Romantic relationships are no longer restricted to two people. Around the world, an increasing amount of loved-up folk are choosing to live in a “throuple”.
“A throuple is an intimate, loving, equal relationship between a trio of people,” explains journalist and sex educator Alix Fox.
“It’s a play on the word ‘couple’, and indicates a close romantic bond shared by three human beings, rather than the more traditional two.
“Throuples may consist of three men, three women, or a mixture of genders.”
According to Fox, who presents The Guardian’s relationships podcast Close Encounters, a throuple is very different to a threesome, although in both cases, “three is the magic number”.
“To be clear, a threesome is a purely sexual encounter involving three individuals,” she elaborates.
“Two of them may be in a more committed long-term relationship with one another, or all three may just be - ahem - coming together to enjoy some casual fun, but in either case the emphasis in a threesome is primarily on erotic pleasure.
“It’s three folks joining up to enjoy a saucy, squelchy, X-rated romp.”
In contrast, although a throuple may well have sex together, their relationship doesn’t only exist beneath the sheets.
“They’re practicing a form of ‘polyamory’ or ‘ethical non-monogamy’: that is, having a devoted, caring, involved relationship with more than one other person at the same time,” Fox says.
“For a throuple, it’s not just about shagging – it’s about sharing a special bond that extends beyond the bedroom. A threesome is focused on love-making; a throuple is focused on being in love.”
According to Fox, throuples often begin as a pair who then meet and mutually fall for a third person.
This was the case for Adam Grant and his boyfriend Shayne Curran.
The pair met in 2009 and got married after two and a half years of dating. But a year into married life they met Sebastian Tran in a nightclub and immediately hit it off.
Grant and Curran got divorced in order to enter into a throuple with Tran.
Although the pair were still in love, getting divorced was important to them so that tran would feel equally included.
Previously speaking to The Mirror, Grant said Tran was different to anyone he and Curran had ever met.
“There was something about him that Shayne and I couldn’t explain, but it was like meeting our life partner for the second time,” he said.
Curran added that the pair had never been in a three-way relationship and the new territory was a little scary at first.
“Initially, we did struggle with our feelings for Sebastian and we had some concerns about how our relationship would all work,” he said.
“But after speaking to Adam, we both realised that we both felt the same way about him. If anything, Sebastian only enhanced our relationship.”
If you’re interested in being in a throuple but haven’t naturally stumbled across the arrangement like the three men, Fox says there are tonnes of dating apps that may help you along the way.
“I recently attended a brilliant afternoon gathering called Poly Coffee, which takes place every month at Coffee, Cake & Kisses – a London-based café that holds a variety of clubs and workshops aiming to get people talking constructively about sex and relationships,” she continues.
“At Poly Coffee, people who’ve been in non-monogamous arrangements for years meet with folks who are just starting to explore the lifestyle, and have a natter over a brew and a brownie.
“It’s not only a fantastic way to meet new friends and potential partners, but also to get tips on how to manage multi-member relationships like throuples, which although rewarding, can also hold challenges.”
Although different people will have different experiences in a throuple, there are a few common advantages and disadvantages experienced by many.
Fox says many people in such close three-way relationships say that their communication skills are greatly enhanced by the process of discussing their thoughts, plans and feelings with more than one partner.
“Honesty, openness, clarity and approachability are essential in poly relationships, and poly folk frequently say that they learn much more about themselves via intimately interacting with multiple people who know them deeply,” she says.
“There’s no need to rely on just one lover to fulfil all your physical, social and emotional requirements – and of course, having more bodies to bounce about with can make sex more varied and thrilling.”
On the flipside, people in throuples can sometimes feel as though they’re competing for affection, or they can experience jealousy if they think that one partner is receiving more attention than them.
Grant, Tran and Curran all share a king-sized bed together to avoid these negative feelings sneaking into their relationship.
“However, poly people can also experience a sensation known as ‘compersion’: a feeling of joy that comes from witnessing a lover enjoying closeness and satisfaction with someone else, and being genuinely pleased and buoyed by their happiness,” Fox explains.
“Compersion is sometimes defined as ‘the opposite of jealousy’.”
On a more pragmatic level, multi-person relationships can make arranging one’s diary a nightmare.
“You have to get good at scheduling dates to work around everyone – brace yourself for spreadsheets!” Fox jokes.
She adds that not all throuples always have sex as a trio and some don’t even sleep in the same bed every night.
“It’s common for partners to mix things up and take turns at making whoopee with each other, and some of them may even date other people outside the central triad unit too, with the agreement of everyone involved,” she says.
“Throuples can be extremely flexible: this kind of three-dom is all about freedom.”