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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bars: Not a Good Place to Pick People Up, Actually

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People often come to the store to ask how they can find others with like sexual interests. Folks are most commonly seeking kink or BDSM communities (which I've written about in previous columns), but occasionally are in search of more "vanilla" activities like threesomes. Although it might not seem like it at first glance, it's actually more difficult to provide resources for non-kinky, non-polyamorous people looking to make their threesome fantasy a reality, since no structured, supportive networks exist for this the way they do for BDSM or poly groups.

In fact, it's easier to provide advice on what not to do, or at least to correct one common misconception. Couples seeking a third are most often heterosexually identified, male-female pairs seeking another woman; sometimes these couples will come to the store asking for information about lesbian bars at which they could find such a partner. I'm here to tell you that this is a terrible idea that should be avoided at all costs.

There certainly may be women hanging out at girl bars who might be interested in threesomes with another woman and a man in the right time and place. However, if they've chosen to go to a dyke bar, that time and place is not there. For better or for worse, bars have a long history in the queer community of being a gathering place that provides shelter from the stares, assumptions and discrimination of the larger world. Bars can be a safe space, even a sacred space, where one doesn't have to be on guard as much and can feel accepted instead of objectified or "othered."

When a heterosexual couple walks into such a place in search of a sexual partner, that safe space is ruptured. Guards go back up, and women once again feel scrutinized and objectified. The issue isn't the presence of men in the bar; there will likely be other men around—bartenders, gay or bi men, trans men, straight male friends. But these men aren't looking at the women there as potential sexual partners, and they respect the fact that women there have deliberately chosen to come to a space where they will NOT be sexualized by men.

Good etiquette demands that heterosexual couples looking for a female partner also respect this and not use lesbian bars as their personal hunting ground, when most women there could probably not be less interested. Straight couples likely would have better luck at the average Water Street bar—but I still think that bars are a really crappy place to try to find someone to fulfill a threesome fantasy.

When you introduce a third person into a sexual relationship, even (or perhaps especially) for a one-night fling, clarity is key. What exactly do you want to happen during this hookup? Is one member of the couple just watching? Are there activities or body parts that are off-limits for anyone involved? Who gets to do what to whom when? What about safe sex—what kind of barriers are you using for what acts? (Remember that STIs can be spread through oral sex, genital-genital rubbing or even touching.) Do you want any kind of contact with the third person after the hookup is over? What happens if you pick up someone who ends up wanting or expecting a different type of relationship than you do? Drunkenness, loud music and the frenzy of closing time are not your friends when trying to answer these questions.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to
laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the
Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.