The Nature of Explanation in Sexology and the Riddle of Triolism

 Uri Wernik, Psy.D

 "Triolism (or Troilism) is a sexual variance in which, ordinarily three people participate in a series of sexual practices."  (McCary, 1978, p.484).  According to this definition, four combinations of participants are possible: all males, all females, two females and a male, two males and a female.  This article deals with the last possibility, namely, a couple married (or cohabitants) who is joined by another male. The first three possibilities are actually a variant of group sex with flexible roles and mutuality of experience. In the fourth case, however, it is usually the husband who initiates a situation that enables him to watch and be watched during sexual activity.

Goethe said that, "in her abnormalities nature reveals her secrets".  Triolism is certainly not an abnormality in the clinical sense.  It is rather a very uncommon sexual variety. Yet, the investigation of what initially seems to be of marginal significance or just a curiosity sometimes yields unexpected results.  In this case, first of all a phenomenon considered by many to be bizarre and defying common sense, is described and explained. Secondly, a closer examination of Triolism reveals different aspects of sexuality at large not realized before.  Thirdly, and perhaps the most important, triolism becomes a case in point in examining the nature of explanation itself in Sexology.

In the next section the "riddle" will be presented and different explanatory approaches to the phenomenon will be considered and criticized.  After that, some empirical findings will be presented.  Males who participate in triolism usually do not see it as a problem and do not ask for psychotherapy.  Many of them like to document and share their experiences with other readers of journals such as Forum -- The International Journal of Human Relations.  In fact, content analysis (Holsti, 1969) was performed on 50 consecutive letters that appeared in this journal from May1982 until April 1986 (Note 1).


The Riddle of Triolism and its Established Explanations


Extra-marital sexual relation is a problematic issue in the life of couples.  The reason could be that we were socialized to believe in "one true love", that "love and sex go together" and to accept the values implied in the terms "fidelity" and "adultery".  Many of us are prone to possessiveness and jealousy.  Thus, a partner's affair is considered as a threat or an insult.  And yet, as Kinsey (1948) so elegantly pointed out, on the issue of monogamy, socialization and biology clash.  Sex with others is often desired by individuals who either "cheat" or reach some agreement with their spouses e.g. swinging, short interludes at conventions, "O.K. as long as spouse knows/doesn't know about it."

Triolism is a completely different story.  Here the husband is not interested in having an extra-marital relationship, but rather in his wife having one.  Being the opposite of the usual state of affairs described above, it is seen by many as an absurdity, as an act damaging to self and to the marriage.

The most common explanation of the riddle of triolism is in terms of voyeurism-exhibitionism (McCary, 1978 p.334). And yet, the differences between these phenomena and the behavior to be explained here is more significant than the possible similarities.  The typical voyeur (e.g. one who spies on and watches women living on ground floor getting undressed) and the typical exhibitionist (e.g. one who opens up his raincoat and exposes himself at the central bus station) are both considered by the community to be criminals, or at least as causing an outrageous unwelcome disturbance.  The triolist, on the other hand, gets what he desires with a certain style.  He does not abuse or hurt those who are not interested.  He enters a relationship of give and take: to his wife he gives variety and adventure without guilt feelings; to the other male he supplies sex without involvement and to himself an opportunity to watch and be watched.                              

Another attempt at explanation is done by using the concept of latent or disguised homosexuality (Bieber, 1962) i.e. the husband is symbolically having sex with the other male, through his own wife or by identifying himself with her. This explanation has to be rejected for the simple reason that it is impossible to prove that something latent does not exist.  Thus it can be said that anyone who is not a manifest homosexual - is a latent one.  An explanation that can explain everything or everybody - does not explain anything!

Triolism, not surprisingly, invites speculation in terms of the Oedipal Complex.  Nowadays though, vulgar theorizing is not easily accepted. Reframing the triolitic situation in terms of the Oedipal one is what Ernest Nagel calls a pseudo explanation (1962,  pp.36f) "in which the premise simply rebaptizes the facts to be explained by coining new names for them.” 

