Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan



December 1, 2009

Poly Books of 2009:
1. The Ethical Slut, Second Edition

We're only a month from the end of the 00's — pronounced "the Uh-ohs," the best name for this awful decade I've heard. Let's hope 2010 is the start of something better.

Two polyamory books appeared in English in 2009 (as far as I know, as well as one in French), following three in 2008 (those were Opening Up by Tristan Taormino, Open by Jenny Block, and The Polyamory Handbook by Peter J. Benson). The 2009 crop consists of the new, enlarged edition of The Ethical Slut and a rather different item, Gaia and the New Politics of Love: Notes for a Poly Planet.

Here's my review of the first. The second will be up next.


The Ethical Slut, 2nd edition: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures (Ten Speed Press).

"Many people dream of having an abundance of love and sex and friendship," begins Chapter 1;


Some believe that such a life is impossible and settle for less than they want, feeling always a little lonely, a little frustrated. Others try to achieve their dream, but are thwarted by outside social pressures or by their own emotions, and decide that such dreams must stay in the realm of fantasy. A few, though, persist and discover that being openly loving, intimate, and sexual with many people is not only possible but can be more rewarding than they ever imagined.


The Ethical Slut is often called "the bible of polyamory," but it's really the bible of one poly model: the "independent agent" model, basically poly singles — or pairs or groups of singles. This model sees individuals as ultimately responsible only for their own lives and choices, at least in some deep philosophical sense. Authors Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy (who formerly wrote under the pseudonym Catherine A. Liszt, "cat-a-liszt") come from the urban kink scene; perhaps this influenced them to speak to readers who see themselves as independent agents in a big wide sexy world.

A lot of people, however, make their way to poly as already committed-up couples who do not see themselves as acting and deciding on their own. These people may find that Tristan Taormino's Opening Up speaks to them more directly — though the new edition of Slut does add a new chapter on opening an existing relationship.

Regardless, Slut is packed with ideas and wisdom for anyone who is interested in ethical nonmonogamy among good, sex-positive, emotionally healthy people.

A little history: when the first edition came out in 1997, it hardly mentioned the word "polyamory"; the word itself was only a few years old. Easton and Hardy published the book through Hardy's own Greenery Press, a tiny outfit that specializes in kink and BSDM titles. But even without much advertising or bookstore placement, sales of The Ethical Slut spread by word of mouth. By 2007 more than 75,000 copies were in print, according to Hardy, and it was reportedly selling faster than when it was new. A lot of people (my friends say) were buying second copies because they'd loaned out their first one so many times they'd lost it.

Last March Dossie and Janet brought out their long-promised second edition. This time the word "polyamory" is right on the cover; while the first edition was subtitled "A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities," the second is subtitled "A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures."

So, how is the new Slut new?

It's 35% longer, by word count. It's reorganized to reflect the poly community's changing nature and concerns in the last 12 years, as well as the authors' increased experience. Dossie is a counselor by profession, and since gaining poly stardom she's seen a lot more poly clients and their problems. The book has two new chapters ("Opening an Existing Relationship" and "Lifestyles of the Single Slut") and much more about jealousy. New sidebar boxes throughout the book offer real-life psychological exercises to improve your skills in handling the situations being discussed.

Dossie says that she and Janet are better writers now than 12 years ago, and a line-by-line comparison shows lots of little improvements to the smoothness and flow. The book's design is more professional. It now has an index and a glossary. And it's in mainstream bookstores.

But in reaching out to a larger audience, has it become a bit... tamer? Here's a snip from the old edition, in the "Group Sex, Public Sex, Orgies" chapter, that says more than any abstract advice:


A young roommate of Dossie's once wound up in bed with both her current and her previous [male] lovers in an unplanned episode of lust run amok. Courtesy of inadequate soundproofing and a good imagination, Dossie knew what was going on and was wondering how they were doing when Kenny, the current boyfriend, staggered into the kitchen. "Dossie!" he pleaded. "I don't know what to do! Help!" She said, "Don't forget to breathe. This is not a contest, this is about doing what feels good." He muttered it like a mantra, "Breathe, no contest, feel good, breathe, no contest..." squared his shoulders and gamely returned to the fray.


