Relationships

Can We Please Stop Romanticizing Threesomes?

By Keelia Clarkson··  6 min read
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We’re made to think they’re all fun, steamy, and thrilling – but have we been sold the wrong idea about threesomes?

We don’t need to look far and wide in order to find evidence of some of culture’s most damaging and unhealthy attitudes towards relationships and intimacy. Hookup culture has taken over the dating scene leading many to become disenchanted with the idea of marriage. Opting for a relationship without labels has become more and more popular rather than daring to broach the subject of exclusivity.

Worse yet, hookup culture and unlabeled relationships have been heavily romanticized to young women, portrayed as freeing, exciting, and empowering for us. But perhaps one of the worst things culture has been romanticizing? Threesomes – often presenting it as a good tactic to save a relationship that’s lost its umph or as an exhilarating way of living out a fantasy.

The Image of Threesomes We’ve Been Given

Shows like Easy depict a couple who decide to give a threesome a try in order to spice things up, pausing to tend to their crying baby throughout. The characters in American Horror Story: Hotel weren’t ones to look up to, but the unrealistic threesome shown was still shot steamily. And Game of Thrones was never one to shy away from portraying thrilling threesomes.

And of course, countless magazines that are supposed to be for women encourage us to engage in them in order to benefit our sex lives and offer tips and tricks. Even those that acknowledge the challenges and issues that arise from a threesome blame it on our not being well prepared before anything else.

It’s Not Just a Simple Question of Personal Taste

Many of the magazines that tout the benefits of engaging in a threesome will throw in the occasional “Threesomes aren’t for everyone,” telling young women that while for some, three is too much of a crowd, for others, it could be exactly what they’d always dreamed it would be.

Far too often, it’s presented as a simple question of personal taste – that a threesome could add a healthy dose of spice and fun to a couple’s intimacy, or that it wouldn’t add anything of substance for them. It’s offered up to us as either the greatest decision we’ve ever made, or a neither here nor there experience, just depending on the person.

Threesomes actually deeply damage our self-esteem and ruin our relationship’s trust.

It often doesn’t come down to either loving it or having no feelings about it, though. Far too many women have found themselves pressured into having a threesome for a myriad of reasons, whether to keep their significant other interested, or because they’ve been convinced it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. “There’s been a lot of coercion when it comes to group sex and women’s participation,” says Katherine Frank, a cultural anthropologist and author.

And even further than that, threesomes don’t just not do it for some people — they actually deeply damage our self-esteem, ruin our relationship’s trust, and can easily breed resentment and anger where there was once love, not to mention the much higher risk of STD transmission. 

Threesomes Are the Last Thing Any Relationship Needs

Threesomes are prescribed by women’s magazines and media as a sort of antidote, whether to liven up a stale or struggling relationship, or to explore intimacy with a new significant other, or to offer us an “empowering” experience. 

But this, unfortunately, compounds two unhealthy ideas: first, that we should always give in to our every whim and desire without considering the consequences, and second, that we’ll never be enough for our significant other and they’ll never be enough for us.

This sets any relationship up for failure because it undermines our desire for a healthy, committed, meaningful relationship with another person who’s equally invested in it — ironically, the very thing many couples who engage in threesomes are supposedly striving for.

It’s All Fantasy, Not Reality

The worst part of our cultural posture towards threesomes is that because they’re relatively new in terms of societal acceptance and celebration, studies that cover it thoughtfully or well are incredibly scarce. 

While it’s not hard to find a study that says how common a threesome fantasy is (close to 90% of both men and women, in one study), it’s much more difficult to find studies that present the effects of actually engaging in one, because the vast majority of adults never have.

So it’s best for us to believe those who have. Most famously, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher decided to bring a third person into their relationship. Moore said, “I wanted to show him how great and fun I could be,” but ultimately, found the decision was a “mistake” when Kutcher cheated on her.

According to columnist and relationship expert April Masini, it’s not uncommon for people who’ve had threesomes to end up looking for sex outside their relationship: “When couples bring a third party into the bedroom for fun, they often find that new relationships form as a result of these threesomes. These new relationships can become serious threats to the marriage.”

It’s not uncommon for people who’ve had threesomes to end up looking for sex outside their relationship.

This is again illustrated for us in this writer’s personal story, which consisted of having a threesome with her boyfriend and a girl friend one weekend, only for them to hook up the next weekend without her present: “I was livid. I was more than livid, I was embarrassed and hurt.”

The fantasy of three people sharing a perfectly steamy night is dispelled by the often awkward and emotionally confusing realities of engaging in a threesome, as author and sexpert Tracey Cox outlines: jealousy of seeing our partner with someone else, the awkwardness of knowing what we’re “supposed” to do, never knowing how our partner will react until it’s already happening, the loss of trust, and if one party in the relationship didn’t enjoy it, the other will get blamed.

This tells us that our romanticizing of threesomes largely comes from our inexperience as well as the incredibly unrealistic, fantastical yet ultimately harmful depictions of them in the media we consume

Closing Thoughts

The romanticization of threesomes is far more than silly or untrue. Their long- and short-term effects are actually incredibly damaging, unhealthy, and destructive to us and our relationships. 

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