Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.



September 17, 2017

From Rolling Stone, " 'The Ethical Slut': Inside America's Growing Acceptance of Polyamory"


Another big one just came out. Rolling Stone devotes a 2,400-word feature to the publication this week of The Ethical Slut, 3rd edition. It's the 20th anniversary of a book that popularized some of the key norms and principles of the modern polyamory movement and helped to get the whole thing rolling.


'The Ethical Slut': Inside America's Growing Acceptance of Polyamory

Millennials are increasingly embracing non-monogamous relationships – and the 1990s guidebook that helped popularize them is getting an update.

'The Ethical Slut' brought new language to polyamory.
(Illustration: Brittany Falussy / Rolling Stone)

By Anna Fitzpatrick

In 1994, sexual educator Janet W. Hardy was bedridden for a month with a bad flu that had evolved into bronchitis. She was, as she recalls, "high off my ass on Codeine cough syrup" when she caught a showing of Indecent Proposal on TV. Married couple David (Woody Harrelson) and Diana (Demi Moore) are faced with a moral dilemma when a billionaire named John (Robert Redford) offers them a million dollars in exchange for spending one night with Diana. ... At the scene where the couple hesitates over the billionaire's offer, Hardy wondered if she was having a fever dream.

"I was sitting there going, 'What's going on here?'" she tells Rolling Stone from her home in Oregon. "A million dollars and Robert Redford, and they have a problem with this? It made no sense to me. I really got it at that point, how distant I had become from mainstream sexual ethics."

Hardy reached out to her friend and sometimes collaborator, the psychotherapist Dossie Easton to work on a book about non-monogamy. The pair had already coauthored two books on kink which were read in BDSM circles, but not much elsewhere. Both Easton and Hardy identified as queer and polyamorous, and Easton wanted to reclaim the word slut. They combined their own experiences with both casual sex and open marriages, navigating orgies and battling jealousy. In 1997, under Hardy's own indie sex-ed publishing house Greenery Press, they published The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities.
Dossie and Janet today. (Stephanie Mohan / Rolling Stone)

The the first usage of the word polyamory is credited to pagan priestess Morning Glory Ravenheart Zell in 1990. Though different forms of non-monogamy have presented themselves in various cultures for millennia, in Western culture in the early 1990s it was still seen as an alternative practice, the kind favored by, well, pagan priestesses. Today, polyamory is less tied to one specific subculture or identity. ...

"Twenty years ago, I used to get calls from show producers all the time, and the call would go, 'Can you point me towards a poly family that's not either old hippies or screaming geeks?'" laughs Hardy. "I would say no, because A, that's most of my rolodex, and B, that's who was doing poly back then. But these days, when I speak to poly audiences, they're young professionals, all shiny and new. It's very different."

The new, purple edition
...Hardy, 62, was married for 13 years when, in 1988, she realized that monogamy no longer appealed to her. Her marriage ended that same year. A few years later, in 1992, she met Easton through a BDSM group in San Francisco called the Society of Janus. Easton was teaching a class called "Pain Play with Canes from Psyche to Soma" and Hardy volunteered to help her demonstrate. Two years later, the pair gave a presentation on S&M in Big Sur at a Mensa gathering. ("Of all things," says Hardy.)

"Dossie went home because it was so hetero, she couldn't stand it," says Hardy. Later, she ran into another friend who relayed an overheard conversation from the conference. "She said, 'Did you hear about that S&M workshop this afternoon? There were these two women, they were talking about stuff they had done together, and one of their boyfriends was right in the room!'" Kink was no big deal to the Mensa crowd, but non-monogamy could still shock in 1994.

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...Though Amber [23] has only been identifying as polyamorous for a few years – she was 19 when she asked her boyfriend if they could open their relationship – she speaks with the confidence and authority of someone who has been allowed to experiment with her sexuality her entire adult life. She emphasizes the need for communication in all relationships, particularly when it comes to hurt feelings.

"I'm sure you're waiting to ask me the big jealousy question," she tells me. "Of course polyamorous people deal with jealousy, it's just that we see it as an emotion to be acknowledged and talked about and work through." Jealousy usually comes from insecurity and fear, she says, summarizing a large portion of The Ethical Slut, and can require "self reflection and metacognition" to work through. She is active in the New York poly, kink and queer scenes, and goes to several events a week including BDSM play parties and swingers mixers. I ask her if all her partners are part of the same community, and she laughs. "Yeah, whether they like it or not," she says. "Even when you break up with a partner, you're still in each other's peripherals." There is little separation between her sex life and social life. Amber is unapologetic about this, and why shouldn't she be? The word "slut" no longer has the same connotations it did when Hardy and Easton were 23.

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As polyamory is treated less like a novelty and more of a valid relationship model, modern entertainment is learning to reflect that. In the eight-episode web series Unicornland, Annie (Laura Ramadei) is trying to explore her sexuality after the dissolution of her marriage. She does this by "unicorning" – the term given to women who join couples in bed for threesomes. Every three- to seven-minute episode introduces Annie to a new couple: straight, lesbian, kinky, longterm married couples looking to spice up their sex life. It depicts one very specific subset of polyamory, but in doing so manages to explore much of the richness and complexities of modern relationships that go ignored in most mainstream media.

Gillepsie read The Ethical Slut two years ago, and started writing Unicornland about six months later.  The idea of unicorning appealed to her as a narrative device because the evolution of her own sexuality felt like such an internal, mental process. "In Annie's unicorning, she's really able to try out other people's relationships and see how they function from within," Gillepsie tells me. "I felt that the couples were sort of the best way for Annie to try out all these different facets of polyamory." ...

Hardy ... cites an episode of Crazy Ex-Girfriend in which protagonist Rebecca Bunch finds herself in love with two men and can't decide between them. "She goes and interviews a poly triad to find out how to deal with this, and finds out that what she's actually doing is just being a person with very bad boundaries."

...The 20th anniversary edition of The Ethical Slut, out September 15th, has been significantly updated and expanded from its humble debut, including sections on poly pioneers, black poly activism and yes, shifting attitudes towards polyamory within a new generation. ...


Read the whole article (September 16, 2017).

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