On the Nature of Explanation in Sexology

 In 1986 we commemorated the centennial of the publication of Kraft Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis (l886). In l996, we will celebrate another centennial that of the publication of Havelock Ellis' Studies in the Psychology of Sex (l896).  These two persons represent two opposed views on sexuality:  One is inhibitory, judgmental and operates according to a medical disease model.  In this view, behaviors are classified and labeled according to different lists of symptoms and "deviations."  The other is relativistic, non-judgmental and tries to understand all sexual manifestations in the context of culture, history and human nature.  Today's students of sexuality, knowingly or unknowingly, are their descendents.

 Designating a behavior as a deviation, or explaining it in terms of assumed pathology, e.g. exhibitionism, latent homosexuality - is for practical purposes, as if saying: "there is a person who is categorically unlike me."  This is very unlike, for example, explaining a genius as a person who is very high on creativity and intelligence.  Such formulation makes the phenomenon only quantitatively different from other forms of human existence. This is not only a problem of scientific soundness or human decency: Theories in Sexology as well as in Psychology are used as tools for therapy and change, and the test of a theory is in its application.

 A central part in all psychotherapies is the act of turning the strange and illogical into the familiar and the reasonable.  This theme is treated extensively by Frank (l973) and Torey (l973).  The established explanations of triolism fail exactly at this point.  Saying that triolistic behavior is related to exhibitionism-voyeurism creates antipathy rather than empathy.  It does not help us realize that it is familiar enough or that it makes some sense, and that given certain circumstances and characteristics, we could imagine ourselves being interested in such behavior.

Oversimplification, in which a complex behavior is understood in terms of one cause, and use of standard explanations, that do not take into account the unique and specific in every case, are other drawbacks of the traditional approaches to explanation.

In the next section of this paper, I will present descriptive information about triolism gleaned from the sample of letters.  I will then offer an alternative to the theories which were earlier rejected and in their place, propose a model of three factors.  Thus, each individual can be uniquely understood in terms of some of these factors in addition to others that are not shared with the rest of the triolistic population.

The Triolistic Encounter, Its Development and Effects

 Correspondents' Characteristics  

51 letters describing triolistic experiences were identified.  40 (78%) were written by husbands (including one not formally married), 9 (18%) by wives (one not formally married) and 2 (4%) were written by males who joined a couple sexually.

Age was mentioned in the case of 8 males only.  It ranged from 25 to 48 years, averaging 38.  Age was mentioned regarding 8 females as well.  It ranged from 24 to 50 years, averaging 35.  In 6 cases the age of both husband and wife was given.  In all cases, the husband was older; the difference ranging from 1 to 20 years, averaging 5 years.  No generalizations can be made with such a narrow data base.

In 17 letters, length of marriage was mentioned, ranging from 2 to 35 years, averaging 14 years.

The "other" males' Identity

In 46 letters, the identity or some characteristics of the males who joined the couples were given. 11 (24%) were strangers with whom the couple made contact in a bar or an x-rated movie house.  10 (22%) were friends; 5 of the wife and5 of the husband.  9 (19%) were black males - a fact which was emphasized by the husbands.  5 (11%) were delivery boys. 5 (11%) were anonymous observers, e.g. highway drivers.  4(9%) were met through an ad in a swingers' magazine and 2(4%) were family members.

The Triolistic Encounter

Each letter, when applicable, was analyzed according to five categories.  A summary of the main findings is given below.

I. Source of husband's sexual excitement:  Most of the husbands (25=50%) were sexually excited by the other male’s manifestations of arousal in response to the triolisitc situation.  Some (11=22%) were aroused by observing their own wife’s arousal.  In the rest of the cases (14=28%) the husband’s arousal was in response to a combination of the two, or its source was not clear.

