The Ethical Slut
An interview with an alternative lifestyle pioneer
By Julian Wolf
It comes up at parties. It’s frequently referenced in alternative lifestyle 101 classes. It has changed countless lives, saved numerous relationships and ignited new ones. What resource do we speak of? None other than the groundbreaking book The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. Published in 1997, The Ethical Slut gave language to a practice that many people had been participating in, some blindly, for generations—polyamory. The Ethical Slut is a guidebook to what consensual, ethical, non-monogamy can be, and outlines how to do it in a logical, practical way. Needless to say, when the new edition of the book came out this past year many people were ecstatic, but nowhere near as ecstatic as we were when Easton agreed to participate in a virtual interview with the Alibi. She found some time on a trip to Europe to answer a few questions.
When you were writing The Ethical Slut did you have any intention for the book to be such a huge influence on people's lives and become a cultural phenomenon?
I feel very blessed that the book has been so warmly received. I have been living my lifestyle for 40 years now, since 1969, and it is a wonderful affirmation that finally there is a recognition in the world at large of our relationships and an interest in how we manage to make them work.
I'm a little too shy to intentionally create a cultural phenomenon, so I just sit around feeling enormously grateful that Ethical Slut turned out so well and has been useful to so many people.
Was there anything that happened after its first publication that you didn't expect? Ever been recognized on the street?
Yes, actually. It's interesting to be the author of a book that has impacted people so intimately—people often thank me, but beyond that it feels like a special connection, that our words have supported them in building the life they want to live.
Your book references the sexual revolution and the free love of the hippie era. Is there any other cultural phenomenon that greatly inspired your work?
Feminism, for sure, and also Gay Liberation. In the early years—the early ’70s—I lived communally with gay men who raised my child with me. The openness about sexuality in gay communities was a revelation to me; they all assumed they were equal in power.
Do you have a dream date or an ideal way to spend an evening with lovers?
I think our marriage laws were written to apply to an agrarian society and are basically obsolete.
Once again, I am a pluralist, and I love to be surprised. It seems to me that each combination of people is about exploring into a mystery, and so I don't usually plan events in any great detail, but rather exchange some ideas about who might enjoy what, and make sure we all know what not to do, and then see where that leads us.
What do you feel is the most important thing that we can do politically to support lifestyles like polyamory?
I think our marriage laws were written to apply to an agrarian society and are basically obsolete. I would love to see us let go of "defining" marriage, as if there were only one way to relate, and move beyond the "one size fits all" approach to relationships. We need a legal and political structure that allows us to make contracts that deal with our legal and financial issues.
I do believe that we would be better off if the financial support of marriage were shifted to support those of us who are actively raising children or supporting other dependents, like our elders, whether or not we are married in any legal sense.
I do believe that marriage, like all of our loves, is sacred, and so I wonder why we would need a license from a government that respects the separation of church and state?
The new edition of The Ethical Slut includes updates and one pretty major change—the removal of the word "sexual" from the tag line, which previously read A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities. How did that change come about?
We needed a new subtitle for the second edition, and there was a lot of discussion about that. And disagreement. The current subtitle is basically a compromise setup so the title could continue to be The Ethical Slut.
There was no intention on anyone's part to remove the word "sexual" as a form of censorship or to make the book look less controversial.
What do you think of the sexual climate in the United States these days? Do you feel that we're making strides forward, falling backwards or stagnating?
I think we are actually doing great, despite some of the political back-and-forth about gay marriage and so on. It takes a long time to get the laws to reflect reality, but it gives me hope and courage to see how many young families are starting out to create themselves in new and more open ways.
The Ethical Slut can be found in bookstores everywhere.
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