Ménage à trois

Ménage à trois
Postcard, c. 1910

Ménage à trois (French pronunciation: [menaʒ a tʁwa]) is a French term which originally described a domestic arrangement in which three people having sexual relations occupy the same household – the phrase literally translates as "household of three". In contemporary usage, the meaning of the term has been extended to mean any living relationship between three people, whether or not sex is involved, but because it has also been extended to refer to the actual sexual act between three people, otherwise known as a threesome, the term retains its suggestive quality.


Historical instances

Some known examples are:

  • Sir William Hamilton (British ambassador to Naples), his wife Emma Hamilton, and her lover, the naval hero Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, from 1799 until Nelson's death in 1805.
  • Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, the Duke of Devonshire, and Lady Elizabeth Foster
  • Henry Mond, 2nd Baron Melchett his wife, Amy Gwen Wilson, and writer Gilbert Cannan.
  • In Sweden in 1775, Count Adolf Fredrik Munck af Fulkila had reputedly been hired by king Gustaf III to assist him in the consummation of his marriage with Queen Sophie Magdalena. He was to act as sexual instructor for the couple. His "aid" is alleged to have resulted in the birth of the future King Gustaf IV Adolf in 1778. By further rumors, he was the lover of the king as well as of the queen. These rumors eventually had serious political implications in the end of the House of Holstein-Gottorp's rule in Sweden.
  • The German intellectual Dorothea von Rodde-Schlözer, her husband Mattheus Rodde and the French philosopher Charles de Villers from 1794 until her husband's death in 1810.
  • Poet Ezra Pound, his wife Dorothy Shakespear and his mistress, concert violinist Olga Rudge.
  • Surrealist painters Max Ernst, Paul Éluard and his wife Gala, later Gala Dalí.
  • The writer Aldous Huxley and his first wife Maria, with Mary Hutchinson a friend of Clive Bell.[1]
  • The author E. Nesbit lived with her husband Hubert Bland and his mistress Alice Hoatson, raising their children as her own.[2]
  • William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman, and his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston lived with and shared a relationship with Olive Byrne.
  • Philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche, Paul Rée and their mutual friend Lou Andreas-Salomé lived in an "academic commune" around 1882.
  • The actress and stage director Edith Craig who lived with and was in a relationship with the dramatist Christabel Marshall and the artist Clare Atwood from 1916 to 1947.
  • The actress Hattie Jacques lived with her husband John Le Mesurier and her lover John Schofield.[3]
  • Speculation that, in 1547–8, Queen Catherine Parr, widow of Henry VIII, and her fourth husband Thomas Seymour were involved in a ménage with the future Queen Elizabeth, is probably exaggerated, although there were well attested episodes of sexually charged horseplay involving the three.[4]
  • Russian and Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky lived with Lilya Brik, who was considered his muse, and her husband Osip Brik, an avant garde writer and critic.
  • British actress Tilda Swinton lives in Nairn, near to Scottish painter John Byrne and their twin children: a son, Xavier, and a daughter, Honor. She travels with her partner Sandro Kopp, a German/New Zealand painter.[5] She has been with Kopp since 2004 and the relationship has Byrne's blessing.[6] In an interview, Swinton commented on her domestic situation: "It’s the way we have been for nearly four years. I’m very fortunate. It takes some extraordinary men to make a situation like that work."[7]

In popular culture

The ménage à trois is a recurring theme in fiction and has been the subject of a number of books, plays, films and songs. Some notable examples include:


  • Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon (1982): relates the relationship of King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot as a ménage à trois.
  • The same theme is taken up in Guy Gavriel Kay's "The Fionavar Tapestry", where the Athurian characters are resurrected and have further adventures in the world of Fionavar, in the course of which they overcome the jealousies of their previous lives; when last appearing in this trilogy, Guinevere is depicted having one of her arms around each of the two men, the three of them bound to live happily ever after.
  • Michael Cunningham, A Home At The End Of The World (1990): centers for the most part on a ménage à trois.
  • Arnon Grunberg, The Asylum Seeker (2003): has a ménage à trois involving a disillusioned man, a terminally ill woman, and an asylum seeker.
  • Ernest Hemingway, The Garden of Eden (written 1946–1961, published 1986): centers on an American expatriate couple who bring another woman into their marriage.
  • Jean Rhys, Quartet (originally titled Postures) (1928): a roman à clef in which Rhys fictionalised her affair with Ford Madox Ford.
  • Bob Shaw, The Two-Timers (1968): described a ménage à trois in which the husband and the lover are two versions of the same man, from two alternate time lines.
  • Adam Thirlwell, Politics (2003): a novel about a ménage à trois, which is referred to as "the socialist utopia of sex".
  • In the Lunar society depicted by Robert Heinlein in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a common form of family is a troika, composed of a wife, a senior husband and a junior husband.
  • Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood: a ménage à trois is seen in the form of Dai Bread, and his two wives: Mrs. Dai Bread 1 and Mrs. Dai Bread 2.
  • Simone de Beauvoir's, She Came to Stay tells the semi-fictional story about a woman named Françoise whose open relationship with Pierre becomes strained when they form a ménage à trois with her younger friend Xaviere.
  • John Updike, in Rabbit Redux when Rabbit who welcomes Jill in his house finally hosts Skeeter for a period before the arson of the house.
  • In The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies, the scholar Dunstan Ramsay and the stage magician Paul Dempster a.k.a. Magnus Eisengrim end up as the "permanent guests" and lovers of the eccentric Swiss millionaire Lieselotte Naegeli - the three of them occasionally sharing an especially large bed, though "most often in order to have a breakfast in bed or take an important decision" rather than for sex.
  • Science fiction writer Poul Anderson, in his novel Three Worlds to Conquer, depicts an alien species (on Jupiter) for whom a kind of "ménage à trois" is a fundamental biological imperative. A female of that species can only conceive by mating with two different males within a few hours of each other; thus, every individual has a mother and two fathers, and every family is composed of a female and two males.
  • In the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton between Asher, Anita Blake and Jean-Claude. Also mentioned as previously occurring and not described in detail in the series is the relationship between Jean-Claude, Asher, and Julianna.



