Some thoughts on The Ethical Slut (part book review, part personal essay)

In early October of 2019, at the suggestion of a former therapist, in response to my telling her that I found myself thinking about sex almost all the time (and that I hated myself for it, fearing I must have been some sort of “pervert” and that I was betraying my wife for constantly wanting other women), I began reading books on the sacred topic. The Kindle format versions of the Kinsey Reports costed more than I wished to spend at the time, especially since the research is older (as of today, it’s $2.99 for Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Female; $44.99 for the Kindle publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male [this suggests quite a bit doesn’t it? Society demands easier access to female sexuality. Male sexuality, having dominated what limited sexology texts have piled up over time, in a very sort ironic way, I suppose, is so much less exotic to the common sexology reader, that, at least in my experience [1]or am I just not looking because I’m not that interested either but I don’t realize it?, it takes much more effort to obtain new information on male sexuality than female sexuality.] so I opted for less costly and more recent literature. Research on which books to buy ultimately led me to purchase (among a few others) Janet W. Hardy’s and Dossie Easton’s The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Freedoms in Sex and Love (third edition).

A couple of interesting background points:

  1. When I first started reading this book, ideas about and/or related to non-monogamy (a major theme in the book) were shocking to me, (a married man for four years, to the woman I was with for 11 years… exclusively…monogamously—and vehemently so! So I claimed, at least; deep down, I think I’ve always been a polyamorist) and I wondered at the time if non-monogamy is immoral. My point being that I began the book with a bias. Now, over a year later, while reading the final pages of the book, I read them from a perspective of someone who is openly a polyamorous erotophile and figuring out how to do it, “ethically”—to use Hardy’s and Easton’s way of putting it.

2. Like most books I read—due to my habit of reading quite fractally and…shall we say, to get figurative, “polyamorously”— The Ethical Slut took me a long time to get through. Actually, it stands among my slowest reads of all time: 14 months to read (roughly the same amount of time it took me to read Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain—which interestingly enough, is probably one of the greatest musings on the concept of time, ever—but that’s for another book review!)and the first volume of Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities) so I’ve had about half a year (give or take) to process the book in piecemeal fashion. 

And now, a noteworthy point about the book itself:

In April of 2020, just as Covid was getting started in the U.S., I was beginning to research non-monogamy and polyamory. Both entirely uninformed about all the basic dimensions of non-monogamy, biased, and aware of both of these facts about myself, for the sake of feeling intellectually and philosophically and personally honest, as well as thorough, I decided to try and think outside my bias and fear of what my research might compel me to question about my thoughts on sex, love, and ethics—like: if I was honest with myself, how appealing did I find my fantasies of non-monogamy? What SPECIFICALLY, throughout my sexually conscious life, has prevented me from exploring non-monogamy (et cetera…)? 

 In the midst of this research, The Ethical Slut was a consistently cited source on the subject—standing  alongside More Than Two, by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert and Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha; Buzzfeed only sites the ladder; Well + Good only cites The Ethical Slut and Sex at Dawn ; Rolling Stone discusses The Ethical Slut as if THAT was the authority on the subject; on the other hand, a quick Google search from my computer takes me to the More Than Two website   , and in fact several of the site’s pages, suggesting that Veaux and Rickert[1] are considered as “go-to” as Hardy and Easton; if you venture away from the mainstream sites like Buzzfeed and Rolling Stone to the more niche ones, such as Loving Without Boundaries, all three may tend to “make the cut” as the leading “poly” [as many speakers on “poly” like to say, for short] books.)

Sluts and philanthropists

Before delving into the overall essence of the work, it’s important to note that Hardy and Easton question the common use of the word “slut” and offer their own redefinition. They write:

“In most of the world, slut is a highly offensive term used to describe a woman whose sexuality is voracious, indiscriminate, and shameful. It’s interesting to note that the analogous words stud or player, used to describe a highly sexual man, are often terms of approval and envy.

“So we are proud to reclaim the word slut as a term of approval, even endearment. To us, a slut is a person of any gender who celebrates sexuality according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you. Sluts may choose to have no sex at all or to get cozy with the Fifth Fleet. They may be heterosexual, homosexual, asexual, or bisexual, radical activists or peaceful suburbanites. As proud sluts, we believe that sex and sexual love are fundamental forces for good, activities with the potential to strengthen intimate bonds, enhance lives, open spiritual awareness, even change the world. Furthermore, we believe that every consensual intimate relationship has these potentials and that any erotic pathway, consciously chosen and mindfully followed, can be a positive, creative force in the lives of individuals and their communities.

