The Ethical Slut

Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy’s The Ethical Slut is the practical guide for someone who wants to engage in polyamory or open relationships. Easton and Hardy provide valuable practical advice on negotiating boundaries & agreements, practicing safe sex, and the importance of obtaining consent. Many polyamorous forms are explored in this book, along with discussions about dispelling myths and strategies on how to make these relationships work. I admire the hutzpah it takes to put forth a polyamorous vision in a society overflowing with rigid and oppressive sexual ideas.

However, I question Easton and Hardy’s rationale in advocating their lifestyle choices. Instead of showing why polyamory works for them, they fall into illogical arguments, cultural appropriation, and an underlying anti-monogamist sentiment to justify their lifestyle. Easton and Hardy make many historical claims but lack any citations or research to back them up. Most of their arguments come from an egocentric framework, a justification of polyamory based on how it makes the individual feel. As with all things, one does not live on their own island. Reality is holistic and involves complex relationships with all things. To be truly ethical, one needs to consider how their thoughts and actions affect both themselves and others as well.

Sometimes it’s just easier to put these things in a list format.

Bad logic:

Love is not a real-world limit: the mother of nine children can love each of them as much as the mother of an only child. (p. 26)

This is giver-centric thought. Sure the mother can infinitely love her children, no matter how many there are. However, one needs to look at the relationship quality with each child or lover. Not all children or lovers are equal; they all have different needs and demands. The more relationships a person has, the more their resources are spread out. This is simple logic and can be proven when considering physical laws of hydraulics or electricity. Think of the research that shows how effective smaller class sizes are in an educational framework. The same principles apply here. Again, it’s not just about the giver. The relationship as a whole needs to be considered. Is it effective? That should be the question of the day, not one about quantity.

Only by fighting can partners struggle with their disagreements, express their most heartfelt feelings, and negotiate change and growth in their relationships. (p. 135)

There are many ways other than fighting to struggle with disagreements, express feelings, and negotiate change & growth. The authors cling a need to fight, which might show a preference to violence, something this world definitely does not need more of today.

We like to think that all sensual stimulation is sexual, from a shared emotion to a shared orgasm. (p. 228)

If all sensual stimulation is sexual, no sensual stimulation is sexual due to a lack of comparison. Easton and Hardy probably mean all sensual stimulations have the potential to be sexual, but that is not what they said.

Anti-monogomy and Egocentrism:

We think we’re [Easton and Hardy] an excellent example of what can happen if you don’t try to force all of your relationships into the monogamous till-death-do-us-part model. (p. 5)

Easton and Hardy link monogamy with negative images in many places. Usually it has to do with a commentary about a lack of freedom. Easton and Hardy show us the typical follow-us-and-you’ll-be-right mark of egocentrism, despite a centrisms lecture on page 8.

Religious/spiritual ignorance:

Isn’t that what spirituality is, an opened and expanded consciousness? (p. 129)

This came in a paragraph that tried to link polyamory with being on a spiritual path. The problem is that spirituality is one’s connection with unconditioned reality. An opened and expanded consciousness is, well, an opened and expanded consciousness.

This sluthood can become a path to transcendence, a freeing of the mind and spirit as well as the body, a way of being in the world that allows expanded awareness, spiritual growth, and love beyond imagining. (p. 269)

When one clings to sluthood, it’s difficult to transcend anything.

Cultural appropriation:

In some Native American cultures it is customary to wait several minutes after a person speaks before responding… (p. 144)

Easton and Hardy take part in the despicable tradition of using indigenous thought and practice to justify/sell what they are peddling. Just say it might be wise to wait before speaking. There is no need to steal from the indigenous culture to justify your existence.

I believe it is absolutely necessary to candidly talk about sex and advocate for complete sexual freedom. There is way too much censorship and fear concerning sex in our culture. However, if you fill up a book with poor arguments, your message suffers.

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3 Comments

  1. Janet Hardy 11.Oct.11 at 5:03 pm

    Mr. Kimball —

    Thanks for reviewing our book, and I’m sorry you find yourself in disagreement with many of our conclusions. On one point, however, I must correct you. Our chapter on fair fighting in no way advocates violence: as you know if you read the book carefully, one of us has worked in a battered women’s shelter and was herself in a seriously abusive relationship. The entire chapter on fighting has to do with verbal disagreement, and advocates respectful verbal disagreement performed within mutually agreed-on boundaries. While I’m fine with you disagreeing with our conclusions, I will not tolerate the implication that we advocate violence, either personally or in our writing.

    Regards,
    Janet W. Hardy
    co-author, The Ethical Slut

    Reply
  2. Ben Kimball 16.Oct.11 at 12:38 pm

    I have thought about your response for a few days, and I have a few observations. Although I don’t usually respond to criticisms by authors of my reviews because they are often defensive in nature, I feel the need to make an exception here. The subject matter is too important to simply let it go.

    1. When you say fighting is the only way to do something, you are endorsing violence. It’s that simple. Although you bury that statement in a chapter on verbal disagreement, your words clearly state that the only path to transcend disagreement is through fighting. Fighting in any form is a violent conflict.

    2. Though you say you won’t tolerate being implied as advocating violence, you still engaged in cultural appropriation of indigenous people. By stealing from an oppressed group and using that to advance your argument, you are engaging in one of the most violent acts a dominant culture can commit.

    Reply
  3. Janet W. Hardy 16.Oct.11 at 3:44 pm

    Given that I find it impossible to believe that someone who does the work you do could think that conflict never comes up in a relationship, I can only suppose that you’re objecting to the *word* “fighting.” If there’s another word you prefer, feel free to substitute it – but I challenge you to find the slightest indication that we in any way have advocated or approved of physical violence or abusive speech. In fact, the entire thrust of that chapter is about finding ways to manage conflict *without* engaging in those things.

    Similarly, I fail to see how citing a cultural tradition that we think is a good way to handle conflict constitutes “cultural appropriation.” The European/Christian tradition in which we both were raised is not necessarily very good at finding nonviolent ways to manage conflict, so it makes sense to look around and see who’s doing it better, and try it their way. I’ll point out that neither Dossie nor I is a gay man, yet many of the values and ideas in “Slut” were developed in the gay male community – yet nobody has ever once accused us of cultural appropriation on that basis.

    I don’t see any point in pursuing this further, particularly since your sentence about “when one clings to sluthood, it’s difficult to transcend anything” makes your actual agenda perfectly clear. As we make abundantly clear at several points in the book, we are all for monogamy as a legitimate choice, as long as it’s not the only choice. I hope it goes on treating you well.

    Regards,
    Janet

    Reply

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