Review: The Ethical Slut

The Ethical Slut

The Ethical Slut: A Guide To Infinite Sexual Possibilities

by Dossie Easton, Catherine A. Liszt

1997. Greenery Press, San Francisco.


Simply put, The Ethical Slut is a comprehensive guide to skills for sexual relationships with multiple partners, and this information turns out to be wonderfully relevant to any relationship, including monogamous and non-sexual ones. This in itself is delightful and useful, but the authors manage to simultaneously present a coherent, beautiful and intensely realistic philosophy of human relations. In doing so they explain their still radical notion that monogamy, although it is the societal default, is not the only valuable format for relationships or even the best one. Something about the friendly, straight-forward way the authors impart all of this is very powerful— even though I was already in love with every idea in this book, reading it all at once shook me up enough to actually apply them to the kind of tedious, long-standing arguments that can develop when you've been with the same partner since the age of 19.

The book is divided into three sections covering personal, interpersonal, and societal aspects of ethical sluttiness. The authors work from the premise that sex is pleasurable and good, and that ethical people are considerate of others. Their basic advice is then to recognize that we are responsible for our own reactions and emotions, to be considerate of everyone affected by our actions (including our lovers, their roommates, their other lovers, our kids, and so on), and to communicate well enough that we can “actively collaborate for the good of everyone involved.” They deal specifically with topics like boundaries, safer sex, jealousy, and fear of not getting a big enough share. All of this is obviously critical when custom-building a relationship like “being friends with my wife's lover” but equally useful for any relationship, even “seeing my dentist once a year.”

The tone of the book is always friendly, accepting, and practical, and the text is supplemented with anecdotes from experienced sluts dealing with challenges, explaining strategies, or just offering inspiration and success stories. Upon coming to the end of all this talk of abundance and possibility, it may be frustrating for would-be swingers to hit the chapter about sluts “In The World” and realize that this book does not offer easy tips for staging an instant orgy with your neighbours. Instead, it deals with the reality that deviations from monogamy are still treated very much as deviant behaviour, by everyone from landlords and custody judges to your kids' friends and your current crush, and that polyamorous dating may well require hunting for the local alternative sexual communities. As the authors point out almost immediately, relationships— monogamous or open— aren't easy, but their conviction that creating rewarding relationships is both possible and worth the trouble is the kind of elegantly realistic statement I expect from cosmologists. Even if you have no interest or energy for polyamory, the philosophy of Ethical Sluttiness is beautiful to behold.

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