“Sluts share their sexuality the way philanthropists share their money: because they have a lot of it to share, because it makes them happy to share it, because sharing makes the world a better place. Sluts often find that the more love and sex they give away, the more they have: a loaves-and-fishes miracle in which greed and generosity go hand in hand to provide more for everybody. Imagine living in sexual abundance!

page 2

(I cannot help but find immense amusement in comparing “sluts” to “philanthropists”—“sluts share their sexuality the way philanthropists share their money.” It’s poetic and resonates with me, personally because:

1) I have, for a long time, fantasized about being both a slut AND a philanthropist;

2) the analogy makes a fascinating implicit value judgement re: sex—that aside from money, it’s one of the most “generous” things one can give to others. In a world where, overall, sex is still very stigmatized (so much so that I struggled to look family members in the eyes when my brother asked me what I’d been reading lately. A year ago, I’d have gone on about Dostoevsky, Thomas Mann, Robert Musil, Proust—authors who take us at times to the very esoteric. But now I’m reading about a theoretically virtuous and good and decent and moral (i.e., ethical) way to fuck multiple people and not confine one’s self to a complete and utter “one and only”—something, by the way, I don’t believe I’ve ever really discussed with anyone in my family.

3) There is an uncanny connection between sex and money for me. I’ve been sexually repressed and poor for many years now, and as I escalate my efforts to address both of these conflicts, it usually feels like the harder I try…well, not to sound cliché, but the more it seems I slow myself down!)

(Redefining the word “slut” is a “hot topic,” so to speak. I must mention Amanda Montells book Wordslut—which both via title and text, also examines the evolution of this word’s definitions. Perhaps I will write about Wordslut in the future. If I don’t stop my digression now, I will gush on and on about the crush that’s transpired…)

One of my favorite things about The Ethical Slut is the incredibly holistic, interdisciplinary, and pluralistic approach it takes.

We get a touch of history on academic sex research, a lot of the sociology/anthropology of people engaged in non-monogamy [they even take us into the world of orgies…AND they offer advice on how to edge your way into some group action! Perhaps I will try it out one day.], we get personal stories, both from Hardy and Easton (Janet W. Hardy is a writer [like me, she sought an MFA] and publisher “specializing in sexually adventurous books” as the book puts it in the “About the Authors” section; Dossie Easton is a therapist and relationship counselor who specializes in non-traditional [for a lack of better terms] sexuality and gender identity, et cetera; the authors are lovers and have been… for almost 30 years [almost as long as I’ve been alive!]…and yet, never lived with each other!) and stories from other individuals; the offers tons of relationship advice [to echo other readers of this book, plenty of the advice is just as good for monogamous lovers as non—for example, there’s an entire chapter on jealousy… jealousy NOT being an emotion exclusive to non-monogamy…or for that matter, love and sex. I’m frequently jealous of people who make more money than me, for example…], and…to return to my description of the book as pluralistic:

Although the point of view is written from two women who are lovers, they do not write exclusively for a lesbian, or bisexual, or female audience. There’s “food for thought” for all sorts of men, whether they’re gay, bi, or hetero, and they don’t limit how people may identify (such as gender fluid, et cetera).

–they offer this thought for us lads:

“Many people believe that if there is no penis with an erection, nothing sexy is happening. (Lesbians, of course, disagree vehemently.) Many penis owners feel they can’t even engage in foreplay while they are soft, and many of their partners are insulted if they discover a soft penis. Still more people are completely nonplussed if the penis in question decides to release at a time that is inconvenient for the rest of the activity, as if there were no sex after ejaculation. We want to encourage you to think beyond the hydraulics of erection and allow your playful explorations to go wherever they want to go, no matter where the participants may be in the sexual response cycle. (page 250)

page 250

And let me add that I find the phrasing “penis owners” to be amusing—this wonderful book is not just informative and open-minded, it also is written with a sense of humor.

Indeed, the tone of the book is intellectual without being academic, personal without being utterly subjective, very “general audience” type non-fiction, but not so “general audience” that I felt spoken down to or view the writing as overly simplified and dumbed down. All of this gives it a very unique edge in the current literature on sexuality and love. (Compare to Sex at Dawn which focuses more on theoretical evolutionary perspective, and More Than Two,  which reads somewhat like a practical guide for the most anarchic of the poly cliques, and Come As You Are by Emily Nigoksi—Come As You Are is probably my favorite book on sex thus far—which is more empirical and female focused)

If you are interested in sexuality and love and how a diversity of people in our current culture express sexuality and love, or if you are interested in growing and improving as an introspector, learning how to deal with overwhelming emotions and insecurities related to sex and love, or if you simply enjoy quality non-fiction, I think you ought to give The Ethical Slut a read.    


END NOTES:

[1] That being said, Eve Rickert actually has since renounced her belief in what she wrote with Veaux. She wrote: “There are a lot of things I fucked up” re: the book. (She’s still non-monogamous, but rejects Veaux’s approach. On her blog she refers to herself as “a Gen X nonmonogamous queer woman in Canada.”

 and worse, she joined a group of Veaux’s former lovers and created a website critiquing his ethics and the accuracy of his accounts.  They state in the FAQ page that:

“We truly believe that he [Veaux] is perpetuating harm by using our harmful experiences and twisting them for his own gain. While we have moved or are moving on from our own experiences with Franklin, we hope that by shedding light on the true nature of his advice and expertise, we might be able to prevent others from experiencing harm—either directly from him or indirectly from the advice he disseminates through his writings.

References

References
1 or am I just not looking because I’m not that interested either but I don’t realize it?

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