  • Design for Living (Ernst Lubitsch, 1933): An early example of ménage à trois in Hollywood cinema.
  • Jules et Jim (François Truffaut, 1961): is another classic ménage à trois.
  • Paint Your Wagon (Paddy Chayefsky, 1969): Ben marries Elizabeth, but she falls in love with Partner. They decide that if a Mormon man can have two wives, then a wife can have two husbands.
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969): the relationship between Butch, Sundance and Etta Place is a classic ménage à trois.
  • Splendor (Gregg Araki, 1999): Comedy/romance involving three central characters, Abel (Johnathon Schaech), a shy writer, Veronica (Kathleen Robertson), a headstrong actress, and Zed (Matt Keeslar), a drummer in an indie band, who form a romantic relationship following Veronica's inability/refusal to choose between the two male characters, and the male characters' eventual acceptance of each other as equal romantic partners to Veronica.
  • Threesome 1994 film about 2 guy college roommates who mistakenly get a female roommate in their dorm.
  • French Twist (Josiane Balasko, 1995) : a comedy about a man who hates lesbians, his wife and a lesbian.
  • Sunday Bloody Sunday (John Schlesinger, 1971): film about a threesome with a homosexual man, a heterosexual woman, and a bisexual man.
  • Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (Bruno Barreto, 1976): tells of a woman who lives simultaneously with her second husband and the ghost of her first.
  • Summer Lovers (Randal Kleiser, 1982): a vacation in Greece leads to a female-male-female relationship that is both emotional and sexual.
  • Tenue de soirée (Bertrand Blier, 1986) : a couple and a homosexual friend.
  • Rita, Sue and Bob Too, (1986): two Bradford teenagers have affairs with a married man.
  • Three of Hearts (Yurek Bogayevicz, 1993): a menage between straight gigolo, his lesbian best friend and her former lover, an attractive bisexual woman.
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, 2008): depicts a dysfunctional, sometimes violent relationship between two Spanish artists that is finally brought in to balance with the addition of Cristina.
  • Whatever Works (Woody Allen, 2009): Marietta, an Evangelical Christan from the Deep South, arrives in New York City and undergoes a life change that involves becoming an artist moving in with two men.
  • Y tu mamá también (Alfonso and Carlos Cuarón, 2001): a Mexican coming-of-age movie focusing on the sexual lives of the three main characters.
  • The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci, 2003): a beautiful and functional ménage à trois with an unfortunate end.
  • Head in the Clouds (John Duigan, 2004): tells the story of these three characters' sexual and romantic relationship with each other.
  • Ilona Arrives with the Rain (Sergio Cabrera, 1996): Colombian/Italian/Spanish co-production. After some time apart, Ilona (Margarita Rosa de Francisco) and Maqroll (Humberto Dorado) meet in Panama and open an airplane-themed brothel in order to raise funds so that Abdul (Imanol Arias), who has recently been released from prison in Ceuta, can buy a steamship to meet up with Ilona and Maqroll, and the three can resume their long-term romantic relationship.
  • Bandits (Barry Levinson, 2001): a ménage à trois is a major part of the plot.
  • Chasing Amy (Kevin Smith, 1997): Ménage à trois is proposed as a cathartic solution between the three main characters.
  • Bride of Chucky (Ronny Yu, 1998): Jennifer Tilly offers a ménage à trois to a victim she is about to kill, and involves the homicidal doll as entertainment.
  • Kiss the Sky (Roger Young, 1999): aging married friends try to form a threesome while building an island retirement refuge. Though they fail, they learn to accept their situation with the help of a Buddhist monk.
  • Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006): James and Jamie meet a young ex-model and aspiring singer named Ceth and the three begin a sexual relationship.
  • Les Diaboliques (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1955): the husband is led on by his wife and mistress to believe that he will have a sexual encounter with both of them.
  • Trois (2000): thriller about the aftermath of a bored married couple bringing a young woman into their relationship
  • The Duchess (Saul Dibb, 2008): with Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes about the Duchess and Duke of Devonshire and Lady Elizabeth Foster who all lived together and had sexual relations.


  • The Brady Bunch, A Very Brady Sequel: Marcia and Jan are walking home from the last day of school reading each other's yearbook messages. Marcia reads one to Jan that says "ménage à trois". Marcia replies saying "I bet that means 'you're the most'". This joke becomes a recurring gag throughout the course of the film between Marcia, Jan, and her fictitious boyfriend, George Glass.
  • Three's Company
  • Friends (1994): Phoebe meets her biological mother and learns that her biological mother, her father, and the woman who raised her were extremely "close" and all had sexual relations together (#3.25).
  • Seinfeld:
    • "The Switch": Jerry Seinfeld attempts to end a relationship with one roommate, and start one with another, using a suggestion by George.
    • "The Label Maker": George Costanza, referring back to the ploy he hatched with Jerry in the earlier episode, attempts to terminate a relationship by suggesting a ménage à trois, only to have it blow up in his face.
  • Star Trek TNG also aired an episode entitled "Ménage à Troi". The title is a pun on the French phrase.
  • Will & Grace saw Jack McFarland (Sean Hayes) remark, on several occasions, the "number of people in a ménage à trois," in the episode Back Up, Dancer (#7.02)


Artist Song Notes/Quote
The Pierces Boring
David Crosby Triad A song about a ménage à trois, also recorded by Jefferson Airplane
Interpol No I in Threesome (2007)
Type O Negative My Girlfriend's Girlfriend (1996)
Isaac Hayes Moonlight Lovin' (Ménage Á Trois) "Stars will never tell of the rendezvous of me and you and... you." (1977)
Notorious B.I.G. Hypnotize
A Tribe Called Quest What "What is ménage à trois? Or, that is." (1991)
Joan Jett The French Song (1983)
Katy Perry Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) "We went streaking in the park, skinny dipping in the dark, then had a ménage à trois."
Motley Crue Girls, Girls, Girls (1987)
Eminem Despicable "And you want a ménage à trois, you twat?"
Adam Lambert originally by Lady Gaga Fever
Kevin Rudolf ft. Lil' Wayne Let it Rock
Jane's Addiction Three Days
Britney Spears 3
Usher Ft. Nicki Minaj Little Freak "If girls wanna ménage then it wetter than it rainin" "I'm bout to have a ménage a..."
Kanye West ft. Jay Z Nicki Minaj and Rick Ross Monster "I think me, you, and AM should menage Friday"
Mac Miller Down The Rabbit Hole