II. Method of husband's participation:  Direct observation, occasionally accompanied by photographing (pictures or video), was the most common way of participation (28=68%). Some husbands (7=17%) preferred listening to their wife’s detailed descriptions of sexual affairs, while others were satisfied fantasizing triolistic scenes involving their wife and a strange male.

III. Exposure only:  In five cases (10%), the triolistic activity consisted only of exposure of the wife's nakedness or the couple's oral sexual activity without direct contact of either of them with the other male or males.  In all these cases, it was clearly the husband's initiative with the full cooperation of his wife.  In most cases, the wife exposed her breasts or thighs and both husband and wife enjoyed seeing reactions of arousal in other males, who were strangers to them.

IV. Sexual practices of wives and other males:  Most "wife and other male" couples had intercourse (17=50%).  A second large group (14=41%) had oral sex, and the smallest group (3=9%) had foreplay only.

V. Degree of husband's involvement:  7 (39%) husbands took part in an oral-genital threesome.  5 (28%) took turns with the other male, and had sex with their wives before or after him.  4 (22%) had oral sex with the other male, while 2 (11%) masturbated while watching.

 Husbands whose source of excitement was their wife’s arousal preferred threesomes, while husbands who were excited by the arousal of the other male preferred oral sex with him or masturbation.

To recapitulate, one can generalize and say that triolistic husbands are mostly excited by manifestations of sexual arousal in the other-invited male.  Most of them seek opportunity to observe and a minority seeks situations of exposure.  Homosexual experiences are rare, and oral sex was highly emphasized in all the "wife-other male" scenes.  Only in 35% of the cases did the husband participate in any way in the sexual encounter of his wife with the other male.

 Development of Triolism

Four patterns of Development of Triolism were identified, although in many cases there was a combination of two patterns or more.

I. Premeditated: This is the most common pattern to be found in 21 (42%) cases.  In the first stage, triolism is a possibility that fascinates only the husband.  In the second stage, characteristically, he starts fantasizing it, in and out of his sexual relations with his wife.  In the third stage, the husband attempts to enact his fantasy by convincing his wife to cooperate.  At this point, the next stages are dependent on the wife's reaction.  If she agrees to cooperate, they go to make arrangements and agreements. If not, he does one of the following: gives up and continues to fantasize or puts more pressure on his wife, e.g. threatens to leave or uses the strategy of "gradual approximation."

II. Reactive:  In this mode, the wife is having or wishing to experience an extra-marital sexual affair.  Incidentally, the husband learns about it either by chance or by her own disclosure.  Some react immediately with fascination; ask for vivid details and descriptions and encourage their wife to continue the affair or have other relations with them observing. Others react with hurt, obsessively fantasize about the situation, which in turn, becomes erotically arousing, and leads to a request for repetition.  About a quarter of the sample describes such a development (N=12, 24%).

III. Mutual: Triolism develops in a couple whose sex life deteriorated due to boredom and routine.  They start fantasizing another male in bed or take advantage of a chance meeting with one, create an erotic atmosphere which leads to a sexual encounter between him and wife.  About a quarter of the sample describes such a pattern (N=13, 26 %(.

IV. Incidental: Whereas in the premeditated pattern, different psychological motivations can be easily detected, in the present pattern the husband describes a specific event that instigated his triolistic interest.  Only four men (8%) describe such learning.  One man for example used to watch his friend while copulating in a brothel; another, who ejaculated prematurely and performed cunnilingus to satisfy his wife, felt a strong aversion to his own semen but after a while found it arousing and wanted contact with other males' semen too.

 Triolism's Effects on the Couple

The decision itself, to write and have the journal publish a triolistic experience, might as well be self selective.  It is plausible that those that felt adverse effects - did not write at all.  35 (80%) letters described positive effects; 9 (20%) described negative ones.  One positive effect was in the area of sexuality: 9 letters described a generally improved sex life; 7 relate to a vigorous and exciting sexual experience, the couple had after the other male left; 3 mentioned disinhibition of the wife; 3 describe a sense of excitement, variety and adventure as a couple; in two cases triolism enabled the husband to get an erection.