The passage is gone from the new edition.

But never mind. If you're interested enough to have read this far, you need this book. It's liberating, fun, and well worth loaning out until you lose it. Maybe by then there'll be a third edition!

Some excerpts:

From the new "Group Sex" chapter (yes, I know you're interested):

Most people approach their first group sex party in a mental maelstrom of fears, fantasies, and wild expectations about what might, or worse yet, might not happen. We strongly recommend that you get a grip on yourself, acknowledge that you don't actually know what is going to happen, and go to the party with the expectation that you will be proud of yourself if you manage to walk in the door. If you stay for an hour and watch, you get a gold star....

Couples at the orgy: Deal with your relationship before you go. This is important. Are you going as a couple, to show off your incredible sexiness? Are you cruising for thirds and fourths? Or are you going as two separate individuals, to meet people and share sex with them? If one of you connects with a hot number, is the other welcome to join in? Do you need your partner's agreement before you play with someone? If you need to pause in a flirtation to check in with your partner, experienced sluts will admire your thoughtfulness and integrity.... The reason you decide all this in advance is that it is way too ugly to have a disagreement about this sort of thing in public, where if you do disagree, you are likely to feel embarrassed and angry and make a big unhappy mess.

...We like to watch couples make love with each other at parties — you can see the intimacy, and how well they know each others' ways, how beautifully they fit together, how exquisitely orchestrated lovemaking can become with years of practice. We like it as a fine experience for the voyeur and because we can learn a lot from people who are experts on each other.

...Play parties can also offer you the opportunity to process fears and jealousies about your partner. How does it feel to watch your partner make love with another person? Is it really awful? You might be surprised to find yourself feeling pretty neutral, like "Gee, I thought that would bother me but actually it doesn't!"


Elsewhere in the book, on asking for what you want:

The important thing is to be aware of your needs and wants, so you can go about getting them met with full consciousness.... Do not commit yourself to a lifetime of hinting and hoping. When you figure out what you want and ask for it, you’ll be surprised how often the answer is "yes."


On gender roles:

What we can all learn from transgender people is that gender is malleable.... If you think this doesn’t apply to you, that you are certain of your gender and that it’s immutable, please consider that a great many people are born with characteristics of both genders.... And a great many people whose genitals and chromosomes are all lined up with biological norms nonetheless feel strongly that they would live more happily and appropriately when presenting as a different gender than the one the doctor assigned them at birth.... Gender-queer people — those who choose to live their lives somewhere between the usual gender roles — are softening the boundaries of gender and demonstrating what life without binary gender might look like.


On monogamy:

We believe that monogamy will continue to thrive as it always has, a perfectly valid choice for those who truly choose it. (We don’t think it’s much of a choice when you are forbidden to choose anything else.)


On "earning your slut merit badge":

The people we know who succeed at ethical sluthood usually have a set of skills that help them forge their pathway cleanly, honestly, and with a minimum of unnecessary pain. Here are some of the skills we think are important:

[Each of these gets two to four paragraphs:] Communication... Emotional honesty... Affection... Faithfulness... Limit-setting... Planning... Knowing yourself... Owning your feelings... Going easy on yourself... Telling the truth.


In conclusion:

We want to create a world where everyone has plenty of what they need: of community, of connection, of touch and sex and love.... We dream of a world where no one has desires they have no hope of fulfilling, where no one suffers from shame because of their desires, or embarrassment about their dreams, where no one is starving from lack of sex.


You can read much more of the book (including the table of contents) in this free preview.

Reid Mihalko has just put up a 90-minute video interview he did with Dossie about the release of the new edition: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

Here's a print interview with her that appeared in The Daily Beast.

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