a single joining them right? And the dynamic is going to be different in all of these situations. But let’s say you’re a couple and you’re going to bring a third in. I think it’s important to remember that that other person is entitled to the same amount of pleasure as you are. And so, it’s important to put them on a level playing field, when you’re thinking about the situation, to ensure that everybody’s getting what they want, so that it doesn’t feel exploitative. And it’s also really important for a single who’s joining a couple to make sure that you’re going into it for the right reasons you know, you’re not just into one person and you’re using this as an excuse or opportunity to hook up with that individual, or you’re kind of going in thinking you’re going to ignore the other person because that’s not going to create a great situation or dynamic for everyone.

Because when threesomes turn into twosomes, that’s where we start to see the jealousy and the conflict, the negative outcomes happening. And you as the single, coming into that couple, well you might have a great time in that situation and leave, but there’s going to be some aftermath that the couples going to have to deal with. And it’s not really cool to just sort of leave them in that situation, if somebody’s going in and trying to use another person in that threesome.

Brandon (29:13):

I feel like I hear that a lot like, I mean some of the conversations, it’s like the couple, there’s one person in that couple who wants it more than the other. And I could just see the pressure ultimately resulting in a generally negative outcome for all people involved right, the person, the other partner in the couple feels uncomfortable. Just so many layers. So that’s a really, really, interesting way to I think, to approach the situation.

Justin Lehmiller (29:40):

Yeah, there shouldn’t be that, there shouldn’t be any element of coercion when it comes to a threesome. Nobody should feel like they’re going into it because they have to please somebody else. Ideally everybody is on the same page. They want this. And again, I think that’s where you know talking through all of this in the beginning is so important and so helpful. If you’re in a situation where you’re part of a couple and your partner really wants a threesome, but you don’t, you shouldn’t feel like you have to have a threesome just to satisfy your partner or to stop that conflict from occurring. It might mean that, maybe you’re not a good sexual match and you know maybe this isn’t the right relationship for you, because if you start compromising yourself sexually just to please your partner and it’s all about giving your partner what they want, it’s not about you. Then that’s not a healthy situation to be in.

Dr. Jess (30:27):

And absolutely, you never wanna do anything under pressure. But there are all these things you can do, between fantasizing about a threesome and having a threesome right? There are lots of different kinds of steps along the way that may fulfil that desire for a threesome without actually having a threesome right? So you talked about for example wanting to be the centre of attention. So I always kind of go back to the emotion underlying a desire. Well if they want to be the centre of attention, what are other ways to play with that desire, to manifest that desire, other than bringing a third person? And if you’re not comfortable doing that, I wanna rewind for a moment to something you said about three friends getting together. Because in almost all of the threesomes that I see and hear about — and it’s more than I asked to hear about, you know hundreds and hundreds of threesomes — it is very rarely, just from my experience, just three people deciding to do it. Oftentimes seeing couples or singles. Do you see that often, with just three people hooking up together?

Justin Lehmiller (31:27):

I mean I know it happens. It’s one of those things where we don’t have a lot of great data points on all of this, because you know as you said, there’s not really funding to do this kind of work. And so threesomes rarely get asked about on like a nationally representative sex survey, and in fact the first national data point that I saw on this only came out in the last couple of years. So prior to that, we really only knew things from college students, and these other limited types of samples. So some of my colleagues and I started to conduct more research on threesomes to better understand this, and what we see is that there is a lot of diversity and variability, but I would say more often than not, it’s usually the case of a couple and then a third person coming in. Because a lot of people, I would say that’s likely to be the case, a lot of people find it challenging enough to just find one other partner, let alone two at the same time you know? There’s a lot of coordinating and logistics that has to happen for three non partnered individuals to get together and have a threesome.

Dr. Jess (32:26):

Yeah that definitely makes sense to me. What do you want people to understand about threesomes before going in?

Justin Lehmiller (32:33):

So I think it’s important to recognize that the reality of the threesome might not live up to your fantasy right? I think that’s really kind of the biggest misconception. That there also isn’t just one script for how to have a threesome, there’s all kinds of ways that you can do this. And I think it’s also really important to recognize that it might take a little bit of practice in order for you to get what you want out of a threesome. And I think this is true of any fantasy, that practice makes perfect. The first time you try it, there’s some uncertainty, some hesitation, and you kind of have to figure it out and you have to communicate with your partners. And so it might be that the second or third or fourth time that you having a threesome, you know, maybe that’s when you really start to figure out your group.

So if you had a bad experience with the threesome the first time, I wouldn’t say to automatically discount that and say that you would never like threesomes. I’m a fan of saying, “try anything twice because the first time might just not have been the optimal experience for that.” And so something you can do if you’re new to threesomes is to consider experimenting with different formats. So one of the things I did for Feeld was to write this guide on how to have a virtual threesome right? And that was something that you could do during the pandemic, to safely interact with multiple people, to fulfil and satisfy your sexual desires. But it can also be a practice run for sort of figuring out how multi partner dynamics work. And so you know, that’s something that you could try, kind of like a first step, where the stakes are a little bit lower than actually having three people in bed at the same time.

Dr. Jess (34:07):

I love that. And you’re minimizing some of your risks as well. I know like one of the big fears for a lot of people, who are potentially reproducing in the type of sex they have, is what do you do if there’s an unplanned pregnancy right? Is this something we’re talking about? I know that you know, the likelihood of pregnancy isn’t super high. But it’s still something that concerns people. And of course that is eliminated with virtual threesomes. STI risk and transmission is eliminated. I think it also gives you a peek into how you might feel right, so to be able to be kind of alone, well not alone but with a partner perhaps, or alone in your own space and think, “okay, how am I feeling in my body at this moment?” And as much as it can be a turn on, and overwhelming with the virtual interaction, something that you that you said that really stands out to me is that I wonder if we have to prepare ourselves to be disappointed.

