The Corner

Rules for Threesomes

I did not want Corner readers to miss out on Fred Schwarz’s fascinating post at the Media Blog on the new rules for single women and sexual adventures. Noting Maggie Gallagher’s reference to the “jaw dropping” idea that monogamy in gay marriage can include “the odd threesome,” he points out that this is also increasingly common in heterosexual culture. He writes:

In the June issue of Glamour, under the heading “5 things to say no to,” item 1 is: “Any threesome in which you’re committed to one of the other two.” If you’re not committed to one of the other two, presumably, Glamour would say: “You go, girl!” Admittedly, this advice is mostly directed at single women, so they do have some respect for marriage, especially when in item 4 the magazine turns suddenly and mysteriously prudish by telling its readers to avoid “Married men. Seriously.”

The question is, is it mainstream behavior for women to have threesomes? If so, how did that become the norm? If not, why would the editors at Glamour write as if it is the norm? There is no serious data on such things.

Maybe everyone participates in threesomes. But I tend to doubt that they are nearly as widespread as certain popular culture makes them seem. The people responsible for making threesomes seem ubiquitous among young women are, among others, the writers and producers of Sex in the City. Samantha had at least one such episode, in which she decided to invite a younger woman into the bed she shared with her on-and-off boyfriend, whose name I have forgotten, as a birthday present for him. It was cringe-inducing. We were supposed to notice that the boyfriend was more interested in the younger woman than was comfortable. And we were also supposed to notice that even the entirely sexually-liberated and omnivorous Samantha felt a twinge of jealousy. Other characters also were offered similar opportunities.

Reruns of Sex in the City have removed the really out-there stuff, including the bedroom scene described above, as well as explicit, clinical discussions of particular, often distasteful sexual practices that may or may not have come into fashion. Removing this stuff has made the series seem more benign and cozy, and less corrupting — in the sense of moving the normative limits of already untethered sexual mores further away from anything resembling traditional morality. On this score the recent movie was positively wholesome.

But remember, when the series was current it was percieved by many of its young, female viewers as a reflection of reality, and a guide to life for twenty-somethings in the big city. The more you see and hear of various practices, sexual and otherwise, the more acceptable they become — especially when you are young and were educated in a pretty amoral sexual culture to begin with. So it is possible that the show influenced both perception and behavior.

One real difference between the movie and the original show is that the movie portrayed the characters as middle-aged women, with all that implies for their happiness and desires. The original HBO series was frequently, and I always thought correctly, said to be written by gay men, who projected a lot of the norms and behavior of gay culture onto the female characters. This was especially the case with Samantha, whose voracity, promiscuity, and utter lack of guilt, shame, or desire for something deeper than sex was a better representation of a type of gay man than any common type of woman. If true then the gay norms posing as practices heterosexual females might enjoy, have now become putative hetero practices that make gay norms that much more normal, comfortable, and unthreatening – on a Saturday night out and in the new definition of what marriage can accomodate.

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