A second positive main effect was on the system of relationship as a whole.  5 letters described increased closeness and strengthened friendship between the two ("we have a really special secret that the two of us share").  2 letters related to feelings of kindness and satisfaction ("It makes me very happy to know she is fulfilled") and two letters mentioned feelings of pride with the wife's effect on other males.

The negative effects were:  3 letters described husband's feelings of jealousy, hurt and anger; 3 letters mentioned wife's secret extra-marital affairs besides triolism; 2 husbands reported dependency on triolism to get an erection, and in one case, the wife got pregnant without knowing who was the father.  Some couples described active coping to prevent negative effects e.g. "We have an understanding that if we ever do this again we would look upon it as if we were playing with a toy."  In other couples, a differentiation was made between love and sex: while the husband is "making love" the other male is "just having sex." Another husband says: "I did not share her love, I share her vagina."

A Three Factors Model of Triolism

 Based on content analysis of letters dealing with triolism, three groups of factors emerge as crucial to the understanding of the phenomenon.  Delineation of these factors also contributes to the understanding of sexuality at large, as each one of them is significant by itself and in relation to other issues in addition to triolism.  These factors are:

  •                                             Sexuality in the framework of marriage. 

  •                                            The role of visuality in human sexuality. 

  •                                            Coping with inhibitions in sexual functioning.

It is not at all necessary that in any given case of triolism, all these factors will play an equal part and of course, idiosyncratic factors have to be taken into consideration as well. Thus triolism can be conceived as a result of a problem solving process in which a person finds a creative combined solution to the three concerns mentioned before.  Following is a discussion of these factors.

Sexuality in the Framework of Marriage

"  The chains of matrimony are so heavy that it takes two to carry them - sometimes three." 

  Alexander Dumas

Some dilemmas are inherent in the institution of marriage and must be confronted by all who enter it.  The way these are dealt with is crucial to the nature of their relationship and sexuality.  Such a dilemma is discussed by Haley (1963): once a couple is married, they no longer know if they are together because they so want and choose, or because they are already married.  Another is mentioned in Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus (1968).  In this novel Adrian Levenkuhn talks about "the domestication of sex." The relationship between lovers is based upon strangeness, and once it is proclaimed that "these twain shall be one flesh" - strangeness ends..             

Marriage like any other human system is prone to power struggles.  Husbands and wives fight over "who will be the boss."  Yet, in closed systems (McDonald, 1980) one can't really win: the other can always find ways to get back or if worse comes to worse, leave.

Thus, for the married person, the task at hand is a complicated balancing act among different demands:  Revival of declining sexual desire and introducing excitement into a routine love life; bringing an element of free choice or at least its illusion, into a system of predetermined commitment; becoming the powerful party in the couple or avoid being the weak one.

Male sexuality is characterized by a process of comparison with other males, real or imagined (Zilbergeld, 1978), which enables self-rating of adequacy as a lover. This issue is related to the fear of desertion i.e. being left by one's spouse for not fulfilling her perceived expectations, in this case, in the sexual area.

Rightly so or not, people tend to feel that if their spouse gets a lover, it is a sign that they have failed a test or were declared inferior lovers.  Among the dilemmas confronted by a married person is the issue of dealing with the possibility or the reality of a spouse's extra-marital affair and the handling of the painful emotion of jealousy.

Tripp (1975) emphasized the role of impediments (accidental or deliberate) as necessary precursors in the psychology of sexual arousal: "It is important to remember that the transgressing of barriers is itself a major element in promoting sexual arousal."(p.114). Thus, triolists solve the problem of routine by breaking taboos, by introducing variety and excitement around finding, watching and dismissing another male.