Not because threesomes can’t be hot, but because so many people build this up as you said from your data, as the “ultimate” fantasy. And when you build anything up, when you hype anything up that big, you know you’re creating an expectation that may not be attainable in reality. And I really the fact that you’re underscoring that, just because you have one bad experience doesn’t mean you never do it again. Like if we did that with sex, none of us would ever have sex again right? One bad experience, and I’m out? But we do that with more subversive experiences, or we hear one story about one person or one couple who had a bad experience, and we generalize that and say “oh no no no, this happened this one time to this one couple therefore it’s toxic or therefore it will lead to a relationship dissolution.” So I appreciate that message to keep an open mind. I love your research, love following along with the work that you’re doing. Are you working on a new book yet?

Justin Lehmiller (35:44):

I am working on revisions for the third edition of my textbook at the moment. It’s called “The Psychology of Human Sexuality.” And so that’s my next book project. And then once that is out of the way, then I can start looking at other books.

Dr. Jess (35:56):

Okay, awesome, makes sense. Well I’ll be following along. I hope to see you soon. Are we gonna get to go back to San Diego? When we were in San Diego, I should mention to folks, I won’t say the company, but we were working on product development, and it was a two day workshop to come up with new projects. And I thought that was so cool, such a cool experience.

Justin Lehmiller (36:13):

It was amazing. I can’t wait to do stuff like that again.

Dr. Jess (36:17):

Let’s get on a plane and then go hiking in between. We went to the coolest, I wish I could look up the place that we went hiking, but we went to this canyon which was not a difficult hike, but I just remember the pictures were so fabulous.

Justin Lehmiller (36:27):

Yes, and if you do a deep dive on our instagram feeds you can find photos of our little hiking experience, it was a ton of fun and absolutely beautiful. And then I think we got margaritas afterwards and talked about sex so that was also fun.

Dr. Jess (36:41):

Checks all the boxes, margaritas, sex talk, and climbing mountains. Well thank you so much for being with us. We so appreciate it. And we’ll make sure to leave all your information in the show notes. But folks can follow along @JustinJLehmiller on Instagram. That’s kind of hard to spell. But I’ll put it out there for you. And don’t forget to check out the book “Tell me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How it can Help to Improve Your Sex Life.” Thanks so much Justin.

Justin Lehmiller (37:04):

Thanks for having me Jess. It’s always a pleasure.

Dr. Jess (37:06):

This is such an interesting topic right, threesomes, it comes up in every single group I work with. It doesn’t matter where I am. Somebody’s going to either ask out in the open or sneak off and ask me about threesomes.

Brandon (37:16):

I mean, in addition to the fact that it’s a lot of people’s fantasies, it’s constantly reinforced in porn. I mean you see so much where it’s, there’s three or four people involved in a scene. So I think that maybe for that reason it becomes a prominent fantasy as well.

Dr. Jess (37:30):

Yeah absolutely. So, I wanna keep talking about this. So what we’re gonna do is because of time, do a part 2 next week. And next week what I wanna talk about is how to prepare for a threesome. And I have dozens and dozens of questions and prompts and considerations. I want to begin with a self questionnaire, like the questions you should ask yourself before you prep for a threesome. I want to also leave you with some prompts to consider, different feelings like jealousy, insecurity, and distress. So we’ll come to that next week. I also have a questionnaire I wanna share with couples, so something that you can talk through with a partner. And I really wanna talk about couples privilege and unicorn complaints, and what happens when you treat the third like they’re there to serve you and really like, how do we address that privilege. Because you can’t get rid of privilege. I know people hate that word. But you have privilege, you have privilege.

So what do you do with it? And how do you manage it? I also have a three way discussion for things you can talk about when you find your threesome. You eventually hopefully hop on Feeld and find a second or third party to play with. And I want to talk about how to introduce a threesome right? How to talk about it, kind of my three step formula applied to threesomes and how to create those, what I call ‘third party bridges.’ And I also want to talk about threesome lite. So Justin had mentioned the virtual threesome. And even that would feel like too much for some people, so I wanna talk about what that threesome lite looks like. So that is the plan for next week. We’re gonna have to do some shuffling around to make that work.

Brandon (39:00):

Woo, a whole lot to discuss next week.

Dr. Jess (39:03):

Yeah and I think all of these questions are really important to consider because the you know, that’s my anecdotal experiences, is that the couples and singles who prepare for it have more positive outcomes, and Justin said the exact same thing from his data. So make sure you come back next week. Do go check out Feeld in the app store. Download it, check it out and just kind of play around. It doesn’t matter how curious you are, how serious you are. They’ve kind of got something for everyone there. So thanks babe, for chatting threesomes. We’ve talked about our experiences before right on the podcast?

Brandon (39:37):

We definitely have and you today, we really hit the nail on the head. Some have been great, some have been a letdown and some would have been better kept in my mind.

Dr. Jess (39:48):

Okay well that’s like, you just added volumes to it. I don’t even remember what we’ve shared in the past. But that’s okay. All right babe, thanks for joining me. Thanks so much of course to Justin Lehmiller. Folks make sure you’re following along and thank you for joining us. We’ll be back next week with part two of how to have a threesome.

(40:03):

You’re listening to the Sex With Dr. Jess podcast. Improve your sex life, improve your life.