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The thought of seeing someone you love having sex with someone else is normally filled with negative connotations: catching a cheating spouse and the jealousy, anger, hurt, betrayal and all that goes alongside it. But… what if watching your partner with someone else was a choice? How would you feel then? We’ve talked to a number of people who have done just that to find out more.
The first question is: where, or in which scenarios, might you be in a position to watch your partner have sex with someone else? The answers to this are wide ranging, and sometimes surprising.
The most common answer is as part of a threesome. With dating apps like Tinder and Feeld allowing for partnered profiles, searching for a third (often affectionately called a “unicorn”) has become almost normal. However, there are implications to this kind of dating, known as “unicorn hunting”, that we will go into a little bit later.
Another route is swinging, or consensual partner-swapping. Cara and Jamie* are a professional heterosexual couple who have been together for 20 years, and they have been swinging for 14. For Cara, swinging creates a level of complicity that the couple share, which in turn brings about an even greater level of intimacy.
Others take it a step further and organise their own group sex sessions, or orgies, which have something of a sordid reputation but are in essence simply a shared expression of passion (so long as they are consensual).
There are also a number of public, or members-only, sex and fetish nights to be found around the country. In London, some of the bigger names are Torture Garden, Killing Kittens, Skirt Club and Klub Verboten, while Pleasure Island, Liquid Love, Little Black Book and Future Parties are among the lesser known events. Nights like these all have different themes, dress codes and rules of engagement but attending an event means you will be likely to witness other people having sex; whether that is your partner is entirely your mutual preorgative.
In a society where we are taught that jealousy is, in effect, a measure of how much we love someone, choosing to watch them in the throes of passion with someone else is not a particularly conventional choice. Many people have fantasies about group sex, seeing their partner sleep with someone else, or even having sex with someone other than their partner. But what makes someone move that fantasy into reality?
Above, Cara explained the intimacy and feelings of complicity that accompany watching her long-term partner, Jamie, have sex with other people. For them it helps to keep their relationship alive and to maintain a level of attraction that many long-term relationships lose. “It takes a lot of love and trust to reach this level of intimacy,” says Cara. And Jamie wholeheartedly acknowledges the taboo around it: “There is something very wrong and perverse about seeing and hearing your loved one be screwed to high heaven by someone else.” For him, the “wrongness” is part of the very reason it’s exciting.
For Matt*, a single man in his 40s, watching his partner have sex with someone else was about mutual respect. By acknowledging the desire to be intimate with other people, him and his partner were able to circumvent the urge to go behind each other’s back.
Nikonrope, who has been in a number of different situations where she has seen various partners having sex with others (the first being a Harry Potter-themed orgy) says that there are two main things she enjoys about it. Firstly, it gives her a chance to learn things about her partners in a way she wouldn’t normally get to do. “Being able to observe them from the outside can make you notice little things you perhaps miss when you’re in the moment together.” It’s an opportunity to get even more insight into what they like and dislike and how their body responds to different sensations.
Secondly, watching how differently her partners often play with others can put things in perspective: “The way they play with another person could be completely different to the way that we play, which is key I think. To know that the things you do with that person are special and sort of exclusive to the two of you, because no dynamic or connection is the same.”
For Lucy*, who identifies heavily as a voyeur, it simply turns her on: “I love it. It’s like live action porn starring people you know and care about.”
39-year-old Oli*, who has been on the kink/ fetish scene since his mid-twenties explored threesomes regularly in a long-term relationship. For them, it was partly a way for his partner to explore her bisexuality, and they did so regularly with a close female friend.
Louise and Mike*, a couple in their 50s, have had similar experiences. Exploring with other women allowed Louise to acknowledge her bisexuality. “I no longer identify as heterosexual,” she says. “Having my first bisexual encounter at 50 has validated my feeling that I was always bicurious and, having been able to explore this is something I’ve really enjoyed.”
Watching a partner have sex isn’t just for the young, it can lead to wonderful realisations later in life too.
So… now we know why people might choose to watch a partner having sex with someone that isn’t them. But how does it feel when you’re actually doing it?