I suggest seeing triolism as one possible answer to some or all of the above dilemmas.  By this very act, the triolist sees himself as dominant in the relationship: he treats his wife as an object, makes her do things she would not have agreed to, and creates for the couple situations of choice. The triolist, in a counter-phobic style, does not worry or suffer with regard to his wife's adultery, because it is he himself who brings her lovers or encourages her to have affairs.  He feels safe because all his wife's perceived sexual needs are abundantly provided for.  He can also see himself as a winner in a competition with other males, as he is the one to stay home after the others are gone.

The issues of jealousy and envy, domination and objectification are especially salient in the triolists' letters and will be further discussed.

Jealousy and Envy:  Jealousy is usually understood as a response to a noxious stimulus. In this sample it also serves as a stimulus, an aphrodisiac.  This is one of the themes in Tinto Brass's 1983 movie La Chiave (The Key), in which a husband encourages his wife to have an affair with their daughter's fiancé, and discovers that the feelings of jealousy create a state of unusual arousal. Pozdnychev in Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata is aware of this phenomenon and says: "Our arguments were terrifying....followed by equally incensed paroxysms of animal sexuality."  Erica Jong in her How to Save Your Life calls it "Kendall's first law of jealousy":  "Jealousy makes the prick grow harder and the cunt wetter.  It's so common you wouldn't believe it."

 When a person feels envied for having a sexually attractive spouse, a similar effect is in existence.  Some jealousy is aroused, and the person can also appreciate his spouse's attractiveness, as if thinking that if others want her, she must be worthy of it.

Domination and Objectification:  By making his wife do things she ordinarily would have refused, and by turning her into a sex object that can be used at will - the triolist becomes dominant and in his own view, the winner in a power struggle. Thus, expressions like "borrowing”,” be my guest”,” pimp for her" - signify the husband's perceived control over his wife. Themes of humiliation and group rape are to be found in some letters.

Coinciding with the issue of dominance is a tendency, on one hand to dehumanize the female and describe her as a whore or a "bitch in heat", and on the other hand, to use her as a means to create male solidarity.  Alternatively, it can be said that some triolists are either, afraid of intimacy with their wives, or feel safer in creating a bond or a coalition with males out of the relationship and against the wife. Dominance and objectification are clear and central themes in13 (26%) letters.  


The role of visuality in human sexuality

"Heart and eyes are the two procurers of sin"  (The Jerusalemite Talmud)



Sight is to human beings, what smell is to other mammals. "Sex appeal" is a visual appeal, and hence the expression “loves at first sight." People watch how others look and do their best to look good themselves.  Many cultural phenomena are related to the centrality of the visual channel for the processing of sexual information: advertising, television, cinema, diets, fashions, cosmetics, gymnastics, etc.

Secondary sex characteristics, such as body shape, hair, voice - usually serves as attraction and arousal signals. Sometimes it can be minute gestures, such as the blowing in the wind of a woman's hair or a smile, which triggers desire. In the 1982 Playboy survey, 55% of the thousands of males who were interviewed ranked physical appearance as of prime importance in sexual arousal.  Only a third of the female readers felt the same.

Generally, men are considered to be visualists and thus find interest in books, pictures, and movies displaying nudity, while women are less so (Money, Note 2).  "This erotic scopophilia, love of looking, serves as an anticipatory response to sexual possibilities," says Singer (1974, p. 50). "Whether he is sitting at a café, waiting for a train, walking through a shop, looking at paintings, or watching a movie -- the male uses his eyes for visual consummations which are clearly sexual, even if they do not lead to orgasm."

Singer distinguishes between the sensuous and the passionate in sexuality:  "For some people, sexual experience amounts to little more than the sensuous and even the end pleasure of orgasmic relief becomes subordinate to the delights of sensory enjoyment.  For others, however, sexuality is charged (on some occasions at least) with emotions of yearning, caring, hope, anticipation, joy, oneness, overwhelming tension followed by a dying or dissipation of feelings, a final release of sexual energy" (p.41f).

