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In the bedroom, is three a crowd?

When it comes to exploring sexuality in a marriage, where is the line between adventure and disaster? Dr. Gail Saltz cautions two readers against inviting a third party into the bedroom.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Dear reader: I have grouped the following two questions together. Both involve a married couple and sex with a third party — a woman. They show how people approach similar situations from very different viewpoints.

In the first case, the husband is all for a threesome with another woman. In the second case, the husband (correctly) views his wife’s sex with another woman as a betrayal.

Q. My husband has asked me to have sex with another woman. He will be there and naturally will be aroused and want to join in. I am worried about how I will feel the next day.

I met a woman in another country. I don’t know how it happened, but we are getting involved online. She tells me she loves me. I find myself constantly thinking about her and getting aroused. I can’t wait for her to come online. My husband is all for us three getting sexually involved. What should I do?

Q. My wife and I have been married for six years and have three beautiful children. My wife recently became good friends with a woman she works with. Things between them started to get too close for comfort. I found out they were having an affair. We had a big fight, and my wife keeps insisting she didn’t do anything wrong. She says “it’s different because she’s a girl.”

She promised to end this affair, but a week later I found out they were seeing each other again! This is eating me alive, but my wife still claims that having an emotional or sexual relationship outside our marriage is OK because they are both women. I’m afraid this is going to end our marriage. Am I crazy for thinking this is cheating?

A. Having a sexual relationship outside the marriage can put the marriage at risk. Yes, it is cheating — no matter what the gender of the other party.

The husband in the first question assumes that, with a threesome, nobody will feel anything emotional — but his wife is actually feeling quite stirred up about the woman they might include in their sexual activities. Her husband, by encouraging this emotional engagement — followed by physical engagement — doesn’t even seem to know he is putting their marriage in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, the writer of the second question understands that the addition of a third party — even if it is not the gender of your primary sexual attraction — can and does take up a central location emotionally. It can become a focus of great eroticism and longing, therefore detracting greatly from the marriage.

In both cases, there is definitely a threat.

People often minimize the potential for emotional attachment that accompanies the sexual act. Some people think you can have fun with a threesome, it will improve your sex life, and you can go your merry way with no aftereffects.

But often, sexual contact comes with yearning, jealousy and attachment. This is especially true for women. In this case, this man seems unaware his wife could have a homosexual attachment. In fact, she is only just becoming aware of it.

In the case of the women who work together, the wife already has a homosexual attachment, but declares it safe because it is not competition for her heterosexual attachment. She is completely wrong about this. It doesn’t matter if she is having extramarital sex with a woman or a man. She is still betraying her spouse. Her husband is highly disturbed and yet she is still glad to continue, which heralds real problems.

It’s possible that both women are gay or bisexual but have issues with this and are therefore reluctant to label it. They may not want to lose their heterosexual lifestyle and full-time children.

Most heterosexuals have some amount of same-sex attraction. This is usually repressed, while the opposite-sex attraction is predominant. Attraction sometimes comes out in the form of admiration. This doesn’t make you gay.

But both of these women may be either homosexual or bisexual. Research shows that, for women, bisexuality is not a stop on the path to homosexuality. There are some bisexual women who always remain bisexual.

Regardless, that is no excuse for cheating. Once a person chooses monogamy with a primary partner, they have vowed not to have a romantic relationship with anyone else. This means they funnel their erotic and emotional energy in the direction of one person only.

In both cases, these women need to figure out whether they are lesbians. If a gay person tries to live as a heterosexual, everyone involved ends up miserable.

But if these women want their marriages to continue, they must extricate themselves from involvement with these third parties.

If spouses want to watch a threesome on screen or pretend they are including a third party in bed, that is fine. But generally speaking (and I know there will be those of you who completely disagree and feel you have had positive experiences) a couple should not include a real, live person. This stirs the pot way too much. It makes people question their sexuality and their loyalty.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: The involvement of a third party in a married couple’s sexual activities is playing with fire and often results in insurmountable jealousy and hurt.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .