The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures

16 Oct

by Dossie Easton, Janet W. Hardy (2009)

“For anyone who has ever dreamed of love, sex, and companionship beyond the limits of traditional monogamy, this groundbreaking guide navigates the infinite possibilities that open relationships can offer. Experienced ethical sluts Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy dispel myths and cover all the skills necessary to maintain a successful and responsible polyamorous lifestyle–from self-reflection and honest communication to practicing safe sex and raising a family. Individuals and their partners will learn how to discuss and honor boundaries, resolve conflicts, and to define relationships on their own terms. “

Sounds nice, right?

My friend Kate works in a local bookstore and one day I by chance ran in to escape a surprise downpour. I started perusing the Social Sciences section and as an avid fan of sexual politics, feminism, and the like, I decided I would grab a few books and get Kate’s opinion on which I would enjoy best. After piling up with a few on theory, one word caught my eye on the shelf: SLUT. I read the rest of the title and the subtitle and dropped everything else I had previously picked up. I presented it to Kate and she said, “I think you’ll like this one.”

The Ethical Slut is written by Dossie, a therapist certified  for Marriage and Family, and Hardy, an educator, editor, and writer. It is an exploratory, accessible, and informative journey into the taboo world of polyamory (“the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved”). On top of professional knowledge and input, both authors live “slut” lifestyles and offer personal stories and insights to support their writing. They present tthe word “slut”, in the context they’re using it in, to mean being a responsible, caring, and empathetic partner. It’s about being safe and accountable for your actions, making your intentions clear, and being there for you partner(s) when issues arise. And of course, enjoying, expressing, and exploring your sexuality.
Topics discussed include:
Opening an existing relationship
Being a single slut
Responsibility/Accountability
Having a family in an open relationship
Where to meet fellow “sluts” and how to handle yourself in a world where you may be an outcast for such interests.
Dealing with jealousy and emotions in open relationships

The authors do a great job with discussing sex politics and issues in relationships in a positive and inclusive way that addresses all types of sex by all types of people of any race, gender, or orientation. Throughout the book there are exercises that promote self-reflection and present useful ways to work through issues in any kind of relationship; some are for the reader to do alone, others are to do with a partner.

The advice and ideas that the authors present on topics like emotions and sexual practices are applicable to anyone, not just those in an open relationship. Easton and Hardy present therapeutic remedies for jealousy, loneliness, abandonment, and other feelings that can come up in any kind of relationship; that’s where I found this book to be most useful. Though they specifically address these issues within the context of polyamory, their insights are applicable to any type of relationship, or even to the reader alone. They give tips on how to make agreements, set rules and boundaries, and how to create positive environments for your relationships and all that are involved in them.

Personally, I took a lot away from the book in this sense. The authors discuss how to “own your feelings,” be responsible for how you feel and not place blame on others. There were definitely some topics that I knew wouldn’t apply to me, or there were things that I probably wouldn’t be comfortable applying to my own life, but they’re helpful and interesting to know about all the same.

While polyamory is certainly becoming more popular and acceptable, I still had some trouble placing it. While the authors present constructive and useful ideas on how to make this lifestyle more practical, it just seems like there would still be a lot of pressure from others thinking it was “weird”. I’d like to think that there are a lot of progressive people that would simply say, “Do whatever you want, it doesn’t bother me.” I know a lot of people that would probably say or think something along those lines, and I personally know a handful of people that are actively in open relationships or have been in the past. Then I think about what say, my family would think if I came home and said I was intimately involved with one man long-term, but was sleeping with a woman two days a week, whom I also loved. I’d probably meet a lot of skepticism and criticism. And I can hear a whole wave of people saying, “Well if he/she really loved you, he/she wouldn’t have to sleep with someone else.” Unfortunately monogamy is so ingrained in our culture and I’m not completely sure how to overcome that. That of course is not to say that it doesn’t happen and that it doesn’t work for a lot of people who do find a way to integrate it into their lives. And the same goes for monogamy; we’ve all seen that succeed and fail. Easton and Hardy want the readers to question what it is that pushes them to monogamy.

It’s also worth noting that one doesn’t have to be in an open relationship to be a ”slut” or be considered polyamorous. Plenty of single sluts carry out their sexual endeavors and then find themselves in monogamous relationships. Some sluts choose to be celibate. Literally any type of sexual decision is included within this book, which is one of the cooler things about it. Whatever you want your sex life to be, it fits into the realm of sluthood.

In short, this book offers a lot, and while it may be a bit much for someone who isn’t already in an open relationship or hasn’t explored these avenues before, it certainly presents points that can be applied to one’s relationships in any regard. It was an enjoyable read and makes a taboo subject a little more accessible to a reader who may be new to the concept of polyamory.

My scholarly opinion? 4.5 stars!

Here’s a link to the book’s Amazon page.

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2 Responses to “The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures”

  1. Janet W. Hardy October 24, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    Thanks for the kind words! A couple of minor corrections: first, that poly groupings are growing increasingly popular and visible, so that the difficulties of presenting as poly in the outside world are *much* less than they once were; second, that neither Dossie nor I is a psychologist — Dossie is a therapist with a Marriage and Family Therapist certification, and I am an educator, editor and writer.

    Best regards,
    Janet W. hardy

    • marenamitchell October 24, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

      Hi Janet,
      I made a few corrections to the review as per your comment.
      Thanks for your input, very much appreciated!
      -Marena

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