Whether you're an aspiring sex unicorn or unicorn hunter, here's what you should know in order to make this sexual experience safe and fun for everyone.
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According to Merriam-Webster, a unicorn isn't just the mythical, spiral horned-animal you've come to know in storybooks, but "something unusual, rare, or unique." It's something so precious and often hard to capture that, similar to Melville's white whale in Moby Dick, some people search their entire lives just to catch a glimpse. On the other hand, there are people who are unicorns and have chosen to be that rare and unique special something for the very lucky few.

These are the unicorns of the sex and relationships world.

"A unicorn is a person entering a polyamorous relationship to participate in sexual escapades with a couple, namely threesomes or three-way affection," says Lauren Cook-McKay, a marriage and relationship therapist and director of content at DivorceAnswers. "A unicorn can be any sexuality or gender, but often tends to be a bisexual woman, as this is normally preferred by heterosexual and bisexual couples." (Related: LGBTQ+ Glossary of Gender and Sexuality Definitions Allies Should Know)

From the onset, a unicorn, for those who don't understand, can seem like a difficult role to play. After all, unicorns are joining an already-established relationship between two people, which brings with it a host of interesting dynamics that you may not otherwise encounter. Because of this, unicorns — and the couples who are looking for one (also called "unicorn hunters") — have a lot to consider.

While boundaries from both sides are necessary, there are also the emotional and psychological aspects involved. This brings up one big question…

Why would someone want to be a unicorn?

Some people seek out the role of a unicorn simply for fun, to experiment, or to have a unique sexual experience. You get the experience of enhancing a couple's relationship and exploring your own erotic side while getting double the attention and seduction, says Lexi Sylver, an author, educator, and entrepreneur. (See: What Does It Really Mean to Be Sex Positive?)

"There are tons of extra possibilities when it comes to 'sex-perimentation' with three people when you add in the kink factor and sex toys," says Sylver. "Another major plus is when a couple has an amazing, healthy relationship with their unique quirks and chemistry, and I'm privy to their connection."

That said, for many unicorns — including Sylver — it's not just about sex. Some unicorns have long-term relationships with couples that, if expectations are kept realistic and boundaries are respected, can last for years. (See: I Accidentally Ended Up In a Polyamorous Triad—Here's What I Learned from It)

"I don't love the unicorn label, because in a way, it makes me feel like I'm just a piece of meat with the purpose of fulfilling a couple's needs, desires, or fantasies, as though my entire identity starts and ends there," says Sylver. "Even if we're just talking about sex, I'm still a human being, and there's a beautiful brain with many thoughts and emotions that's attached to the body that's giving and receiving pleasure." For her, she's not there to "serve" a couple as she explains, but be part of something in which she gets just as much pleasure out of the situation as the couple.

"In the past, I've told couples I prefer to think of myself as a 'muse' that inspires them to enhance their relationship and 'explore their [sexuality] in enlightening new ways, all while experiencing the pleasures of my own erotic self-actualization," says Sylver. (Also read: How to Start a Sex Journal, Plus Why You Should)

There are many reasons why couples may look for a unicorn — whether as a way to open up their relationship in a controlled setting, to experiment with their sexualities, or perhaps because one of the partners is into cuckolding — and the same can be said for unicorns themselves. The reason why someone would want to be a unicorn in a relationship or in a threesome is different for everyone.

"Unicorns exist because some people like the love and security of being in a relationship, plus the sexual satisfaction without having to commit," says Cook-McKay. "For these reasons, it can be a win-win situation for someone who doesn't want a long-term relationship, but wants some people to spend weekends with and gain affection from."

Some people see that as a negative thing, and view this kind of behavior as an unhealthy way for commitment-phobes to engage in sex, says Cook-McKay. But in a society where there are so many types of relationships — including some that don't involve any commitment at all and yet they work for people — the desire to be a unicorn shouldn't be seen as commitment-phobia. Instead, it should be seen as just another way to explore love and sex. (Related: 6 Things Monogamous People Can Learn from Open Relationships)

Are there "rules" to being a unicorn?

As is the case with any relationship, you can't just dive into being a third in someone's relationship. Both the unicorn and the couple need to have boundaries set in place so everyone is respected. This type of relationship isn't about "serving" the couple only; it's about a relationship in which everyone is on an even playing field regarding pleasure and autonomy, says Sylver.

"Before I even get involved with a couple, I have to make sure they're on solid ground," says Sylver. "I can tell when a couple hasn't had those crucial chats about their own needs, desires, boundaries, and comfort levels. If they're not on the same page before they open up their relationship, or if they haven't redefined their boundaries as their relationship evolved, then there's no way I want to get involved in that kind of pressure-cooker situation, because an explosive aftermath is imminent."

When it comes to engaging with couples, Sylver says she's selective in her pursuits. For her, it's about feeling confident that they "have their boundaries and can communicate them, and also that my boundaries will be respected." (Related: How to Set Boundaries In the Bedroom That'll Massively Improve Your Sex Life)

Although boundaries differ for everyone, Sylver has a handful of non-negotiables. For example, making sure the couple in question understands that she has other partners, and those relationships can't be disrupted. She also is clear that she's not available anytime, anywhere. Despite being open about her lifestyle, she says she needs couples to respect her privacy and not share their details about their private lives on social media, for example. When it comes to safety measures, safe sex is a must, including regular STI screenings, establishing consent and safe words in bed, and the couple must agree that their first meeting is in a public place.

What about falling in love?

When you're seeing someone — or two people — regularly, there's always the chance feelings will become part of the mix. While there are those who can have sex and spend time with others and never feel a drop of anything even close to falling in love, some people don't have such a luxury. Some people can't help but fall for someone they share such intimate moments with on a regular basis.

"There's always a possibility of developing romantic feelings for one — or both — people in a couple if the connection is strong and evolves in that direction," says Sylver. "You can't control how you feel! However, because of the boundaries I put in place, it's less likely for me to devote the emotional energy necessary for my feelings to evolve into anything deeper than a fantastic friends-with-benefits situation — which is exactly what I prefer." (See, situationships aren't always bad news.)

But Sylver does concede that separating sex from the friendship and companionship part can be difficult. "We're learning about each other as we spend time together — not just during sex — but also the before and after parts," she says. "We're seducing each other and having real conversations, which can sometimes be deeper than anyone anticipates."

So, being a unicorn isn't just about sex?

It depends. "For me, dating couples is mostly about experiencing the sexual elements with them," says Sylver. "It's hard enough finding a fun and sexy couple with a healthy relationship, and even more challenging to click with both people… so, while having hot sex with a couple is usually my main goal, the resulting connection between the three of us encompasses much more than just the purely physical."

In Sylver's experience, she's found lasting relationships with couples and "shared incomparable bonding experiences."

While being a unicorn (or however you choose to define this role in a relationship) may not be for everyone, that's not exactly a bad thing. Not everything is for everyone. If everyone had the same concept of what makes for a happy and healthy relationship, the world would be a far less colorful place — and what a drag that would be.