How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Every week, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a bi woman in my early 30s, and I’ve been dating an amazing man for the past several months. We’re both head over heels for each other and definitely see a future together. We have an amazing sex life, which both of us have described as the best either of us has ever had. Recently, he threw me for a loop by proposing a threesome with a former friend with benefits of his. I told him from the beginning that I’m not a big believer in monogamy, so theoretically I’m into the idea (assuming everyone quarantines, or we wait until the pandemic has died down), but she’s not really my type, she’s never been with another woman, and he said that she was the one who suggested it—which makes me question what kind of conversations they’ve been having since we got together. I have a few days before we can have an in-person conversation about this, and there are a few things that I want to clear up: I want him to know that if he’s having sexual conversations with other women, I’m fine with it as long as he’s being honest with me about it. And I want him to know that I’m into the idea of a threesome, but maybe not with this particular woman. Any advice for getting this across to him without sounding like I don’t trust him, or moving our default setting back to monogamous?
—Two to One
Stoya: I think our writer has a very reasonable ask here: 1) Keep her in the loop. 2) Don’t expect her to be someone’s first something.
Rich: It’s important to set the tone, too—she’s laying down groundwork for what might turn out to be a long-term, ethically nonmonogamous relationship. I think introducing the discussion to that effect would help mitigate her concerns of seeming closed off or distrustful.
Stoya: So starting off with something like “I’m happy that you’re interested in exploring open options,” before moving into boundaries and desires?
Rich: Definitely—starting off with the positives is an invitation to a conversation, and will mitigate the suggestion of a reprimand, rebuffing, or the building of a wall.
Stoya: Speaking of positives, framing can be useful around desires as well. “I don’t want to be someone’s first W/W encounter” and “I prefer experienced partners” mean the same thing, but the latter is more constructive.
Rich: Exactly. And it’s totally reasonable to veto a prospective third that your partner suggests. To do so is not to telegraph “I’m not interested in a threesome,” just “I’m not interested in a threesome with this person.” I’ve experienced this myself, on both sides, and it’s never derailed the larger relationship dynamic. But like I said, this is why it’s important to set the tone: Construct your nonmonogamy so that it includes straightforward and honest conversations about your potential playmates. If that’s baked in, your partner won’t have reason to suspect that you have ulterior motives for saying no. It can be hard to find a partner for one, let alone one that appeals to two. A degree of trial and error can be expected.
Stoya: For sure. Unless you’re lucky enough to have the same taste in women, you should expect to sort through twice as many people at least as you would solo before you even find someone to approach, much less someone who is also interested in both of you.
Rich: It’s just part of the process. To say no along the way isn’t to roadblock the overall arc of the relationship. I wonder if she’s as OK with him talking to other women sexually as she wants us to believe she is, though.
Stoya: Tell me more?
Rich: She says that she’s fine with this “as long as he’s being honest with me about it,” but there’s no indication from what we see that he isn’t being honest. In fact, bringing this up casually suggests honesty—this kind of conversation would seem to be matter of course for him. It seems like our writer is suspicious nonetheless, and I wonder if that’s more coming from her than him. Hard to say, though, and it’s also hard to say just how much honesty she’s requesting—if she’d prefer to know everything or be given a heads up when he’s having these conversations (or even prior to them being had), well, that’s definitely stuff to work out.
Stoya: If my partner’s former friends with benefits suggested a threesome out of the blue, I’d be wary.
Rich: It’s happened with me and I’ve never thought one thing or another about it—I feel like if I’m in an arrangement where nonmonogamy is OK, I expect such conversations, and in the absence of Yelp reviews for hookups, I think a partner’s endorsement is useful for predicting that a good time will be had. It’s worked! But for our writer, it’s really OK to comb through that to determine the exact comfort level. Again, I’d start positively: “Thanks for bringing this up.” The idea is to encourage, not shut down.
Stoya: If she can ask out of genuine curiosity, she might inquire for further information about the context.
Rich: Yeah, for sure—it seems like he’s basically in line with her expectations, so it’s a matter of just getting more/specifics (and clarifying what she doesn’t want to know). They seem well on their way, though, to satisfying group play.
More How to Do It
My husband and I have an amazing relationship, and I love him deeply. A few months ago, at my suggestion, we started trying threesomes (with another woman) and have really enjoyed it so far. It’s brought us even closer—it’s given me a chance to explore that side of my sexuality—and it’s been a really fun and positive experience. That is, until push came to shove with one of our explicit boundaries.