My most-recommended book of 2015: The Ethical Slut, a book about shaping and sizing relationships according to your wishes in an ethical and sustainable way. You may not expect it from the title, but The Ethical Slut (TES) is a really smart book! I learned a lot from it and I’m going to tell you all about it.
TES is written by authors Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy and, as can be expected from the title, in this book they proudly reclaim the word slut as a term of approval: ‘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.’ That is quite a nice way to put it.
This is a book about relationships. The subtitle of the 2nd edition reads: ‘A practical guide to polyamory, open relationships & other adventures’. I will tell you now that if you’re not interested in having multiple intimate relationships at the same time, this book can still be very good to you! There is so much valuable information in there, which will help you build healthy relationships with your partner(s) and friends.
Polyamory, literally ‘loving many’, is a relatively new word with a bit of a vague meaning still. TES: ‘some feel that polyamory includes all forms of sexual relationships other than monogamy, while others restrict it to committed love relationships’.
This is the definition as given in the Oxford English Dictionary (2006):
The fact of having simultaneous close romantic relationships with two or more other individuals, viewed as an alternative to monogamy, esp. in regard to matters of sexual fidelity; the custom or practice of engaging in multiple romantic relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned.
For me polyamory is about approaching relationships in an open way, without having to stick to the boundaries of monogamy or modern culture. It is about not having to label your relationships with predefined terms like ‘partner’ or ‘friend’. In this sense, one can perfectly be polyamorous while having one or zero sexual relationships. I am in favour of using the word relationship in its broadest sense, too. To me, the relationships concerned in polyamory don’t necessarily have to be ‘romantic’. Having multiple loving relationships, be them more or less romantic or intimate, and doing so in an ethical way, to me can be an expression of polyamory.
A friend told me: ‘I think everyone is polyamorous or will be if they let themselves.’ That is also how I see it, but that may not be the common understanding. If you’re interested, you can find out what works for you. Defining things may be useful, but it’s not necessary. Just like you don’t need to define your relationships, you don’t need to define the word polyamory or identify with it.
Then there’s ‘relationship structures’: the combination of the (intimate) relationships of a person and how they relate to one another, etcetera. TES gives plenty of practical advices on how to deal with different kinds of those structures. A structure can be to have one primary relationship and one or several secondary ones, in which the primary one has some kind of higher ‘rank’ than the others. To me, this seems pretty similar to monogamy with one romantic relationship and multiple friends. If you prefer to not rank relationships like that, then don’t! All relationships are different and can be appreciated as such. This is a really important principle.
A friend recommends the book More Than Two by Franklin Veaux; she writes this book is very thorough and constructive. I didn’t read it, but I do already like the website: More Than Two. I’d say this is a good place to start your polyamoric journey!
Some of the important topics you’ll come across: boundaries and agreements, jealousy and insecurity, the previously mentioned hierarchy, the public and poly-mono relationships. Those topics are all being discussed in both TES and on the More Than Two website.
What I liked most about TES is that it addresses some really fundamental and important issues of certain feelings and ideas. I think these were the most important things to learn from this book and among the most important things to learn in relationships in general.
Now, pay close attention, for here’s my selection and interpretation of the highly important stuff.
Abundance of Love
TES describes ‘starvation economies’: the idea that there is not enough of something. This idea is deeply rooted in most of us, since we can easily learn it in early childhood. If you believe there isn’t enough, that there’s a limited amount of what you want, which can make you want to claim your share of it, to take away from others and to want to prevent others from taking their share. The more others have, the less there is left for you, so it seems.
Concerning sex, love and romance this is not the case.
Have you seen the movie Her? It’s about a writer, Theodore Twombly, who falls in love and starts a relationship with an operating system, who names herself Samantha. Samantha nicely illustrates her view on the abundance of love in this quote:
‘The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love. I’m different from you. This doesn’t make me love you any less. It actually makes me love you more.’
Samantha in Her, 2013
Theodore’s view is different, more in line with the starvation economies. Therefore, he has a hard time coping with Samantha’s view. Her is a really cool movie with a polyamoric message, so you should see it if you haven’t already!
That having said: other resources like time are of course limited and this can pose extra hard challenges for people sustaining multiple intense relationships. However, what I also learned from TES: time being so limited and possibilities being plenty forces the ethical slut to consciously choose how to spend their time and with whom. The myth of ‘sluts’ just doing everything with everyone is certainly not true: if you are open to many things and many people, you have to choose very consciously. So if a polyamoric person is spending time with you, you can be sure that he or she is doing so because he/she likes it! It is of high importance to actively work on your relationships and relationship skills, more so if you seek to have multiple ‘intense’ relationships than if you do not. This hard work decreases chances of slipping into taking each other for granted and being together mainly out of habit.
Dealing with your Feelings
Jealousy is not an emotion: it’s an umbrella term. Its form is a result of our personal history, including our deepest insecurities.
A second important thing: jealousy is not an emotion. TES: ‘It can show up as grief or rage, hatred or self-loathing – jealousy is an umbrella word that covers the wide range of emotions we might feel when our partners make sexual connection with somebody else.’ How jealousy comes to us, depends on our personal history, on what patterns we have created. A base for jealousy can be our deeply rooted insecurities and the well-known fear of not getting enough, in line with the starvation economies.
When we experience jealousy or other negative feelings, we tend to blame other people or circumstances or anything besides ourselves for having these feelings. If he is spending so much time with her – of course I’m jealous! It’s my right. If he would just be perfect, I wouldn’t be upset, so he should change.
No. They don’t make you feel jealous, you do. Therefore, finding your way with these emotions is primarily your game. However, people can’t just go around hurting others. We have to consider others’ feelings, of course, and find ways that work well for everyone involved. Communication is really important, as well as making agreements and sticking to those. (Jealousy is a hard thing to deal with. I didn’t read it, but More Than Two provides a practical guide on how to deal with it.)
No one else is going to change your relationships for you, so be sure to take the responsibility yourself.
Another thing: others don’t feel your feelings or think your thoughts. So if you are unhappy about your relationships or anything else really: no one else is going to change it for you! It is totally up to you to make yourself feel comfortable. Of course, in relationships everything good happens while communicating well, but make sure you do take the responsibility to speak your mind! Your partners have no other way of knowing what you want than for you to make it clear. (This also goes in the bedroom by the way, or wherever you’re having sex.)
Well, these are probably the best things I learned from TES! There is way more, though, and all my friends who I made to read it liked the book as well. Just in case you don’t trust my judgement. The principles and lessons I wrote about are actually really fundamental and important, not only if you’re interested in having multiple romantic relationships at the same time. There is so much more about it than the few sentences I wrote, but I think this is a good start. You’ll find your way to more if you want to.
If you have comments or questions, please let hear from you! I’m interested to learn if you find ‘my definitions’ and stuff useful or merely bullshit and what your thoughts are. Let’s keep up the communication and learning! 🙂
Extra: if you believe monogamy is deeply rooted in humankind, then you may be interested in the book Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá. The book sets out to convince its readers that human monogamy is relatively new and that humans used to be polyamorous before they started their agricultural practices and thereby owning land and other things, and it does so really convincingly!