Despite knowing she wanted to, Nikonrope predicted that the first time she saw a partner with someone was likely to feel strange. “We are brought up with this idea that if our partner sleeps with someone else it’s a reflection of us being ‘not good enough’,” she says, and her first response to seeing her partner kiss someone else was a need to leave the room. But, with time and more partners and parties, it’s gotten better and better. “I’ve been in many different situations and seen different play partners play with people when we’ve been out. Now it’s something I actually enjoy and find really hot at times.”
Jamie echoes this: “Even after all these years the moans of pleasure, and the look of pure ecstasy that my wife has on her face during sex with others, still excite me the most out of any sexual activity that I’ve ever done myself.”
Matt describes it as a privilege as well as a turn-on. “For me it was a very visual experience. Knowing my partner was enjoying being pleasured… and to share that with her, knowing we would go home together afterwards.” And this is also a common theme. For a number of couples, the post-play debrief was an active part of the experience.
Louise and Mike have been in several situations where they have had the chance to watch each other with other people. Despite having more “bad” experiences than great ones, it doesn’t put them off, and can actually help to work out what doesn’t work for them. Louise explains that for her, the experience is very much dependent on finding the right people, and Mike goes on to say that it’s a libido-killer if he steps into “protective mode”: if — for example — he sees that Louise isn’t enjoying something. But the feelings he gets when she is having a good time are incredible: seeing the smile on her face, and even making eye contact with the person she is with, all add to the positive feelings around it.
Louise describes the feelings of enjoyment she gets from watching Mike. “I get to watch his nurturing side as he pleasures someone else. I can see what he’s doing, and I know how good it feels, so I get to almost embody that feeling too.”
Overally, the most common feeling by far was ‘compersion’. Compersion is literally ‘the antithesis’ of jealousy : it is a feeling of happiness or joy that comes about because of the happiness and/or joy of another person. While compersion absolutely doesn’t have to be about sex, or even relationships, it’s a well-known term in the kink and polyamorous communities.
Almost everyone we talked to described feelings of compersion when watching their partner sleep with someone else: they felt good because their partner felt good. Watching their partner experience pleasure, seeing their responses, hearing their moan was a pleasurable experience for them too. Cara explains: “When you love someone you want them to be happy. Watching the one I love experiencing a lot of pleasure with someone else is highly arousing and exciting.”
For Nikonrope — and likely many others — it was something that took a long time to process, though. “You can read about it all you want,” she continues, “but reading about it and seeing it are two very different things. It’s also important to remember that it’s OK to feel weird about it the first, second, third time it happens. I guess it’s also a question of whether or not you actually want to get used to it or not. It’s not for everyone.”
And this part is important, for many people group sex situations are just not something that excites them. For others the thought might be a turn-on, but they will remain firmly in the realm of fantasy. But for those that do choose to jump in with both feet, isn’t jealousy inevitable?
Jealousy is a complicated emotion; you can feel jealous while simultaneously feeling turned on or excited, and feelings we associate with jealousy can often be the product of something else entirely (like feeling unsafe). Similarly, jealousy can be perceived as a negative feeling, or simply a feeling: one that can be acknowledged and managed along with any other. Some of the people we spoke with didn’t mention jealousy at all, it simply didn’t come up but for most, they went in with their eyes open: knowing it’s a possibility makes it easier to deal with if it happens.
Lucy explains that her feelings of jealousy only normally appear in the aftermath of a group play session and often this is due to different “aftercare” needs for different individuals. Louise and Mike explain that for them, feelings of jealousy or envy are usually accompanied with an understanding that they “messed up” somewhere along the way, and it’s an opportunity to reflect on where those feelings came from.
Jealousy wasn’t an issue for Oli and his two female play partners, and he puts this down to their close friendship. However, he is aware that there are scenarios where that may not be the case: “My partner and I subsequently discussed the possibility of playing with another male at some point, but were less certain that it would go so well. Neither of us could really pinpoint why that would make a difference though, which just goes to show that logic and emotion are very different things.”
