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When It Comes to Sex, Is There Safety in Numbers?

Woman and two men having dinner

I’ve written about polyamory, a fluid state of friendship and sexual intimacy that sometimes becomes extremely complicated and can be very painful. There are several other ways in which people have “sex in numbers,” however.

When I was first licensed in the early 1980s, “wife swapping” was the term most often heard to describe anything extramarital that people wouldn’t talk about in confessional. But that term suggests a couple of men swapping spouses like they swapped baseball cards when they were kids. I soon learned as a marriage therapist that this scenario was seldom accurate. It was usually the women who were in charge of arrangements when adventures of this sort were being planned, not the guys!

“Swinging” is when an established couple gets together with a larger group for coital fun and games. The variations are endless, from two couples having sex in tandem, to sex in large rooms, to established conferences in hotels (like San Francisco’s Exotic Erotic Ball), where anything goes. As one client told me, “We’re great friends with some of the folks we swing with, but it’s the recreational aspects that really keep us coming back for more.” This comment, by the way, was many years ago. The term more frequently heard today is “lifestyle,” which can encompass many varieties of so-called kink that involve more than two participants. (“So, Marty, are you and Monica in the lifestyle?”)

“Open marriage” is when a primary couple agrees that each member can have sex with a person other than his or her spouse. As we move into this century, I’m seeing an increasing number of premarital couples who agree to this option before the wedding, although most probably don’t announce it to aunts and uncles who fly out for the ceremony! Sometimes these couples later return to my office with difficulties regarding open marriage as they attempt to reconcile mating in domesticity with wilder adventures they may have enjoyed before they tied the knot.

Threesomes are the most frequent topic that new couples discuss with me as a clinical sexologist. These most often involve two men and a woman (“MMF”) or two women and a man (“FFM”), but certainly can be same-sex. Having a threesome is a rather common fantasy, but they are easier to imagine than to pull off because the potentially volatile emotions of three people are involved, upping the ante considerably—from sexual intensity to the possibility of jealously and hurt feelings.

My one and only personal experience with a threesome, in my late twenties, ended in disaster, but I know of numerous couples and a few singles who heartily extol the virtues of playing on this slippery slope. So I’ve ceased to try to predict whether adding a third person to a dyadic relationship will work. When the original two people are married to one another, a threesome can be seen as a blatant declaration of war on thousands of years of marital tradition, so caution is advised. As one pundit remarked, “Adding a third person in sex isn’t like adding another cherry to your banana split!”

I’ve concluded over the years that sex in numbers can be a great idea for some couples and a disaster for others. I’ve also abandoned my early notion that these types of adventures were for liberals, while devout monogamy was for conservatives. In my neck of the woods, a high number of swingers (yes, some folks still use that term) are staunch Tea Party bastions, with political views that swing surprisingly far to the right. And a high number are in high-risk professions such as law enforcement, corrections, and military. Go figure!

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© Copyright 2013 by Jill Denton, MFT, CSAT, CCS, therapist in Los Osos, CA. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments
  • Tara D April 24th, 2013 at 9:08 AM #1

    Someone please explain this to me. I just really don’t even get it. I mean come on. If poly whatever is so painful and complicated, why do people do it? Love isn’t supposed to be that complicated people.

  • Monty April 24th, 2013 at 9:10 AM #2

    Let me just take a wild stab in the dark here so the same people that are calling me evil for being homosexual are probably the ones having sex with a bunch of different people but going to church on sunday and talking about how all gay people are going to hell sound familiar to anyone i’m sure it probably does

  • j.r. April 24th, 2013 at 9:12 AM #3

    I just threw up in my mouth a little when I read this. So gross. One man, One woman, end of story.

  • Gentry April 24th, 2013 at 9:14 AM #4

    Okay, so secretly, I have ALWAYS wanted to swing since I first heard of it. But, there is not way on God’s green Earth that my wife would go for it. I think it sounds like so much fun though. You don’t have to get involved with anyone past a one night stand. What could be better than a one night stand your wife not only approves of but enjoys. I just think it sounds like a little piece of heaven on Earth. But, I really do like being married to my wife so guess what I’m not doing this weekend.

  • Harriet April 24th, 2013 at 9:18 AM #5

    Kind of makes sense that high risk people would be swingers. After all, they have extremely stressful jobs and need some sort of major tension relief. All that being said, I did try it and i was just like the author-not a fan. I felt betrayed even though I was a willing participant. Been there, done that, ain’t going back.

  • Lisa April 25th, 2013 at 4:00 AM #6

    I would totally freak out if my husband said that he wanted to have a threesome. I think that instead of feeling safe that I would instead feel threatened.

  • Theodore April 26th, 2013 at 12:00 AM #7

    A threesome is every man’s fantasy. My friends and I have spoken enough about it. But actually playing it out? Impossible for the wife to agree to that and I don’t want to without her. So end of the story I guess!

  • Ted April 26th, 2013 at 3:55 AM #8

    Don’t know that I could ever even bring this up with my girlfriend even if I wanted to do it. I kind of like the idea of there being two women but she won’t go for that at all. Not so willing to risk what I have with her just to satisfy one little fantasy of mine.

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