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Understanding the psychology of threesomes

A close look at how society handles threesomes

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After getting a drink and coming back to the dance floor during a party near South Campus, David Stockman* found a girl he’d been flirting with earlier in the night dancing with one of his friends.

But the friend, Cam Lucas*, wasn’t trying to steal the girl from Stockman – he wanted to share.

“Yo, she’s down for a threesome,” Lucas whispered.

That night – which started out as a possible normal hookup for Stockman – would become his first and only threesome experience. And he’s not the only college student who’s sexually experimented with more than one person at a time.

About 10 percent of UB students have had a threesome, according to The Spectrum’s sex survey of 837 people. And according to sexual health experts and educators, college students are sometimes more willing than other age groups to participate in them.

“In that age range, people are more likely to experiment and explore and get things out of their system, so to speak,” said Dr. Justine Shuey, a sexologist and sexuality educator who is an adjunct professor at several colleges in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Threesomes – which can be considered any sexual acts involving three partners of any gender – are well-documented fantasies for both men and women. But they aren’t limited to college campuses.

A threesome with two women is the No.1 fantasy of heterosexual men, according to Shuey. They’re featured in both pornographic films and mainstream pop culture. How I Met Your Mother dedicated an entire episode to characters coveting a "Threesome Belt."

But trying to get better at threesomes from watching porn is like trying to be a better driver from watching a Fast and Furious movie, said sex and relationship expert Reid Mihalko, who lectures about sexual health at college campuses across the country.

“It’s really hard to go to rock climbing without someone showing you the basics. We don’t talk openly about the basics of sex, and we don’t talk about the basics of sexual exploration,” Mihalko said. “Culture does a terrible job of preparing young adults for exploring things safely.”

Threesomes may be easier to fantasize about than to actually execute. Some people rush into it and are afraid to say something when they’re not comfortable. Boundaries are rarely established beforehand. There can be a higher risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and relationships and friendships can be altered afterward.

The fact that “most students have gotten their sexual help information from mainstream porn and whatever article came up on a Google search,” doesn’t help, according to Mihalko.

“Most parents and high school teachers aren’t talking about these things with seniors, about to be freshmen in college,” Mihalko said. “And it’s not necessarily being talked about on college campuses either.”

The fantasy

Stockman agreed to the threesome. He saw it as a way for him and Lucas to bond, and, according to him, it worked. Stockman said there were never any secrets between the two friends – who had met during their first semester at UB – after the threesome.

“I could not talk to this man for 20 years, and it would be just like we talked the day before,” Stockman said. “Once you know how someone f****, you know everything about them.”

People have threesomes for many reasons. Some people are looking to empower themselves, some are trying to satisfy their partner or some want to get out of a normal routine. Shuey said threesomes are a common sexual fantasy because people want to be desired by more than one person simultaneously.

They’re also desired because they go against the ‘status quo.’ Shuey said the more taboo something is “the hotter it is for people.”

We live in a monogamous-centric society. So the idea of having more than one person in the bed can be erotic from an, ‘Oh, I’m breaking the rules' perspective,” Mihalko said.

Senior Brian Jones* claims to have had five threesomes during his time at UB. He said he’s had a “good amount of sex” in his life, so “it’s good to experience something different.”

Jones once had a threesome with two girls in a UB dorm – initiated by the girls rubbing sun tan lotion on his sunburnt thighs. He had just gone tanning to prepare for spring break. One of his threesomes started when a girl crawled into bed with him and another girl he had just had sex with.

Shuey said there’s no “common theme” of who initiates a threesome.

For Stockman’s threesome, it simply started when Lucas approached the girl on the dance floor and asked her, “Want to have sex with me and David?”

Alcohol and communication

Stockman, Lucas and the girl had to find out where to actually have the threesome. They left the party and wandered the University Heights streets. Stockman described the trio as “enthusiastic, adventurous and hammered” as they searched for a safe place to have sex.

All three were under the influence of alcohol the night of the threesome.

Most of Jones’ threesomes occurred after nights of drinking at parties and bars as well, like when he and his male friend ran into a drunk girl they “knew from Facebook” and convinced her to come back to Jones’ basement to have sex.

“Maybe we’re talking about it at the bar, like, ‘Oh yeah is that a good idea?’ Or, ‘Should we try something like that?’” Jones said.

Both Mihalko and Shuey recommended against having a threesome while under the influence of drugs and alcohol – but it’s how many college students experiment sexually.

“In college, there’s a lot more of an alcohol and hookup culture,” Shuey said. “The more you drink, the lower your inhibitions are. That might be something you’re not necessarily thinking you’re brave enough to do while you’re sober, but if you’re under the influence, you might be like, ‘Hey, I want to try this.’”

Mihalko said most people want a threesome to happen organically, which in college can mean “everyone’s drunk.” He said people think it will be a good idea to experiment while high or drunk, but in reality, it could go awry.

“If you have to do shots of tequila to do a threesome, that means the next day someone’s going to regret it,” he said.

Mihalko and Shuey recommend all participants discuss what they’re comfortable doing and whom they’re comfortable doing it with before engaging in sexual activity.

Mihalko said most threesomes fail when one person is afraid to communicate when they’re uncomfortable. He said they often don’t speak up because they do not want to ruin the experience for the other two people.

