Book review: The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy

A few years ago, I found myself in a polyamorous relationship almost by accident. I met an awesome couple on a dating site,  I was attracted to them both and eager to try new things so I agreed to go out on a date. We ended up dating for six months.  Prior to this, I hadn’t even considered the possibility of poly dating. I knew that poly communities existed but I had never myself taking part in that style of relationship.  When I went looking online for resources to help me feel more equipped, I saw The Ethical Slut recommended over and over.  Sadly, my relationship ended before I had an opportunity to read this book.  However, a few months back I found a copy in my favourite queer bookstore and I took it home to read.

I do not consider myself to be polyamorous.  I am in a long-term, monogamous relationship and am very happy.  However, I am eager to learn more about the gamut of relationships beyond monogamy.  During my brief foray into the world of poly dating, I felt so impressed with the relationship practices that I saw modeled.  It was awesome to see partners who were so honest with one another, so willing to give their partners freedom to explore. I learned loads about my own communication styles and needs during this time.  Although polyamory might not be for everyone, I think it’s a very undervalued and misunderstood style of relationship.  I picked up a copy of The Ethical Slut in the hopes that it would give me a better understanding of the different kinds of poly relationships, as well as walking me through some valuable techniques that I could apply to my own relationship.

The Ethical Slut is written by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy.  Each of the authors lives polyamorous lifestyles and has experienced a wide range of relationship types.  They write from personal experience, and also from a place of passion. It’s very clear in the prose how deeply the authors believe in the importance of polyamory.  Their enthusiasm rings in every chapter, and makes this book a delight to read.  There are personal stories woven throughout the text, which lend extra gravitas to the book.

The book is broken down into several parts.  Part One is the opening, breaking down some of the different types of open relationships, outlining why someone would want to be polyamorous and busting some common myths.  Part Two is all about the practice of ethical sluthood, from ways to meet partners, safe sex, setting boundaries and even child-rearing.  Part Three tackles some of common challenges, such as jealousy, conflict and opening existing relationships.  And Part Four talks about love, and the establishment of more permanent connections with multiple partners.  It covers a massive range of topics, and the chapter headings make it so easy to go back and reference the parts you need again and again.

While the entire book was very informative, I found Part Three the most useful of all.  The chapters around conflict and jealousy were particularly prudent.  While they’re written with ethical sluts in mind, the advice therein applies to any relationship.  I learned some truly useful things about communication and boundary setting that I’ve been able to implement in my own relationship.  Even though I’m not in a poly relationship, this book was a wealth of information about relationship styles and maintaining a healthy relationship.  One thing I admire about the poly community is their emphasis on communication and boundaries in relationships.  For people in open relationships, a lot of care has to be taken to respect everyone’s needs and set up the relationship that works for everyone involved.  I think that monogamous people could learn a lot from this deliberate rule-making and boundary setting within relationships. And this book is a great starting point.

The thing I liked most about The Ethical Slut is that it is very realistic and doesn’t sugar-coat polyamory.  The authors do not hold back and are frank about potential pitfalls and disadvantages.  They’re also very clear that polyamory is not for everyone, and that the definition of polyamory is very fluid and covers a huge range of relationships.  It doesn’t try to frame poly as the ideal relationship type, but instead offers it as an alternative to those who are seeking something other than traditional monogamy.

While there are some areas that The Ethical Slut covers in a lot of detail, there are others that are more broad-brush in their approach.  However, there is an extensive resources section in the back of the book to help point you in the right direction if you’re looking for more information on any topic.

Note: I purchased the 2nd Edition of The Ethical Slut. However, a 3rd edition was published in 2017.  The 3rd Edition includes additional content including discussions about consent culture, poly pioneers and minorities within the poly community.

I would heartily recommend The Ethical Slut to anyone who is considering polyamory, or looking to open up an existing relationship.  It’s an amazing resource for readers who are curious to learn more about polyamory, as well as anyone (regardless of relationship status) who is hoping to improve their relationship skills.  It’s easy to read and packed full of useful information to help you to craft healthy, fulfilling relationships.  I wish I’d had this book when I was exploring polyamory for the first time, because it would have given me a great insight into what’s involved in a non-traditional relationship and armed me with tools I didn’t have at the time.

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