Fly In Her Nikes

"Two in ones, that's a menage a trois."
Slum Village Climax
Jay-Z Heart of the City (Ain't No Love) "Hopefully they'll ménage before I reach my garage."
Shwayze Polaroid
Juicy J Smoke Dat Weed
Wolfgang Gartner Ménage à Trois
Timbaland Bounce
mc chris DQ Blizzard "Siamese twins want ménage à trois"


Anthony Worral Thompson's first restaurant was called Ménage à trois and was famous for only serving starters and desserts.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Huxley and His Women
  2. ^ Perrin, Noel (2003). A Child's Delight. University Press of New England. p. 106. ISBN 1584653523. 
  3. ^ BBC Four: Hattie
  4. ^ David Starkey (2000) Elizabeth; Linda Porter (2010) Katherine the Queen
  5. ^ "About Sandro Kopp". Sandrokopp.com. http://www.sandrokopp.com/17.html. Retrieved 2011-02-11. 
  6. ^ "The World's Greatest Newspaper :: Day & Night :: Proud parents but not partners". Daily Express. 2008-06-08. http://www.dailyexpress.co.uk/posts/view/47593. Retrieved 2011-02-11. 
  7. ^ "Tilda Swinton". W magazine. September 2008. http://www.wmagazine.com/celebrities/2008/09/tilda_swinton?currentPage=1. 

Further reading

  • Barbara Foster, Michael Foster, Letha Hadady. Three in Love: Ménages à trois from Ancient to Modern Times. ISBN 0595008070
  • Vicki Vantoch. The Threesome Handbook: A Practical Guide to sleeping with three. ISBN 1568583338

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • menage a trois — 1891, see MENAGE (Cf. menage) …   Etymology dictionary

  • Ménage à trois — (fr.; pronunc. [menásh a truá]) m. Práctica sexual en que participan tres personas. * * * Un ménage à trois es la realización del acto sexual en el que participan tres personas, pudiendo ser cualquier combinación de las que sean posibles: una… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • menage а trois — фр. (менаж а труа) семья (любовь) втроем. Толковый словарь иностранных слов Л. П. Крысина. М: Русский язык, 1998 …   Словарь иностранных слов русского языка

  • Ménage à trois — ● Ménage à trois vie en commun d un couple et d un troisième partenaire …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • ménage à trois — [ˌmeına:ʒ a: ˈtrwa: US məˌna:ʒ ] n [singular] a sexual relationship involving three people who live together …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • ménage à trois — ► NOUN ▪ an arrangement in which a married couple and the lover of one of them live together. ORIGIN French, household of three …   English terms dictionary

  • ménage à trois — [mā nȧzh ȧ trwä′] n. [Fr, household of three] 1. an arrangement by which a married couple and the lover of one of them live together 2. any ongoing sexual relationship involving three people, esp. when they live together …   English World dictionary

  • Ménage à trois — Para el acto sexual entre tres personas, véase Trío (relación sexual). «Esto es vida». Tarjeta postal de 1910 Un ménage à trois (de origen francés, pronunciado menaʒ ɑ tʀwa) es un término que describe un acuerdo doméstico de tres personas para… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Ménage à trois — Carte postale, vers 1910 Le Ménage à trois est un terme qui fait référence à un arrangement domestique dans lequel trois personnes ayant des relations sexuelles entre elles habitent le même logement. Dans un sens plus moderne, le terme fait… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • menage a trois — [[t]meɪnɑ͟ːʒ ɑː twɑ͟ː[/t]] menages a trois also ménage à trois N COUNT: usu sing A menage a trois is a situation where three people live together, especially when one of them is having a sexual relationship with both of the others …   English dictionary

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