“When you don’t speak up, you’re going to ruin it anyway,” he said. “Most people don’t want to explore a fantasy and then the next morning have everybody regret it.”

He said to “call a timeout,” and check in with everyone whenever you are in doubt during a sexual experimentation.

Shuey said that if one person in the threesome is more hesitant than the other two, the threesome probably shouldn’t be happening. She’s often asked by people in relationships how to convince their partner to have a threesome. Her response is usually, “Find another partner.”

She said if a person is uncomfortable with the situation, every aspect of the experience becomes more difficult.

“They’re uncomfortable, so in the back of their mind they’re thinking of 20 million different things so they can’t be in the moment and enjoy the moment,” Shuey said.

Jones said being comfortable with the people you’re with is important. Every male he’s engaged in a threesome with has been a close friend, and said most of his threesomes with two women have been with his female friend and her friends.

The situation was different for Stockman. He acknowledges he’d known Lucas for four or five months at the time of the threesome. He’d known the girl for four or five minutes.

Navigating a threesome

Stockman, Lucas and the girl had walked four blocks before they arrived at the front door of a friend’s house.

“We pleaded with him to let us use his attic,” Stockman said. “They weren’t too into it, but they were fine with having us bang in their attic.”

Once upstairs, the three found a “dirty old mattress with like a 20-year old pad on it,” in the corner of the attic. Stockman said Lucas was fully erect before he even took his pants off. But Stockman had a “slower start.” He said he was comfortable being naked in front of another man, but found it difficult to get an erection around another man.

Jones said it’s never been “weird” between himself and his male friends during a threesome.

“As long as the tips don’t touch,” Jones said with laugh.

Jones has been in a threesome where the two other girls kissed and touched one another on top of him. Women are sometimes more likely to engage directly with each other in a threesome, as sexual fluidity is more common in women than men, according to Shuey.

She said men typically fall on one end of the spectrum of the Kinsey Scale, which is a rating scale of a person’s heterosexuality and homosexuality. Men are more likely than women to be 100 percent heterosexual or 100 percent homosexual.

Mihalko was once in a threesome with a heterosexual man and a woman where the man wanted to see if he could handle being in a threesome with another male. The man did not want to engage in sexual acts directly with another man, he “just wanted to see if they could roll with another penis in the bed,” according to Mihalko.

Mihalko said it’s important for people to realize they can explore sexually with the same sex without threatening their sexual identity.

“If you’re Republican and you vote Democrat, it doesn’t all of a sudden make you a Democrat,” he said.

About 24 percent of people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender said they’ve had a threesome in The Spectrum’s sex survey. Some threesomes are made up of homosexuals all of the same gender, but for Stockman, that wasn’t the case.

Stockman and Lucas did not touch one another, but being in the presence of another man was still out of Stockman’s comfort zone. The trio engaged in an “Eiffel Tower” – a sexual position in which the female receives vaginal penetration from behind while also giving oral sex to the other male.

Stockman said he had to stare at the girl to try and forget there was another penis 3 feet – or “however long the girl’s torso was” – away from him during this position.

Lucas ejaculated before Stockman and went downstairs. Stockman said it was “definitely more natural” when he was left to have sex with the girl alone.

The morning after

Lucas now goes to a different school, but he and Stockman still remained friends after the threesome. Stockman said he never saw the girl again.

“A lot of people think sex ruins relationships between friends but I don’t,” Jones said. “Usually right after I’ll just be chilling, talking in bed with them naked. It’s never really weird for me. As long as I don’t make it weird, they don’t make it weird.”

Mihalko said threesomes are “weird” by their very nature, but the situation can be made less weird if the participants talk about the weirdness the next day. He said people often feel they’re not allowed to discuss it after the fact, and that’s why college students sometimes feel embarrassed when they run into another participant on campus.

“Thank people for being generous with their genitals,” Mihalko said.

He said participants should not brag about their threesome experiences, as people’s privacy should be respected.

Thinking it through, keeping it safe

For couples that engage in threesomes, the effects can be tricky. Feelings of jealousy and insecurities can be exacerbated after adding another partner to the mix, according to both Mihalko and Shuey.

“It could either be a, ‘Hey we really liked this,’ or it could stir up jealousy – ‘You liked that other person more than me,’” Shuey said.

Shuey said people have to be more conscious of preventing STIs during a threesome than a sexual experience with just one other person.

“If you touch person A and you get fluids on you, and you touch person B, you’ve just exchanged those fluids,” she said.

Mihalko encourages all sexually active college students to get tested a few times a year.

He said it’s also important for people to remember there’s nothing wrong with them if they didn’t like their threesome experience, or if they never have one during college. He said there’s a pressure on college students to try “everything” and a perception that a person is not “evolved” if they don’t like experimenting.

“You’re allowed to like what you like and explore what you want, and figuring out you don’t like something is also a win,” Mihalko said. “It doesn’t mean you’re broken or unevolved, it just means you don’t like that thing.”

Jones is not sure he’ll have threesomes after graduation. He said he’ll be in “the real world” and may find the right person.

“We’ll see,” he said.

Stockman is still open to having another threesome experience in the future because, as he puts it, “normal sex gets boring.”

*Names have been changed to protect source’s privacy

email: news@ubspectrum.com


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