Review of Three in Love

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Three in Love: Menages a Trois from Ancient to Modern Times
by Barbara Foster, Michael Foster, and Letha Hadady
HarperSanFrancisco, 1997
ISBN 0-06-2512951

Editor's Note: This book is now available through and the authors have created a web site

This book was not at all what I expected. Based on a New York Observer article I had read, I anticipated a lightweight, mostly titillating romp. Instead, Three in Love turned out to be a serious investigation into historical "threesomes" from a fairly rigorously-researched perspective.

Right off the bat, let me make clear that there is no "how to" information in this book, whether with regard to relationships or to sex itself. The three authors, who themselves form a romantic partnership of three, describe their relationship in a brief series of paragraphs in the Preface and then drop the topic for the remainder of the book.

Three in Love devotes itself to a triad-positive investigation of "menages a trois" throughout history, beginning with Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar and ending in 1997. All the historical threesomes I had ever heard of are discussed, and it appears that the authors have discovered many more.

There is a definite slant in this book towards threesomes consisting of artists and the wealthy. The authors attribute this to the fact that artists and the wealthy tend to write about themselves or encourage others to write about them, hence giving us a record of their lives. I find this plausible. However, I also suspect that part of this slant may be part of an effort to "legitimize" an alternative form of sexuality by showing that it's also practiced by the rich and highly-educated. The upper class, in other words. In this regard, I found Three in Love to be reminiscent of some of the fiction published by Libido Magazine (not that I'm criticizing Libido Magazine for this...)

For the most part Three in Love was a very interesting read. I must confess, though, to having experienced a bit of weariness and "blur" as I made my way towards page 429; Three in Love throws so many historical threesomes at the reader, often without lengthy development, that it can become a bit overwhelming. As a historical record, it is fine, but for the sake of people who are actually interested in practicing this lifestyle a bit of depth over breadth would have been appreciated.

I also find it interesting that the authors didn't investigate or acknowledge any non-celebrity, modern-day threesomes or polyamory organizations. It's true that these don't have the "glitz factor" going for them, but talking to the threesome which was at the core of the Church of All Worlds, talking to Ryam Nearing and Dr. Deborah Anapol, and discussing the current wave of Polyamory conferences, ZEGG, and the Loving More organization would have been appreciated. I see these folks as being at the intellectual core of modern polyamory, much more so than David Bowie (whom the authors devote considerable attention to).

I also would have appreciated at least a little bit of information on how to create and thrive in a romantic triad. This book leaves the readers no clue on how to do that, despite the fact that the book's three authors are themselves a functioning triad. In fact, not a single "how-to" book on polyamory is listed in this book's bibliography, nor a single web page. The reader is left to fumble in the dark, so to speak.

So, in that respect I must conclude that this book DOES serve largely to titillate, although in a much more sincere and well-researched way than we usually expect. However, if what is "holding back" polyamory from gaining further acceptance is that it is "unknown", then all-in-all this book should have a positive effect.

And that's the point I'm going to conclude on. Let's keep in mind that this book was published by HarperSanFrancisco, a division of the influential publishing giant HarperCollins. It's a high-quality, regularly published book, with a fine binding, dust jacket, and quality typeface. Plus, the authors were already published writers or college professors, with the cachet that comes from living among the "upper-middle-crust" New York intellectual community. I don't know how well this book is going to sell, but if it starts climbing the best-seller lists that could be a significant factor in changing our society's level of interest in multi-partner relationships.

And finally, this book could pave the way for other authors who wish to write more "instructional" books on the mechanics and challenges of real-life multi-partner sex and relationships.

Although this is not the ideal book for people in a triad who are having relationship troubles, it would be fascinating reading for people whose triads are functioning well or for for people intrigued by the lifestyle but not ready to participate in it just yet. Within its niche, it's a fine and welcome addition to the polyamory literature.

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