For Nikonrope there were very real feelings of jealousy and sadness the first time she watched a partner with someone else. “At that point I just wanted to go home,” she says, “But I talked myself into staying, thinking I had to get over it and that it was going to get better. I ended up having a great time at the party and am glad I decided to stay!”
So, if your curiosity is piqued, what do you need to know?
So you think you want to watch your partner have sex with someone else? Great! Sit with that thought before you do anything else with it. The most important thing about being able to be honest with others, is to first be honest with yourself. Consider why you want to do it, is this for you, or for your partner, or something you think could be great for both of you? Look at it from all angles, consider all the possibilities, the best- and worst-case scenarios and everything in between. Think about how you might feel, and how you might respond to those feelings. And be honest with yourself.
The reality is that feelings are likely to come up whether you are single or in a relationship. As well as being a lot of fun, involving yourself in group sex dynamics can be complicated and overwhelming, at least to begin with. Make sure you are coming at it from a solid base. That thinking you did earlier? That’s where this comes into play. Resilience, self awareness and a feeling of security are all helpful, perhaps even necessary, when considering group play. Do you feel like you can manage the feelings that come up? If you are part of a couple, are you able to compromise and hold space for each other as well as the other people you may come into contact with? A solid emotional base, as an individual or as a couple, is important to make group play fun and that’s why you’re here, right?
In any form of open relationship the key is to over-communicate. Communicate, communicate, communicate and then communicate some more. The feelings you have about seeing your partner having sex with someone else may be quite different from the feelings you thought you might have, for better or worse. Be willing to talk honestly about how you feel. But also, be willing to take a level of responsibility for your own feelings, at least in the short-term. Causing a scene by demanding your partner listens to you while they are in the middle of play may not be a healthy way to communicate feelings of sadness, anger or jealousy.
While many people find they are able to go with the flow fairly easily in group situations, others need clear boundaries to be agreed ahead of time. It is rarely possible to predict every scenario that might crop up in a group play situation but considering some of them can be helpful, especially the first few times.
Some helpful questions for couples:
Clear boundaries can be very helpful and will be different for everyone but they can also be tricky to navigate, especially if they are a form of nonconsensual control (boundaries around playing, or not, with specific people or specific acts can be particularly problematic). As above, it is important to consider motivations and be honest with yourselves about what you can and can’t agree to and why you are asking in the first place.
Respect and consent are the cornerstones of group sexual activity. If you have agreed certain boundaries ahead of time, it is often best to respect them in the moment and reflect on them afterwards, rather than ignoring them or trying to move the goalposts in the middle of an event.
Similarly, asking for consent from all parties involved is imperative. While getting involved in an exciting looking scene at an event might sound fun for you, interrupting others mid-play is a big no-no. Etiquette is everything. Eye contact can be a way in, but always ask before jumping in and if in doubt wait until the particular scene is finished before imposing yourself onto others without an explicit invitation.
At the end of the day, you want your experiences to be fun. Challenging internalised beliefs around jealousy and sex might be tough, especially at first, but it shouldn’t be painful. You, and your partner, should feel safe. Try it once, try it twice, but if it’s too much don’t force it.
As mentioned earlier, ‘unicorn hunting’ is very much a thing. If you are part of a couple, and on the lookout for a third, remember that that person is as much a part of your dynamic as you and your partner. They are not disposable. They deserve as much care and attention as you do.
Watching your partner have sex with someone else is exciting but it’s also really not for everyone.
Oli’s advice: “I’ve always said that there are only two ways to have a successful threesome: one is when an established couple, in a healthy relationship, bring a temporary participant into their relationship. The other is when close friends decide to progress things beyond the platonic in a mutually beneficial and agreeable manner.”
Of course, there are many successful models of open relationships, ranging from monogamish (couples, as described by Oli, who play occasionally with a third) to full blown non-hierarchical models like relationship anarchy (where every connection — sexual or not — is, in theory, valued equally). The most important thing is finding what works for you and, of course, having fun!* some names have been changed to protect identities