What Is a Throuple? Here's How Sex Experts Explain It

Three is the magic number.

Three isn't always a crowd—especially as more people explore the concept of a throuple, aka a three-way "couple."

"A throuple is a relationship that includes three people; rather than a couple (2 people), there is a third person in the mix," Gigi Engle, a certified clinical sexologist based in London and author of All The F*cking Mistakes, tells Health. It may seem simple to understand, but there's a lot more to forming a throuple and navigating a three-person sexual or romantic relationship than you might think. Here are what sex experts have to say about it.

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What is a throuple?

Holly Richmond, PhD, a sex therapist in New York City, tells Health that a throuple is defined as three individuals who are in a committed relationship with one another. In general, two people will be closer, while the third person will be a continual presence in the relationship. "Typically, if we're talking about throuples, that would be under the banner polyamory," Richmond says. "But every [throuple] defines this differently for themselves." (Polyamory is an umbrella term for any non-monogamous relationship that involves more than one partner.)

There's no one way to be a throuple, because everyone has their own ideas around how they'd like a three-person relationship to work. Some throuples are part of a closed triad, where all three people continuously see one another and don't date outside of the triad. Meanwhile, an open triad serves as a primary relationship with all three seeing other people as well, explains Engle.

Throuple vs. open relationship

Is a throuple the same as an open relationship or open marriage? Not quite. "In most cases, a throuple is a three-way relationship with three distinct people, whereas an open marriage consists of a primary couple who practice non-monogamy with other people," Engle says. "A throuple usually (but not always) consists of a romantic relationship between the three people, and an open marriage is often sexual relationships outside of the couple."

How does a throuple work?

The language and parameters around non-monogamous relationships are deeply personal and constantly evolving. "A huge factor in all non-monogamous and poly relationships is communication," Engle explains. "You need to be sure everyone is enjoying themselves, ironing out kinks, mediating arguments, and managing multiple relationships."

Adds Richmond: "There are a lot of different models for this sort of relationship, but ultimately it involves all three people being accepting and involved in the relationship." In other words, all three people have to consent to a throuple arrangement.

Regardless of how you practice being in a throuple (or any type of relationship, really), the most important part is your happiness. "When you're someone who has a ton of love to give and loves being in love, what could be better than being in love with two people at once and everyone being so happy about it?" asks Engle. "There is the potential for exponential joy."

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