Katie Hill, the freshman Democratic representative from California's 25th district, which covers parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, is involved in a political scandal that probably has you rushing to Google a new-ish term: Throuple. According to the New York Times, the conservative blog Red State published intimate photos and text messages they claimed showed a sexual relationship between Hill, her estranged husband Kenny Heslep, and an unnamed female campaign aide. Hill, 32, is also one of the first openly bisexual members of Congress.
Red State, as well as other conservative news outlets, have characterized the relationship as a “throuple” — a romantic relationship between three people. Hill has admitted to having a consensual relationship with a campaign aide, but has not characterized it as part of a “throuple" or mentioned polyamory. She's also in the midst of divorce proceedings from Heslep, whom she has described as abusive. Refinery29 reached out to Hill for comment, but she did not respond.
According to CNN, in a letter to constituents, Hill wrote, "During the final tumultuous years of my abusive marriage, I became involved in a relationship with someone on my campaign. I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment. For that I apologize. I wish nothing but the best for her and hope everyone respects her privacy in this difficult time."
Red State also published Facebook posts from Heslep that allege that Hill cheated on him with Graham Kelly, her legislative director and former campaign finance director — an accusation that Hill has denied, calling it a "smear campaign" orchestrated by Heslep and Republican operatives. Politico reports that there's no proof that such an affair occurred. Hill is also pursuing legal action against publications that have published the intimate photos of her and the campaign staffer.
In response to the claims, the House Committee on Ethics has opened a preliminary investigation into the alleged relationship with Kelly, according to NPR. In 2018, the committee introduced new rules banning sexual relationships between House members and their employees, including consensual relationships. These rules do not apply to campaign staff, so the relationship that Hill admitted to having with a campaign staffer was not against any official rules.
“Throuple” relationships have skyrocketed in public awareness (and google trends) over the past year, thanks to a plotline on the Netflix series the Politician and a popular episode of Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith, and Adrienne Banfield-Norris’ Facebook video series Red Table Talk. In the Facebook episode, 18-year-old Willow Smith said she'd love to be part of a throuple. "I focus a lot on the emotional connection and I feel like if I were to find two people of the different genders that I really connected with and we had a romantic and sexual connection, I don’t feel like I would feel the need to try to go find more," she said.
Keep in mind that a throuple is different from a threesome — a threesome is a sexual encounter between three people, while a throuple is an ongoing romantic relationship. The term is a blend of the word “three” with the word “couple." Sometimes, they’re also called triads or three-way relationships.
Polyamory — the practice of or desire for intimate relationships with more than one person at a time — may be more common than you think, and it’s on the rise. One 2014 study found that 4-5% of Americans are in polyamorous relationships, and a 2017 study found that over 20% of Americans have engaged in some form of ethical non-monogamy (which includes polyamory) at some point in their lives. One 2019 study found that people in polyamorous relationships are more likely to identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, especially bisexual or pansexual; more likely to be divorced; and more likely to earn less than $40,000 per year than people in monogamous relationships.
Research shows that outside those currently in polyamorous relationships, many other people are open to some form of ethical non-monogamy — for example, having occasional casual sexual encounters outside a relationship, with their partner’s knowledge and consent. A 2016 YouGov survey asked respondents to rate their ideal relationship on a scale from 0, or “completely monogamous,” to 6, or “completely non-monogamous.” Only 51% of people under 30 said their ideal relationship would be “completely monogamous."
So if Katie Hill was in a throuple or another form of polyamorous relationship — which again, she has not yet addressed — she’s far from alone.