I’ve always loved the three-way.
There are very rarely any plans for a relationship with all three people involved, and so everything feels more like an anything-goes, cotton-candy-filled, judgment-free trip to sexual Disneyland rather than a bad-time, purpose-filled, calorie-counting trip to sexual Weight Watchers. The only measuring happening in a three-way is who lasted longer and by how much.
The subject of three-ways first came up with my now-husband Pat Dixon after a few months of dating, as we were strolling along the beach and comparing our numbers, which ran almost neck and neck.
My résumé was long and telling: I had a three-way with my first husband. I had a three-way with my long-term, multi-year boyfriend. I had a three-way with my roommate. And do experiences at sex clubs count? No, right?
“I think I’ve kind of gotten that out of my system,” I said.
“I’m happy with just you,” he said.
“I wouldn’t rule it out entirely,” I said.
“But I don’t think it’s important,” he said.
Fast-forward to many months later, when a female friend of mine from childhood was visiting Manhattan. She came over to my place in Chelsea to meet Pat, and almost instantly, there was something crackling between the three of us.
“You look great,” she said when she first embraced me, and I felt myself blushing like I was on a date. She squeezed me a little longer than necessary and scooted close to me on the bed where we sat. “I mean, of course you do. It must be all that sex you two are having.”
“It makes sense, though,” I said, laughing and flirtatious, “because a really good orgasm is like a really good dermatologist.”
As the night progressed, somewhere amidst the bawdier teasing, I noticed myself becoming increasingly turned on. My girlfriend and I had always had a sapphic-sisters vibe in our teens, but without the spark of dick, it had never really become anything.
Later, when she left, I asked Pat if he felt what I felt.
On FaceTime later, I jokingly asked her if she felt what we felt.
It stopped being a joke pretty quickly after that.
After the three points of attraction had all been established, the negotiation began, resulting in these ground rules:
1. No penetration.
2. This was only sex, not a relationship.
3. No recovering sex addicts could violate whatever they considered to be their personal sexual bottom line.
(Okay, I was the only one the last rule applied to, but who’s counting?)
I don’t like saying I’m a sex addict because nothing seems like more of a come-on. It seems as aggressively sexual as working into small talk that you have no gag reflex but you’ve come to accept the fate that God has given you.
But I am.
In 2012, a sobriety sponsor tried to gently tell me that no, actually, my experiences were not normal, and perhaps I should consider checking out a Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meeting to consider whether that behavior was just as destructive as my behavior while high or drunk.
It was revelatory.
In the meetings, I answered questions about whether I used sex for power (check), for validation (check), for control (check), for approval (check), and for compulsory reenacting of unpredictable, adrenaline-fueled chaos that I found familiar from my upbringing (check).
In the process, I developed my sexual bottom line — since, like food addiction, you can’t really cut the whole behavior out completely.
As a result, my sex habits got a lot more boring. They also got a lot less likely to result in some movie producer optioning the rights to my murder by one-night stand. What I came up with as my sexual bottom line was fairly simple: I decided I was only going to have sex with people when I feel good about it and when I am safe, healthy, and happy.
Which forced me to ask myself this question vis-à-vis Pat and my friend.
My requirements were definitely met.
“You know that thing we talked about,” I said in an effort to initiate the festivities between the three of us after a day of hanging out as friends, sightseeing and shopping around the Lower East Side. “Does everyone still want to do that?”
Because I did.
Now I’ve determined there are three easy steps to having a three-way within a committed relationship.
1. Let the girl bring it up. A woman who hears that you want another woman in bed is only going to hear that you want another woman in bed all the time. As a man, don’t give her “little helpful hints.” Just let it happen organically, and have zero attachment to the outcome.
2. Ask yourself about the other female participant you are considering, “Do I trust her and feel 110 percent comfortable with this?” If the answer is anything other than an emphatic “yes,” do not proceed. Bonus points if she lives out of town. Double bonus points if she’s a lesbian who occasionally enjoys a dick the way a pescatarian hasn’t completely ruled out meatloaf.
3. Have “the talk” with your man. The talk includes: “How do you do with Pandora’s boxes? Are you able to close them afterward?” For a lot of guys, once they have had a three-way, that’s all they want. If either of you is using sex to avoid dealing with other issues, the three-way might not be the best thing for your relationship. Always weigh the pros and cons, and proceed with caution.
We hung out with my girlfriend several times in the weeks after our three-way before she had to return to the West Coast. Sometimes we played together. Other times we just hung out as friends. Strangely, none of us experienced any strangeness.
“That was totally fun,” I said to my girlfriend when she said her final good-byes to both of us before heading to the airport. We exchanged a simple hug and kiss just like we had always done, but with a gleeful shared knowledge that felt like some rarefied secret no one else would ever understand.
“That was fun,” my friend responded, smiling.
After she left, when Pat and I had sex again, he agreed, but with his own brand of qualification.
“That was fun,” he said. “But it doesn’t even begin to compare with this.”