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Maybe you caught that one “House Hunters” episode that had HGTV-lovers around the globe up in arms. Or maybe you binged “Politician” specifically for that throuple subplot (#relatable).
Or maybe you were rooting for (read: turned on by) Alice, Nat, and Gigi in Showtime’s “The L Word: Generation Q.”
Whatever the reason, you stumbled across this article because you’re curious about what exactly a throuple is and how it works.
Luckily for you, Liz Powell, PsyD, licensed psychologist, LGBTQ-friendly sex educator, and author of “Building Open Relationships: Your Hands-On Guide to Swinging, Polyamory & Beyond,” and Lateef Taylor, pleasure-based, queer-inclusive sex educator and sex-positivity advocate, are here to explain.
Taylor offers this definition: “A throuple is a relationship between three people who have all unanimously agreed to be in a romantic, loving, relationship together with the consent of all people involved.”
You may also hear a throuple referred to as a three-way relationship, triad, or closed triad.
Typically, an open relationship is a relationship that occurs between two people who have mutually agreed to open their relationship up to sex — but not romance or love — with other people.
If two folks in an open (or closed) relationship have sex together with a third person, this is a threesome, not a throuple!
A threesome is explicitly sexual in nature. While throuples can (and often do!) have a sexual component, throuples are ongoing relationships that are full of feels and romance. Threesomes (usually) aren’t.
Here’s where it gets tricky: A throuple can be an open or closed relationship.
If it’s open, it means that the people in the throuple can only have romance within the throuple, but can have sex with folks outside of the relationship.
If it’s closed, it means that the people in the throuple can only have romance and sex with the other people within the throuple.
A throuple relationship can also be polyamorous.
This means that the individuals within the throuple can have sex and romance or love with folks outside of their three-person relationship.
“As with a two-person relationship, what the throuple looks like is dependent on what the people in the relationship’s boundaries, needs, and wants are,” explains Taylor.
“Being in a throuple gives you access to more or different types of emotional affection, intimacy, care, and joy,” says Taylor.
And if the throuple is sexual: sex, pleasure, and orgasms!
There are three main ways a throuple can form:
- a preexisting couple decides to add a third person to their relationship and actively seeks out a third
- a preexisting couple organically adds a third to the relationship
- three people organically come together around the same(ish) time and choose to enter a relationship together
According to Powell, “A lot of times a throuple is formed when a heterosexual couple seeks out a hot bisexual babe.” (P.S. This is called unicorn hunting).
Powell adds that a three-way relationship may be especially attractive to folks who are bisexual, queer, or pansexual.
If you’re in a preexisting relationship, a throuple may work well for you and your partner if:
- you have an incredibly healthy preexisting relationship complete with A+ communication skills
- you’re equally enthusiastic about being in a throuple
- you both experience compersion (more on this term below) and have developed healthy coping skills for jealousy
- you have a shared view on what a throuple might look like for you, but are both willing to adapt that view based on the third’s needs
- you’re both willing to unpack your couple privilege (learn more about couple privilege here)
If you’re single, a throuple may work well for you if:
- you’re attracted physically, emotionally, spiritually, and — if the relationship is going to be sexual — sexually to both parties
- you experience compersion and have healthy coping skills for jealousy
- you know how to communicate your boundaries and advocate for yourself
“Many of the benefits of a throuple are similar to the benefits of a two-person relationship,” says Taylor. These include:
- someone(s) who enjoy your same hobbies, and someone(s) to pick up new hobbies through
- someone(s) to emotionally support you through hard times
- someone(s) for you to emotionally support
- someone(s) to teach you something
There are also benefits specific to being in a throuple.
If, for instance, you’re someone who experiences compersion — joy from witnessing another person’s joy, which is essentially vicarious joy — you get that in spades from a throuple. You get to watch two people who you love, love and be loved by another person.
There are also the logistical benefits of a throuple.
If you live together, for instance, there are more people to contribute to household upkeep and finances. If there are kids, there are more people to help with child-rearing responsibilities.
There aren’t necessarily any disadvantages of being in a throuple.
But there are unrealistic expectations about what a throuple will actually look or feel like. Or, how much work it actually takes.
“Couples who want to add a third person need to be prepared for their original relationship to undergo a complete shift,” says Powell.
Unfortunately, OG couples aren’t always prepared for that.
Powell explains: “[Often] they come up with tons of rules around what the throuple is going to look like and what the boundaries will be in order to preserve the relationship.” Then they go out to try to find a third.
The trouble? For starters, this is extremely disempowering to the third person!
“Any conversation about the boundaries of the throuple needs to take place with all people involved,” says Powell.
Beyond that, it’s just not realistic.
“A throuple isn’t just a slightly different take on a relationship between two people,” says Powell. “It’s four different relationships: the three individual relationships and one group relationship.”
No doubt, this can work. But it requires a lot of work and communicating from all people involved — like, a lot.
We aren’t going to sugarcoat it: If all parties aren’t prepared to put in the work, the throuple will not last.
It may not need to be said, but “transitioning your two-person relationship to a three-person relationship isn’t going to fix any underlying issues in a relationship,” says Taylor. “It’s going to exacerbate them.”
This is especially true if the issue in the relationship is lack of, or poor, communication.
Currently in a two-person relationship? Before you bring it up with your current partner, ask yourself:
- Why am I interested in a throuple?
- Why am I interested in a throuple, as opposed to a polyamorous relationship where my partner and I can have individual romantic relationships outside of the relationship?
- Why am I interested in a throuple, as opposed to an open relationship where my partner and I can have individual sexual relationships outside of each other?
- Am I willing for my current relationship to completely undergo a shift?
Taylor adds, “Before you bring it up with your partner, you need to know if you’re willing to continue your current relationship if your partner says no.” Or if it’s throuple or bust.
Once you know the answers to these Qs, you’re ready to bring it up. Start with an “I” statement, then pose a question. For example:
- “Ever since watching “The L Word,” I’ve been really intrigued by the concept of a throuple and I think it’s something I might be interested in exploring together. Would you ever be interested in bringing another person into our relationship, romantically and sexually?”
- “I think watching someone else love and have sex with you would bring me a lot of joy and pleasure. Would you ever be interested in sharing our life with another partner?”
- “I recently read an article about throuples and I think that may be something I’d like to explore. Would you consider learning more about throuples with me and talking about whether or not that relationship style might work for us?”
Remember: Your partner may not be interested, and they reserve the right to say no without being pressured.
This is supposed to be a conversation, not a debate. K?
Financial, sexual, relationship, and familial boundaries all need to be discussed.
- If there are children, how will the child-rearing responsibilities be shared?
- How will you handle finances? For instance, who will pay on dates? Who will pay rent?
- What will the living situation be?
- What pregnancy prevention measures and safer sex practices will be used, and by whom?
- How much will you share with family members, co-workers, and friends? How will you interact in front of those people?
- Will the throuple be closed or open?
More often than you think you need to!
“You don’t want to wait for things to come up before you talk about them,” says Taylor. “You want to be proactive.” Fair.
They recommend establishing a weekly check-in meeting where all parties are present.
Popular polyamory and open relationship resources include:
- “More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory” by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert
- “The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures” by Janet W. Hardy and Dossie Easton
- “Building Open Relationships: Your Hands-On Guide to Swinging, Polyamory, and Beyond!” by Liz Powell
For resources specifically about or for throuples, check out:
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.