Sex & Relationships

How Many People Actually Have Threesomes?

Everyone is curious, but how many people are doing it?

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In this week's Sex IDK column, Emma McGowan, certified sex educator and writer, answers your questions about threesomes.

Q: How many people actually have threesomes with their partner?

Threesomes are the most common sexual fantasy in the United States, according to a survey conducted by Dr. Justin Lehmiller and published in his book Tell Me What You Want in 2018. Dr. Lehmiller talked to 4,175 people between the ages of 18 and 87 and found that 97% of men and 87% of women (no word on non-binary people) had fantasized about sex with more than one person. So, basically, everyone wants to have at least a threesome. But how many people are actually doing it?

The short answer is: Not that many. A 2017 study published in PLOS ONE that included 2,021 people found that 10% of women and 18% of men had participated in a threesome. (As with the previous study, no numbers were available for non-binary people.) Dr. Lehmiller’s book breaks the stats down even further, finding that 8% of straight women, 15% of straight men, 16% of non-heterosexual (meaning gay, bi, or pansexual) women, and 25% of non-heterosexual men had actually had a threesome.

Like all studies on sexual behavior, these statistics shouldn’t be taken as the hard and only truth. It’s notoriously hard to collect great data on sexual behaviors because it’s difficult to get people to talk about their sex lives — and the people who are willing to talk about it are often the people who are doing it more. (For example, a 2018 survey conducted by the website DatingAdvice.com found that just over half of gay Americans had participated in a threesome, which is significantly higher than Dr. Lehmiller’s findings.) But by looking at a couple of different sources, we can get a decent sense of how many people are actually doing it with multiple people.

So, what’s with the mismatch between fantasy and reality? Why are so many people interested in threesomes, but relatively few people actually have them? Dr. Britney Blair, PsyD, CBSM, AASECT, a clinical psychologist, sex therapist, and founder of the sexual wellness app Lover, tells Bustle that it may come down to fear of the complications another person might bring.

"While we may fantasize about having a third sex partner, bringing this to life may feel like a threat to the relationship," Dr. Blair says. "Maybe we worry our partner will like them more, that there will be drama, or that we will be left for this new and exciting person. Maybe it triggers jealousy, which is a universal emotion."

Additionally, despite an increased cultural awareness of the fact that monogamy isn’t easy — and many people, of all genders, are pretty bad at it — sex outside of a monogamous commitment is still considered to be a “morally bankrupt” act by many.

Here’s the thing: As long as everyone is consenting and into it, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a threesome or group sex. For the fantasy to go well in reality, a couple bringing a third into their sex life needs to clearly communicate their needs and boundaries with each other — and with their very special guest star. Like all sexual encounters, there might be some mismatches in desire or expectations, or jealousy might crop up on occasions. But that can be worked through as long as everyone involved is communicating before, during, and after the experience.

And if you want to keep that threesome just in fantasy? That’s perfectly fine, too. There are plenty of people — the majority, if those studies are to believed — who are doing just that. Either way, you’ll be in good company.

Studies cited:

Lehmiller, J. (2018) Tell Me What You Want.

Herbenick, D. et al. (2017) Sexual diversity in the United States: Results from a nationally representative probability sample of adult women and men. PLOS ONE. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0181198

Matthews, H. (2014) Gay Americans 3x More Likely to Have a Threesome. Survey, DatingAdvice.com, https://www.datingadvice.com/studies/ga3mlt

Experts:

Dr. Britney Blair, PsyD, CBSM, AASECT, a clinical psychologist, sex therapist, and founder of the sexual wellness app Lover,