In the case of triolists, sensuality, and to be more specific, visuality predominates and not passion.  I suggest that visuality itself can be analyzed into different styles that are actually ends on a continuum.  People can either be concrete visualizers (CV) or fantasizers (F).

Different kinds of magazines can be found at the "adult" sections of bookstores, and each of them aims to please a specific group of customers.  For their arousal, CVs prefer pictures of women that are not only nude, but also have expressions - evidence of arousal on their faces and/or while having sex with a nude male.  Fs on the other hand, prefer pictures portraying only partial to full nudity.  They prefer to supplement the erotic context in their own mind.

There is another difference between the two styles.  Fs do not pay much attention to their own arousal.  It is seen merely as a means for achieving orgasm.  For CVs, on the other hand, arousal is often an end in itself ("I had such a strong erection...") much examined and enjoyed often more satisfying and replacing the orgasm.

An F performs the miracle of "being there while being somewhere else" - namely, have sex with a partner and if he so wishes, imagine that he or she (the partner) is with someone else.  A CV can not do that.  For him, fantasy is a serious matter - something to be enacted and not just contemplated; a need state that has to be satiated and not a pleasant diversion by itself.

In order to see better, the CV as if in an art gallery, has to step back.  He can't be both an observer and a participant, and often he can't concentrate on observing while being seen.  In coping with this, the triolist delegates the role of actor to another male, enabling himself to be a dedicated observer, who occasionally also uses aids (mirrors, cameras) and collects evidence (stained pants etc).

Photographic technology often enables the visualizer to solve his dilemma in a different way: he can take pictures of himself participating and later, undisturbed and uninvolved, enjoy pure observation.

Early life experience and "scopophilia": So called "dynamic" explanations of triolism in terms of latent homosexuality or oedipal complex were rejected at the beginning of this article.  And yet, if "dynamic" means a conceptualization of present events as symbolizing or fulfilling related past needs, a different dynamic hypothesis can be offered.  Namely, that an interest in triolism is related to children's curiosity and fascination with their parent's "secret" sex life.

Much was written about the "primal scene" i.e. a child watching or hearing his parents in the act of coitus.  The child's reaction can consist of fear (of an activity that is construed as violent), guilt (doing what is forbidden),arousal, or a combination of all the above.

A related critical experience is that of childhood sex-games that are usually carried on in small groups where the participants are not always of the same age.  The main activity in such games is of mutual watching.

Kinsey (1948, pp.165-8) stood the psychoanalytical approach to homosexuality on its head.  It is not that homosexuals have unconscious needs for experience with members of their own sex, but rather that all people have “larger scope sexuality" and some of them such as heterosexuals suppressed part of it.  In a similar way, it is suggested that triolists: 1. had prototriolistic experiences (primal scene, group sex-games). 2. experienced arousal in them and 3. did not repress them.  As a result, in adulthood, they can replicate the basic situation of watching a couple, reach legitimate arousal and/or gain more understanding about what was once a mystery for them

This formulation is quite speculative and gains support from two letters only: one describing the husband’s satisfaction in secretly watching his wife and another male engage in oral sex.  In the second letter, the husband invites his son to watch his mother (wife) naked, without her knowledge. And when copulating, the husband fantasizes the boy watching his mom, and sees his wife as if through the son's eyes.


Overcoming Inhibitions in Sexual Functioning

  A person without inhibitions is a pig. A person who overcomes an inhibition is an artist

                                                                                                  Karl Kraus                                                                                                      

Triolism may be a solution to the problem of a person's or a couple's inhibition of sexual expression and satisfaction.  It can be initiated or encouraged by either husband or wife, and in the best tradition of human miscommunication, such an issue is not always explicitly discussed.  The discussion will be organized according to four areas of inhibition.

Liberating a sexually inhibited wife:  Some letters deal with a couple, where typically the wife is "frigid" namely, one who refuses to totally undress, is passive in lovemaking, conservative in positions and generally leaves her husband in a state of frustration.  The husband is obsessed with overcoming her inhibitions, and in order to do so, encourages her to have an extra-marital affair.

