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How much can threesomes tell us about gender roles and homophobia?

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A researcher from Birmingham City University has literally written the book on threesomes and the results are fascinating, says Caroline O’Donoghue

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

At a dinner party, you should never talk about religion, politics or money. It’s a very straightforward, if somewhat limiting, piece of hosting advice. If you can’t talk about ISIS, Trump or your failure to secure a mortgage, what on earth can you talk about?

Threesomes. You can talk about threesomes.

Threesomes, I would wager, are more fun to talk about than they are to actually have. They fall into a very specific part of the chat Venn diagram, intersecting “things people don’t usually know much about” and “things that are sexy and fun to talk about”. As with tattoos and plastic surgery, you don’t need to have the slightest experience of a threesome to have a strong opinion. Most of us – the coupled-up, the shy or the just-plain-can’t-figure-out-the-maths-of-it – are just speculating.

You can discuss whether you would have one (my answer: maybe, but only in circumstances of extreme luxury. I would request the presence of at least one polar-bear rug, head still on, as a reassurance that what I was doing was opulent and cool, not dingy and awkward). You can relay the experience of your friends who have had one. You can argue about whether it is better to be in a relationship, inviting another person in (“I want to show another person how sexy we are,” said one friend, pissed and confessional) or whether to be the guest star, livening up a couple’s Saturday night. And, of course, of course, you can talk endlessly about what the preferred gender ratio should be. Two men? Two women? Three men? Three women? Three people who identify as gender-fluid, so the whole thing is just a dance of skin and sweat and not giving a fuck?

Ryan Scoats has a PhD in threesomes from Birmingham City University and he is here to furnish our sex lives with his frankly fascinating insights on the subject. Scoats took on the subject after he and his girlfriend began a sexual relationship with another woman. After that, the academic found that almost all research into threesomes were to do with polyamorous or “open” relationships, which didn’t apply to him.

How many times have you been told that the 25-year-old woman with the long-term girlfriend is just ‘experimenting’, whereas a man in the same scenario is ‘definitely gay’?

Talking to Broadly, Scoats said that threesomes were a fascinating insight into gender roles in society and, in particular, the bias between female and male “experimentation”. "For women, for the longest time, there's been almost an inherent expectation of their inherent bisexuality or gender fluidity,” he says. Scoats’ point is an interesting one. How many times have you been told that the 25-year-old woman with the long-term girlfriend is just “experimenting”, whereas a man in the same scenario is “definitely gay”? It’s a damaging – not to mention incredibly limited – view of sexuality and it serves neither gender particularly well. It gives girls the chance to experiment with bisexuality, yet never have their partners taken seriously. It deprives men of their chance to experiment, for fear that even seeming interested will brand them as closeted.

Threesomes, Scoats theorises, have become a way for men who identify as straight to bond with one another, without actually touching. After interviewing 30 male students, he found that a third had participated in a threesome. Where the make-up was male-male-female, the students said that they had very little physical contact with one another.: “You get to "high five" your mate over her back and that's about it really.” 

“This is allowing them to have threesomes with other men without it challenging their sexuality,” says Scoats. “The trend ties into bromances and shows that modern men are more comfortable with their male friends.”

Meanwhile, the female students who took part in the survey made no bones about the fact that there would be, er, no bones unless the guys engage with one another. ‘If there is no homo, there is no trio,” said 26-year-old Isa. “I find it really annoying if they are reluctant to touch each other.”

“My only knowledge of men threesomes – like two males, one female – is from porn and it always just seems absolutely brutal,” said another student. Everyone with a WiFi connection knows the kind of porn she means: the kind where the sex is more akin to violent contact sport than it is to sex, and the woman involved is treated equally as the pitch, the ball, the fans and the referee.

It’s quite sad, isn’t it? Here are all these young, beautiful people, interested in having group sex with one another. The girls want to see the boys touching one another. All the boys want to do, in all likelihood, is touch one another. Everyone just wants to touch everyone and the whole thing is getting crushed under the heel of prejudice and stigma. There’s this undercurrent of paralysing fear among straight men of committing a homoerotic act and then being gay for the rest of your life.

The sooner everyone can let go and just enjoy themselves, the sooner we can start seeing better, more playful threesomes in the world. And thus the sooner the rest of us can talk about it over dinner.

@Czaroline

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