8 Rules for the Third Wheel in a Threeway

Our contributor is a college student who wishes to remain anonymous. She has some sage advice to impart on the topic of three ways…

When people give warnings about threeways, it’s usually directed at couples who are bringing in a third party. Threeways are not a relationship-building exercise, they tell you. Are you sure your relationship can handle this? they ask. The reality is rarely as hot as the fantasy, they intone. Do you both want this equally? And this is all good, solid advice — I know this because I have had a threeway as one half of a couple.

But what people don’t often tell you is that it’s not easy being the third wheel, either. I’ve been there, too, and I can report that there are just as many potential pitfalls when you’re the single one — in fact, sometimes it can be even harder.

Until I tried it, I thought being the single person — the guest star of the evening! — would mean having all the fun with none of the pressure or tension of wondering what might happen to your relationship. All the tangled bedsheets, none of the nagging insecurities! And at first, this was true. My single lady threesome days proceeded similarly to the San Francisco summer of 1969: the first few experiences and couples were all love, sunshine, and plenty of orgasms to go around. By the end of the summer, though, everything good about swapping favors with couples had turned bad.

The final couple of the summer was my worst experience to date. They asked me to be their number three because they trusted me. And, perhaps, because they knew I was experienced in threesomes, too — I wasn’t some newbie who was going to try and mess with their relationship or commit some threeway faux-pas. But all the trust and experience in the world is no match for a couple who just isn’t ready for a threeway. Despite our best attempts to outline rules and regulations beforehand, the night ended in a storm of arguments between the couple.  And if you think it sucks being a couple in that situation, imagine being the lonely third stuck on the bed watching the entire thing unfold.

When I first arrived at the couple’s house, they poured me a glass of white wine as we sat on their bedroom floor, all of us eager and a bit nervous. We discussed their previously concocted rules and what everyone’s comfort levels were on various sexual acts. Additionally, I suggested that we choose a safe word in case things went in a direction someone was uncomfortable with — that way we could redirect the threeway without having to disrupt the lively libidinous mood of the night.

The more we talked, the more we learned about each other. Sounds like we were on the right track, right? Unfortunately, the guy had failed to tell his partner just how many times he and I had been together previously. It was years ago, and it was never as a couple — his girlfriend knew this, but she didn’t know exactly how often. Awkward time to find out that your partner wasn’t completely honest with you! (I’d assumed she was fully in the know.) We also discussed how he had cheated on every one of his partners, except her. Again, not exactly the best way to make your partner feel secure and safe as she prepares to engage in a threeway.

Not surprisingly, there was a lot of tension in the room. For some reason, though, we all agreed that it was a good idea to go ahead with the threeway anyway. Once you’ve got that far, I guess it’s hard to turn back. And for most of the night, we had a great time. But as the evening wore on, the man became jealous of his partner and me getting intimate together. Rather than pull the plug on the evening, he let his jealousy grow until he couldn’t stand it any longer — and then he launched into a massive argument with her. In a slightly drunken stupor, they staggered to the bathroom, fighting all the way, and slammed the door shut behind them. Meanwhile, I was left in the dark, somewhat dehydrated, lying on another couple’s sex stained bed and listening to them yell at each other through a closed door. Not exactly my favorite way to spend an evening. I gathered my things as I tried to put together how this night took such a dramatic turn for the worst.

Here’s what I came up with — consider it some much-needed advice for the pinch-hitter in a threeway (though most of this advice applies to anyone considering a threeway). Do not proceed without the following:

1. Communicate. The couple needs to tell you exactly what is and is not acceptable — preferably at a time before the night of the threesome. This is because (a) this talk is necessary but not always sexy foreplay talk; and (b) this talk may make any one of you rethink the threeway — and some time lag will give you each a chance to change your mind. Some recommended topics to cover: Will the guest be able to have intercourse with either partner? Can there be two-way kisses or only three-way kisses? What positions do you want to try that involve three people? How are we handling safer sex? Similarly, the guest should also communicate boundaries. Think of it as a consultation to make sure everyone is on the same page.

2. Know thyself. Really knowing yourself and where your boundaries lie is key. For example, the guy in this threeway had no idea that he would be jealous of his girlfriend kissing another woman. As a guest, are you prepared for what your role will be? What if the couple treats you as a human sex toy, for example? What if they only want to kiss each other?

3. Have (and use, if necessary) a safeword. Of course, you can’t always know in advance how something will make you feel. Hence the need for a safe word — and the need to actually use it!

4. STOP at any time. You can pull the plug after the initial communication session, you can run a mile when they open the door to you, or you can yell the safe word right after everyone gets naked. Don’t ever keep going just because it seems like it would be “awkward” to stop. It’s way more awkward to keep going with a threeway you know one or all of you will regret later. And don’t feel bad ditching a couple if you sense they’re not ready for a threeway — you’re doing them and their relationship a favor.

5. Make sure you trust each other. Everyone knows that the couple must trust each other, duh. But the guest also needs to trust that the couple has come to the right decision in having a threesome. If you think one of the partners is not emotionally stable enough for it, then you must politely decline the invitation. If you don’t trust one of the partner’s intentions for the threesome, or you think they might overstep their boundaries, then don’t do it. All three of you need to want the best for each other, and to understand the sexual dynamic you each desire. After all, as the guest you are not just there to heat up that couple’s relationship — there needs to be something in it for you, too!

6. Know your responsibilities. The couple is putting their relationship in a vulnerable position when they decide to share their other half with someone outside of the relationship. This means that the guest has a responsibility to stay aware of their boundaries and intently listen to what each partner wants and desires. Similarly, the couple has a responsibility to one another in maintaining trust by keeping in check with their partner to ensure that nothing has gone too far.

7. Don’t get drunk. Consume alcohol responsibly and in moderation. Sure, some liquid confidence may seem like a good idea, but if you feel like you need alcohol to go through with a threesome, you probably should not be having a threesome. A glass of wine to settle the nerves and get in the mood is totally acceptable, but anything beyond that can lead you into the dangerous territory of disrespect, non-consensual sex, and — like my experience — heated arguments.

8. Debrief afterwards. Maybe meet for coffee the next week to check in and see how everyone is doing. This is especially helpful for the single person, because they will be reassured that the couple is still solid in their relationship. Overall, everyone can feel more comfortable and have closure over the experience. Plus, then you won’t live in fear of bumping into each other in the supermarket and having to debrief there!


  1. Well this list had me laughing out loud! I mean, aren’t most stupid decisions made during drunken stupors?

  2. Wow! The detailed description of that last ghastly evening seemed to be forshadowing a one-item conclusion: don’t do threesomes.

    Instead you concluded with a thoughtful, reasonable 8-point list that sounded a lot like my favorite advice “‘be careful’ doesn’t mean ‘don’t do it,’ it just means ‘be careful if you do.'”

    If I could add an item #9 it would be “bring an adult sense of humor.” Which you’ll need if you wind up in the situation you, well, wound up in.

    I say “adult” sense of humor not in the XXX-rated sense but in the “can take a joke” sense of being able to maintain perspective when expectation are disastrously not met. Which will often be the case even when it comes to sex even with one person.


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