Science_Threesome

The World’s First ‘Threesome Doctor’ Will See You Now

Threesomes are notoriously hard to research, but Ryan Scoats has managed to dissect them inside and out. Who is he, and what’s he doing in our three-way?

There are 7.8 billion people in the world, but only one of them can call themselves the “World’s First Threesome PhD.” That accolade belongs to Ryan Scoats, a lecturer in sociology at Coventry University in the U.K. In fact, Scoats has conducted so much three-way research, interviewed so many people about them and doled out so many sexy surveys that he and his colleagues have provided some of the most impactful, informative insights into the mysterious menage-a-trois that we have. 

His overarching finding? That when threesomes are done with effective communication, they don’t ruin relationships — they enhance them (both among romantic couples and friends). “Threesomes [or the novelty of having one] can strengthen a relationship,” he tells me. “It can be nice to see your partner do something new and see them get pleasure and excitement.” 

Not that this species of group sex is always willing to share its pleasure and excitement with him. “It can be difficult because generally, people aren’t comfortable talking about this type of thing,” he says. “You have to show them that you’re not going to judge them, and that you actually want to understand them from a social-scientific point-of-view.” 

As such, we still don’t know a ton about them — apart from the handful of studies that attempt to shake out some sort of threesome prevalence rate and understand the subcultures that are most open to having them, there’s not a lot of non-sensationalized data to go off of when trying to understand the inner workings of the menage-a-trois. 

Additionally, research funders aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to shell out money for threesome studies. From a funding standpoint, Scoats says they’d rather know about STIs, not the pleasurable group sex activities that could lead to one. “A lot of funders aren’t willing to fund research related to sex when they can’t see the immediate outcome,” Scoats continues. “They want to know what the end goal is.” 

Luckily, in the U.K., Scoats says researchers aren’t anywhere near as reliant on the government for funding as we are in the U.S. And so, with his salaried position at Coventry, he’s allowed to research on his own, even when funding is scarce. “As long as it aligns broadly with some of the things that the university is looking to research, I can do what I want,” he explains. 

Prior to Scoats, the existing literature on threesomes mainly resulted as a byproduct of studying specific sexual communities, such as swingers, polyamorists or “the gays.” “Quite often threesomes will play into these [communities], but there’s not that many people purely looking at threesomes [in the general population], which is why I felt it would be a good thing to look at,” he says. “Any sexual behavior is worth looking at in and of itself without assuming, ‘Oh, threesomes, that’s something that swingers or polyamorous triads do.’”

His results, too, have run counter to conventional wisdom — i.e., threesomes are a one-way ticket to resentment and heartbreak. Drawing on a pool of 28 threesome-having men and women, his 2018 study on jealousy and communication in threeways found that open, frequent and honest discussion helped mitigate feelings of exclusion, helped couples enforce the specific “rules” they set out with their third — like “no sleepovers” or “his taint is mine” — and led to better, more productive conversations around safe sex and contraception.

“Bad things can occur when there’s a mismatch in expectations and maybe somebody wants something or wants to do something the others aren’t interested in,” he says. “Or if there’s a misunderstanding or the attention isn’t divided in a way that makes people happy. These are the things that you could control through a bit of discussion. That said, not everyone wants to have these conversations; they can be quite difficult because we’re not really taught how to have these conversations about sex.” 

That might, though, be mainly generational, because according to Scoats, young people are having those conversations. But that might be more out of necessity than enlightenment as they also typically have the most threesomes. “People have threesomes when they’re younger because when they’re older, they view it as a potential threat to a relationship,” he says, explaining that we still need more research to learn the exact role of age in the desire to have threesomes. He also adds that many people he spoke with also had them after a significant life change, such as a breakup. 

“Does this interest primarily come at a younger age, and then wane off until people have gone through big life changes?” he asks. “Or is it sort of ticked off a list?” More often than not, it appears to be something they emotionally bond over before they check it off their list and settle into married, La-Z-Boy life.  

It should be noted, too, that Scoats’ research is particularly focused on MMF threesomes, which are, according to him, a great way to bond with your buddy. “In terms of straight guys doing it, from my research, I found that they were typically younger, and they wanted to do them with their friends,” he says, explaining that they do it as a kind of “bonding experience” that gives them something to look back on and fondly reminisce about (because nothing says “I love you, man” like fist-bumping over the glorious moment your dicks touched — or maybe docked? — in a nice person’s mouth). 

In one of his studies — endearingly titled “I Don’t Mind Watching Him Cum” — Scoats found that friendly MMF threesomes like these are expanding the cultural boundaries of heterosexuality for men, basically making it more okay for men to have sexual contact with another man without instantly becoming “gay” (women have done this for ages, but homophobia has largely prevented men from doing the same). Also, as he told BBC, many men consider MMF threesomes to be more “normal” than FFM, possibly because it’s easier to find participants for the former than it is for the latter. As revealed by his research, about a quarter of participants in his studies viewed MMF as the “norm” for a threesome, and about three-quarters are open to trying one. 

Interestingly, not all of the men in the study mentioned above had sexual contact with other men in their three-way — 60 percent of them identified as “exclusively straight,” and spent their MMF threesomes focusing on the “F” while accidentally bumping shoulders or incidentally touching as they switched positions. That finding flies in the face of threesome stereotypes — we tend to think of group sex as everyone fucking everyone, but often, threesomes are their own microcosms of interaction and attraction, with the people in them writing their own rules about who does what with who. 

Next up on the bright horizon of threesome research, Scoats hopes to uncover questions such as whether couples still see themselves as monogamous after a threesome and what it’s like to be the third body in the act. At the same time, he cares about reiterating the parts about threesomes most of us already know (or should know). “When you have another person thrown into the mix, it does become more complicated,” he says. “You have three people to consider and their experiences and desires to take into account. Just as a one-night stand could be great or boring, I think the same could be said for a threesome.”

The only real difference? You just need triple the snacks.