An ALMOST five star read: The Ethical Slut, Third Edition

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by Alixandria Thomason
she/her
contact@queerkentucky.com

Rating: 4.9/5 stars

The Ethical Slut, Third Edition by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, is a nuts and bolts guide to ethical non-monogamy. It walks readers through everything from what ethical non-monogamy is, to how to safely navigate “the practice of sluthood,” to consent and communication. I loved the original Ethical Slut, but the latest edition is miles better than the original. It focuses more on inclusion than the previous editions, from race to gender to orientations. It also addresses key topics such as trauma, sex work, advocating for yourself in relationships, and the importance of boundaries and autonomy. 

Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy

As someone who has been polyamorous, monogamous, and everywhere in between, The Ethical Slut is a goddess-send. One of my favorite themes in the book is the idea that non-monogamy is not a binary. Like most things in the queer world, it’s a spectrum. I tend to be somewhere in the middle, solidly happy in my romantic relationship, while still loving my friends deeply (sometimes platonically, sometimes romantically, sometimes somewhere in between). My partner on the other hand is much closer to monogamy. His friend relationships sit firmly at the platonic end of the spectrum.

He isn’t a touchy person, while I tend to dogpile with those I love, hold their hand, kiss their face, and comment fire emojis on every selfie they post. But for us, it isn’t a bad thing. We talk openly about our feelings, our wants, our needs, our desires and attractions. It’s the communication that makes the difference. The Ethical Slut affirms this experience. It talks about how humans in a relationship don’t have to be located at the same point on the monogamy/non-monogamy spectrum. Yes, differences can sometimes cause rifts, but they can also open up a whole new level of communication and trust. 

There were very few things I didn’t like about The Ethical Slut, but in chapter four there are some wide generalizations that didn’t sit right. For instance, “for women, relationships can get confused with their sense of identity,” and “in the world of women who relate sexually to other women, it rapidly becomes apparent that if we see ourselves as Sleeping Beauties waiting for Princess Charming to come along, we might indeed have to wait a hundred years.” Statements like this put women in a very passive and submissive light, and many women are not passive or submissive.

Compare these statements to the book’s remarks on men: “men do not generally try to get consent from each other by manipulation and pressuring: a straightforward approach meets an easy response and no need to ask three times.” Like the generalization of women as passive, this generalization about men glosses over the sexual harassment that men both gay and straight experience. Though this generalization of gender norms is only found in this part of the book, it is surprising coming from queer and poly authors.

The part that spoke to me the most was about owning your own emotions, knowing that emotions aren’t things that happen “to” us. Our partner doesn’t “make” us sad, instead, the sadness is our reaction, and therefore something we have power over. When we view emotion as something that we play a part in instead of something that is happening to us, we move from a space of victimhood to a space of power.

Personal autonomy is also a major topic in the book–one that is relevant to monogamous and polyamorous people alike. In a healthy relationship no one “owns” their partner. There might be dynamics where that appears to be the case (as with sub/dom dynamics or other types of kink), but the book reminds us that in healthy relationships those terms have been negotiated and agreed to by both parties.  

The Ethical Slut isn’t just a good book to read if you are polyamorous or considering polyamory. Monogamous individuals and couples can learn a ton about healthy relationships and how to regulate and own your own emotions. Embodying our desires, even within the confines of a long-term relationship, can still feel scary when we were raised to look at sexuality in a negative or shamed-filled light. The Ethical Slut asks us to look critically at how purity culture has seeped into everything from politics to entertainment. It also provides tools for healthy communication, even giving the reader exercises to help navigate difficult discussions. It walks you through how to reassure your partner, and how to have a win-win argument: skills that are beneficial in any type of relationship. 

In conclusion, The Ethical Slut was an absolutely amazing read. It covered so many topics, including ones I would never have even thought of (like how to ask consent to join in with a group at a sex party, or what exactly is the difference between flirting and cruising). I would suggest that everyone check out this book, no matter what your orientation or relationship style. 

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