Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ethical Sluts

My friend Kit is hosting a read along of The Ethical Slut right now at his blog. The Introduction, some personal background, and Chapter 1 are already posted, and Kit's thoughts on Chapter 2 will go up sometime tomorrow. Here are my thoughts on what has been discussed so far.

The first time I referred to myself as a slut, I was around 16 years old. You see, that was the first time a boy had gone down on me, and I liked it. In my Catholicism addled brain that obviously meant I was a horrible person and all but irredeemable. Then I went off to college, and while I still wasn't having PIV sex, I was making out with guys and giving and receiving oral sex and going back to the guys' places and all round being a "dirty little slut". And hating myself for it.

It took several years (and breaking with the Catholic Church) before I realized that enjoying sex isn't a bad thing. And neither is being a slut.

My experience with polyamory luckily wasn't as fraught. When I went off to college I broke up with my high school boyfriend because I wanted to experience everything college had to offer (read: make out with lots of dudes) without feeling guilty or hurting someone else. I latched onto the concept of "friends with benefits," even before engaging in PIV sex, and (mostly, see earlier) enjoyed the hell out of it. I certainly didn't have the ethical part down yet though. I got back together briefly with that high school boyfriend and wound up cheating on him, while still caring deeply about him. It was about that time that I realized monogamous relationships weren't for me, but I didn't know yet that there was an alternative. What can I say? I'm not the brightest bulb.

After I graduated, I started casually dating a guy I went to college with. He kept on trying to push for a romantic* relationship with me and I kept on telling him, honestly, that I had no desire to see only one person at a time (in fact, he knew I was also casually dating someone else at that time). Finally one night he said he was OK with that and suggested an open relationship. It took me about 2 seconds to realize that this was the counter option to monogamy that I'd been searching for, and I've been happily polyamorous since.**

Enter The Ethical Slut. I don't remember if someone recommended this to me or if I just stumbled upon it at a book store, but this book was a godsend for me. It may not be the best book on polyamory on the market, but it was the first (or at least the first main stream book) and the books that came afterward, like Opening Up, owe a huge debt of gratitude toward The Ethical Slut. Like the book says,
Ethical slutdom is a challenging path: we don't have a polyamorous Miss Manners telling us how to do our thing courteously and respectfully, so we have to make it up as we go along.

The Ethical Slut is a book about the multiple variations of polyamorous relationships (oh yes, there are several), but really it can be applied to any relationship style (possible exception, asexual relationships) that you want to be based on mutual trust and honesty.

I have lost friendships due to being open about my polyamory. Told that I use people and am, yes, unethical, strictly because of this. But I feel that any relationship based on open communication and meeting (or at least trying to meet) the needs of all participants can't help but be an ethical one, and I have no regrets about no longer counting those people among my friends. Not understanding my lifestyle is one thing; actively judging me because of it is a whole other level.
We see ourselves as people who are committed to finding a place of sanity with sex, and to freeing ourselves to enjoy our sexuality and to share it in as many ways as may fit for each of us.

Sounds totally debased, nefarious, and unethical, right? Sluts are just people. We have the same faults and make the same mistakes as anyone else. Polyamorous people are no better or worse that monogamous people.

I can't wait to see what Kit has in store for us with this read along.

* For the sake of ease, when I refer to "romantic" relationships I mean the typical boyfriend-girlfriend (or boyfriends or girlfriends) / spouses / partners dynamic, and if I refer to "sexual" relationship I mean something more along the lines of friends-with-benefits or play partners.
** Leave it to me to find one of the guys who's all about polyamory but still finds a way to cheat. Word to the wise: Telling one partner (no matter how many times she says it's OK and even encourages you to do so) that you aren't seeing anyone else, while telling your other partner that your first partner is monogamously*** minded and can't deal with polyamory is NOT FUCKING ETHICAL!
*** I can't say how much it amuses me that the blogger spell checker recognizes monogamous, monogamy, and even fucking monogamously, but not polyamory or polyamorous.


  1. Thanks for writing this! I'm thrilled to have you as part of the read-along.

    Gotta take exception with this though: What can I say? I'm not the brightest bulb.

    This was a flippant remark, perhaps but I still feel the need to say... Our culture is chock-full of images of monogamy and with negative depictions of sluthood. It takes time to realize first that the mainstream ideas aren't working for us, and then even longer to figure out what to do next -- and that's even setting aside the struggle with whether or not we're inherently inethical for our choices, as so much of culture (and individual friends) tell us.

    I've lost friendships too -- and lately had a lot of problems with the parents of my lovers, who have discovered or been told that their offspring are becoming poly and chosen to take it out on me. Oddly I seem to find myself being the one blamed, with parents preferring to ignore that their kids are enthusiastic and most importantly happy with this choice.

    Happiness is what it comes down too -- when we sluts discover ethical sluthood, we discover dozens of paths that open up new potential avenues for that happiness and pleasure we desire so much.

  2. Great post. I especially love the comment:

    ...I feel that any relationship based on open communication and meeting (or at least trying to meet) the needs of all participants can't help but be an ethical one...

  3. I agree with Lucious, that statement sums up a lot!

  4. Thanks Lucius and Kit!

    Kit, you're right that it was a flippant statement, but I take your point. I didn't point out here like I did in the comments in your background piece (and like you touch on again in the Chapter 2 write-up), that intellectually I knew there was something other than monogamy out there, I just couldn't make the connection to apply it to my own life until that ex basically dropped the option in my lap. That's where I was going with the dim bulb comment. At least in my head anyway ;)

  5. Would you like to write something of ? Drop me a note: !

  6. All I can say is I think, in that "friend", you haven't lost much. If she's reading this, she can write me an email all about how some random blog commenter she was reading was SUCH A BITCH.

    Does anyone have a copy I can borrow so I can read along? Sounds much more interesting than casebooks...

  7. Ha, you can always switch back in forth with me Cheryl. 2 caveats though:
    1) I am reading the 1st edition while Kit's going from the 2nd
    2) We actually have to meet up from time to time! (I have been meaning to email you about this, I swear!)

  8. Also in that person's defense (!) she wasn't the only one. There was Kentucky Boy too (OK that friend implosion wasn't about polamory specifically but did concern him thinking he had any say over who I consentually slept with), and I've also gotten the side eye both from some of my own friends, and from a couple Very Concerned friends of the gentleman caller (who is not poly).

  9. Cheryl: I hope you'll join in with comments if you feel like it. :)

    Grogette: I don't know anything about your situation, but it has surprised me how often and with how little provocation others' will think they have a say in who another person sleeps with.