The implicit reasoning here is that deep within her hides a soul of a whore that must be released.  This is done by "shock treatment" - crashing her moral code:  An extra marital affair which is considered a severe moral offense in Judeo-Christian ethics (punished by death in the Bible) makes nudity or oral sex with one's husband look relatively trivial.

The "Madonna - Puttana" dichotomy:  When a negative attitude i.e. sex is “dirty" or "bad" exists - a quite common result is the differentiation between "bad-dirty" women-whores who "do it" and "good-clean" women-ladies-saints who do not. Sometimes males with negative attitudes make a distinction between "usual-accepted-normal" sex i.e. intercourse and "perverted-wicked" sex i.e. fellatio.  Characteristically, such men can function sexually with other women, but not with their own wives.

Yet, not all males agree or dare having extra-marital affairs, and in addition, their wives demand their conjugal rights.  In such a case, the husband is confronted with the cognitive dissonance of "doing something negative" with a wife that is regarded positively.  The resolution of this takes place first of all by denial (it's not me, it's the other male) and then by reversing the attitude towards the wife:  A woman who has an extra marital affair or a woman who performs fellatio on strangers is not a lady-saint anymore, and if she is "bad” -- "bad" things can be done with her.  In 18 (35%) letters, the husbands watched and described in their writing, their wives performing fellatio with other males.

Dealing with one's perceived sexual inadequacy:  A sense of sexual inadequacy is related to a naive acceptance of what Zilbergeld (1978) calls "The Fantasy Model of Sex."  The relevant chapter in his book is actually titled: "it is two feet long, hard as steel, and can go all night."  A precondition for such inadequacy is an exposure to myth supporting media e.g. pornographic movies, lack of decent sex education and a sexually unsophisticated female partner. 

For these males, love making is conceived as a specialized skill, as a collection of techniques or tricks, and not as a free flowing act of self-expression.  Not having the right kind of equipment and/or not knowing how to use it properly, they see themselves as inadequate lovers and a disappointment to their wives.  Thus they either try to compensate for their shortcomings by delegating their duties to a more skillful lover and/or try to learn through real life modeling, or from their wife's detailed account of extra-marital sex.

The size of the other male's penis is emphasized in 10 (20%) letters.  In this context, it is not surprising that black males are often chosen as the husband's proxy.  These males accept uncritically the myth of black men's penis size and sexual prowess.  A discussion of this issue in terms of prejudice is to be found in Allport (1958).

Eroticization of semen:  One surprising finding in the present analysis is the erotic significance of semen for some men.  Female aversion to semen is a problem frequently dealt with in sex therapy, as it restricts the couple's sexual free expression.  Men's attitude towards semen was not investigated before, although it was hinted at:  Thus, in pornographic movies men sometimes ejaculate on their partner's body, as if to make it dirty.  The anonymous author of My Secret Life published about 1888, already described a "kink" of his:  He liked to get into girls who were still full of another man's seed. An erotic concern with semen was found in 17 (34%) letters.  Of these, 11 (65%) related to the other male's sperm and 6 (35%) to the mixture or contact of the two males' sperm in the wife's vagina.

Based on the letters, the following explanations can be suggested to account for this fascination

I. Males do not readily differentiate between ejaculation and orgasm. The first is an objective event that can be visualized; the second is subjective and can only be deducted or imagined. It was already claimed that triolists are concrete visualizers. Thus, the sperm becomes the reification of the ultimate in sexual experience.  Six husbands reported becoming aroused to the point of erection or ejaculation while observing the other male's ejaculate.

II. The amount of semen is, for some triolists, an equivalent to penis size; the larger both are, the greater the other male's perceived potency. Similarly, the act of filling up the wife's vagina with semen becomes a concrete measure of one's virility.  Five husbands emphasized quantitative aspects of semen. 

