Two's company, but is three in a bed better?

The revival of Mark Cantan’s play about a threesome is a comedy, but the Irish haven’t exactly had fun relationships with troikas, suggests Rita de Brun

Two's company, but is three in a bed better?

AS we Irish well know, troikas can be heaven or they can be hell. But they can also be potentially explosive, and that was a reason why Irish playwright, Mark Cantan, choose the appeal of a threesome for a couple whose sex life has dulled, as the theme of his new play, Jezebel, currently touring Ireland.

He had other reasons, as well, of a more technical variety: “Difficult, complex situations suit the farcical nature of my writing,” he explains. “By adding a third person to the equation, you get more lines of communication and more confusion. Rather than a two-way street, you have a triangle; one that brings lies spinning out of control.”

While clever and amusing, Jezebel is also insightful — so much so that you might wonder whether Cantan penned it from experience.

“I didn’t, but maybe I should be spreading the rumour that it’s based on my own personal experience, as that way, my threesome prowess would become legendary,” he laughs.

Has he ever had a threesome? “No, I haven’t, but I keep telling the cast that it’s something we should consider….”

It’s clear that he’s joking, but cast aside, is it something he’d consider? “When I’m having sex, I do all I can to impress the woman,” he replies. “Keeping two women happy at the same time is a game I’m not sure I could pull off. I feel pretty sure I’d be a disappointment. That said, for most guys, the idea of a threesome is both enticing and terrifying, and I’m no different.”

Many would empathise. While UK research shows that having a threesome tops the fantasy list for both sexes, only 14% of men and less than 10% of women said they’d had one when polled by and Cosmopolitan magazine respectively.

Despite the apparent modern-day reticence towards trilateral trysts, there’s nothing new about the concept. In the early 1800s, Lord Nelson openly engaged in a steamy love triangle with his lover and her husband, as did Friedrich Nietzsche in the 1880s, with fellow philosophers Paul Rée and Lou Andreas-Salomé.

Other historic threesomes include psychoanalyst Carl Jung, with his wife and the young woman he invited to live in their home in 1913, and the 1920’s triangle between Ezra Pound and his wife and mistress.

While these were ménages-à-trois in the true sense, the threesomes that make headlines today tend to be one-night-stands rather than long-term arrangements.

Until recently Jason Biggs was an actor best known for his role in American Pie. Now he’s better known for the fact that his wife organised a threesome as a birthday present for him and participated, along with the woman she hired to double his pleasure.

It was barely surprising when she later wrote about the experience in Playboy — many wear their three-way romps as a badge of honour, in the same way that those who clocked up membership of the mile-high-club once did.

Hell, even our lovely Amy Huberman appeared in a sitcom called Threesome. Lady Gaga, Tiger Woods; Ashton Kutcher; Christina Aguilera; Samantha Ronson; Charlie Sheen; Demi Moore and Eric Dane (he played Dr McDreamy in Grey’s Anatomy), have all been linked to threesome activity. Given the intricate care with which their PR is handled, it’s likely that the details of at least some of their antics were made public by design.

The fact that threesomes feature so frequently in entertainment news and movies (The Wolf of Wall Street, On the Road and American Psycho, to name a few), is indicative of its increasing popularity among the Hollywood set.

But how commonplace is is it amongst the Irish?

“As threesomes are not something couples necessarily discuss, it’s impossible to gauge,” says sex therapist, Teresa Bergin. “However, they’re fairly popular with the gay community.”

In her twelve years of practice, Bergin has counselled “no more than a dozen”, who say they experienced a threesome. “Many expressed regret,” she says. “Others tried it once out of curiosity, and never had one again.”

To best survive a three-in-a-bed experience, Bergin says couples would need a lot of trust and really good communication: “They’d need that to negotiate the arrangement and the boundaries around it. They’d also need to be quite comfortable in their own sexuality. Otherwise, it could provoke considerable anxiety about skill, body image and fidelity.”

More than a passing knowledge of self-defence might also be useful: Last year, a devil’s threesome (two men and a woman), brought more pain than pleasure to the participants, when one North Dakota male stabbed another because he refused to switch positions.

* Jezebel is at the Cork Opera House, February 10-12.

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