“The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures” by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy (now in its 2nd edition) is now sitting on my shelf next to “Sex At Dawn” by Ryan and Jetha and “Sex Without Guilt in the 21st Century” by Albert Ellis. Don’t let the title throw you. You don’t have to be anything other than monogamous to read the book to get some really great interventions for your love life- whether you’re sexually faithful, single, dating, or in a relationship with more than one person.
While reading this book, I tried to look at it with a critical eye. And you know what? The exercises in here could work for anyone, regardless of the style of relationship you find yourself in. Good relationships have little to do with sex. It’s true! Some of the longest term, most intimately connected relationships don’t have anything to do with sex. And that’s kind of the point of the book, in my mind. If you can work on getting rid of the deafening noise from society about what constitutes normal healthy relationships and normal, healthy sex lives, then you can start actually having one based on honesty, trust, openness, joy, pleasure, stability, etc. (Last time I checked- these things didn’t really have much to do with who is having orgasms with whom.)
The book is less a primer for how to have an open relationship than it is a way for people to understand that monogamy is a choice. It’s not the only relationship style. If it were, and humans were designed to be that way, then we would be that way. But we aren’t. We have developed something in our society called “serial monogamy”, which means try to force ourselves to only share sex with one person at a time within the context of a relationship. But when you look at any research on infidelity, you see that we don’t even do serial monogamy very well.
By looking at monogamy as a choice rather than the ONLY choice, then you’re already taking a step at improving your relationship, and re-claiming some of your self worth. What sounds better to you- your partner being there because of a ring and a piece of paper, with some perfunctory sex that gets less and less, well, funky, as time goes on? Or a relationship where you are there 100% out of choice- where you know you or your partner could be doing anything you want with whomever you want (up to the players involved to decide on the boundaries), but you and your partner are together because you have a true sense of trust that is informed in the sexual reality of human beings.
More and more people are coming into couples therapy with modern arrangements with terms ranging from “monogamish” to “don’t ask don’t tell”, “poly”, “open marriage”, “triads” and more (and not just to therapists in New York). There are also a lot of people who come to counseling fearing that they are “sex addicts” because they have cheated or been sexually unfaithful with their partners. My challenge- it’s not always the people involved that is the problem- sometimes monogamy is the problem. I’d recommend this book to anyone who has ever wanted to work through their fears regarding relationships, intimacy and sexuality.