III. Finding semen an attractive stimulus could be a learned response i.e. associating its taste and smell during cunnilingus with one's own arousal.  Such learning can take place in an attempt to overcome one's own or spouse's initial aversion to it.  Four letters belong to this category. 

IV. Concern with semen in some cases is connected with the issue of domination and objectification mentioned before.  The mixing of the two males' semen becomes almost a ritual, which symbolizes their bond-coalition (just like blood mixing in some societies) as well as a primitive, derogatory and property claiming act (similar to the use of urine to mark a territory).

Last but not least: the “other” male

Only two "other males" wrote on their experiences.  Thus, it is only possible, based on the husbands' remarks, to speculate on their reasons to enter the triolistic affair. Sexual inhibitions can also be the motivating force in the other male’s readiness to take part in a triolistic arrangement. Obviously, this does not necessitate any dating skills, or commitment to a long term relationship. Such an arrangement leaves no room for responsibility or intimacy. He doesn’t have to be by himself with a woman, as the husband is there to watch and direct him. And to top it all, the situation itself defines him as better in sex than the husband.



It is possible to make sense of what initially seems to be defying explanation.  This is done using terms applicable and relevant to the understanding of conventional sexual behavior  as well.  Such an approach not only enriches the understanding of sexuality at large, it also improves our psychotherapeutic work with couples and individuals

The discussion of sexuality in the framework of marriage delineates the dilemmas confronted by all couples with an additional insight into the issues of jealousy and envy, domination  and objectification.  Sex as a component in a relationship system, is different from sex that is the system itself, in an initial and non-committed relationships

 In the investigation of the role of visuality in triolism, two styles were conceptualized:  concrete visualizers and fantasizers.  This distinction might be useful in the discussion of the differences between the two genders in relation to graphic erotica.  It also seems to be meaningful to the treatment of inhibited sexual desire, and  relevant to premature and inhibited ejaculation.   

 In the exploration of triolists' overcoming of inhibitions, the different variations of the "Madonna Puttana" syndrome are clarified, and the phenomenon of semen eroticization is   described and explained.




Note 1: The authenticity of these letters was vouched for, in a personal conversation with Philip Nobile, Forum's Editor.

Note 2:  Dr. John Money, Testimony before a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Justice, Washington D.C. October, 1984.

 Allport, G.W. (1958). The Nature of Prejudice. New York: Doubleday Anchor Books

Bieber, I. et al. (1962). Homosexuality:  A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals. New York: Basic Books.

Ellis, H. (1936). Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Vol. II. New York: Random House.

Frank, J.D. (1973). Persuasion and Healing.  Baltimore: The   John Hopkins University Press.

Haley, J. (1963). Strategies of Psychotherapy. New York:          Grune & Statton.

Holsti, O.R. (1969). Content Analysis for the Social Sciences  and Humanities. Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publication Co.

Kinsey, A.C., Pomeroy, W.B., Martin, C.E. (1948) Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders.

Krafft-Ebing, R. von. (1931). Psychopathia Sexualis.  Trans.     F.J. Rebman. Chicago: Login Bros.

McDonald, G.W. (1980). Family Power. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 42, 841-54.

Mann, T. (1968). Doctor Faustus. Trans. H.T. Lower-Porter.

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Masters, W.H., Johnson, V.E. (1970). Human Sexual Inadequacy.

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McCary, J.L. (1978). Human Sexuality. 3rd Ed. New York: Van

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Nagel, E. (1961). The structure of Science: Problems in the     Logic of Scientific Explanations. New York: Hartcourt,

Brace & World.

Singer, I. (1974). The Goals of Human Sexuality. New York:

Shocken Books.

Torey, E.F. (1973). The Mind Game, Witchdoctors and Psychiatrists. New York: Bantam.

Tripp, C.A. (1975) The Homosexual Matrix. New York: McGraw Hill Books Co.

                                   Zilbergeld, B. (1978). Male Sexuality. Boston: Little Brown & Co