Swat Ed is The Phoenix’s biweekly sex education Q & A. We accept all questions and they are kept completely anonymous. If you’re looking for medical advice or a diagnosis for that weird thing on your genitals, get in touch with a medical professional! For everything else, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Today’s subject matter is including an additional partner for sex.
My partner is interested in inviting other people to have sex with us. I’m not a hundred percent sure how I feel about it. It’s something that I really like in theory but I’m not sure how I would feel about it actually happening. It’s not like it’s a deal breaker or anything — my partner and I are talking about it at lot. I’m just pretty worried about having a really terrible experience and being super regretful.
-Threesomes are worrisome
We’ve all heard the tales of Mary Lyons circa 2012, and it’s a real honor to their memory that you and your partner are considering continuing in the tradition. I can definitely see where you’re coming from, and it sounds like you and your partner have a really healthy approach. It’s not for everybody, and it definitely invites another layer of complication, but a lot of people have really positive experiences. Some people have full polyamorous relationships that include romance as well as sex, others have open relationships that include sexual partners outside the romantic partnership, and others simply enjoy group sex. It sounds like you are considering an open relationship, so let’s first lay out the possibilities and then get around to how you should approach trying this out.
Some people in open relationships don’t feel comfortable at all with a more long term additional partner because they worry about romantic feelings and jealousy developing between them. Others don’t feel comfortable sleeping with people they don’t know very well. If this is something you decide to do, you’ll need to discuss your level of comfort with your partner and work off of that. Sometimes one partner really needs a level of anonymity with the additional partner, and the other really needs to know the additional partner. In that instance, you just lack compatibility in this arena and you should move on to other things.
If you’re looking for a more anonymous partner, it’s important to keep in mind all the risks that come along with anonymous hookups. Be very careful about how you look for them as well. There’s an unfortunate trend of heterosexual couples aggressively pursuing “unicorns,” or bisexual women who are down to hook up with couples. The reason it can be a bad thing is because often the experience is excessively focused around the male gaze and doesn’t really provide an egalitarian experience. Additionally, some people get the attention of a unicorn by posing as a gay woman when in reality the ultimate goal is to involve a boyfriend. It should go without saying, but be upfront about what you’re looking for and go about it extra respectfully. In every sexual encounter we should always think about the power dynamic that exists — in this instance, the couple has a lot of the power and it’s important to keep that in mind. I’ll note that while this can be a good experience, it’s already a bit of a dice roll when hooking up anonymously as a single person. It’s really hard to judge whether a person you’ve just met is really committed to having a consensual, mutually positive experience. Whoever they are, make sure you don’t hook up at all the first time you meet them — go for drinks or a coffee. If they’re not willing to meet you once before, they aren’t worth your time.
In that vein, group sex is a possibility but pretty difficult to execute in real life. It has less chance of becoming a jealous scenario than a regular partner, but it has all the difficulties of finding a safe, kind partner multiplied exponentially. It also runs the risk of ending up as a voyeuristic experience unless everyone involved has compatible attractions. If it’s something you’re really into, it boils down to the same procedures I’m outlining for finding one additional partner but can also be vastly more complicated depending on the number of people you’re talking.
If you end up looking for a more regular partner, consider again the power dynamics inherent in that relationship. It’s a good idea to avoid someone who is closer to one partner than the other, since that can leave the other feeling like an odd man out. People who are already friends with you as a couple are a safer bet. Whatever your boundaries are, work them out beforehand and agree to them as a couple before you present them to the additional partner. A few examples of boundaries: we only hang out with the additional partner as a group, not one on one, we only have sex when we have talked about it beforehand, we only communicate in group chats, we don’t do it more than two times a month. Another really essential rule is that if anyone for any reason wants to end it, they can. They shouldn’t need to provide justification. These situations only work when everyone in them is super committed to making it work for everyone, and sometimes what works for everyone is letting it go. Communication is already really important in a two person partnership, and it increases exponentially as you add more people. I dislike characterizing relationships as “work,” but there’s no getting around the truth that being involved with multiple people means being emotionally available and communicative times however many additional people are involved. It’s not a license to treat people poorly because they are “just” an additional partner or anything like that.
Having laid out these options, we still haven’t addressed your concern about possibly regretting the experience. Try this: if you find a person that you think is promising, do the aforementioned coffee and discussion. If you feel good about that, lay out a really strict idea of what you feel comfortable trying (like kissing, no clothes coming off, etc). Make sure that everyone feels good about it going in. If you try it and decide it’s not for you, you didn’t go too far and it’s not a big deal. If you do really like it, give it a window of a week or two to make sure you really feel good. Then you can keep going. I can’t reiterate enough how important it is that everyone involved should feel comfortable in their ability to shut everything down. When in doubt, slow down and give yourself more time to think about it. If one partner is pushing for this more than the other, the power balance we discussed earlier isn’t in a good place to add an additional partner. Be safe, be kind and understanding, and have fun!