In this installment we discuss Chapter 3, “Our Beliefs”
“We are ethical people, ethical sluts. It is very important to us to treat people well and to do our best not to hurt anyone. Our ethics come from our own sense of rightness, and from the empathy and love we hold for those around us. It is not okay to hurt another person because then we hurt too, and we don’t feel good about ourselves.” -from The Ethical Slut
I first realized that ethical hedonism was my spiritual or philosophical path in life shortly after my first Burning Flipside, when I had a number of personal revelations which I have discussed elsewhere in this series. Still trying to absorb all that I’d learned about myself, I found myself discussing my experiences with many friends and acquaintances. I was out for dinner one night with some friends of mine, including a Neo-Pagan acquaintance who was nonetheless rather conservative in his morals and outlook.
I described my basic realization, that for me it was sacred to seek out pleasure and experience and that this might be my highest goal in life. Somewhat incredulously, he said to me, “But wouldn’t that lead to hedonism?”
I couldn’t understand his reaction. Of course it was hedonism, I told him. That was exactly what I’d been describing.
“You’ll hurt people!” he protested.
This was especially perplexing to me. I explained that if I hurt people then there was less pleasure to be had in the world, and therefore it would suit my own aims best if I in turn cultivate pleasure and happiness in others, because then there is more to go around for everyone!
“So you’re an ethical hedonist!” he told me. And while I’ve worn that title proudly since then, the ‘ethical’ still feels a little redundant. It was obvious to me that in order to make myself happy I should also be seeking to make others happy around me’; to responsibly cultivate pleasure in the world seemed like the only way I could see to reliably find pleasure too. It was simply logical to me then, as it is now, that if humans are moral animals then we can build a moral code as easily around the pursuit of pleasure as we might around a core principle of service to a deity, country or whatever else one might choose to make his personal center.
So in Chapter 3 of the Ethical Slut, Easton and Hardy lay out some basic principles of the moral code which follows logically from the decision to become a slut. As before, the authors emphasize that the most important thing is not that you agree with all of their ideas about what slut morals should be, but instead that you make conscious decisions and question the dominant paradigm — a paradigm that leads people to assume pleasure-seekers must be inherently unethical. This chapter is an expanded and altered version of Chapter 2 of the original edition, “Values and Ethics.”
The authors lay out a set of core ethics in the opening pages of this chapter which I will roughly summarize as follows:
- Recognizing the consequences of our actions
- Taking responsibility for our feelings and actions
I think these are good, solid ethics to live by. If you are truly honest with yourself and others, and act with care and respect in your interpersonal relationships, then there seems to be little reason to imagine sluthood as any less valid a path than another.
The rest of the chapter examines some of the consequences of placing such a high value on sex and pleasure. The idea that pleasure is a valid goal is still a radical one — as the authors point out, even the sex-positive often feel the need to justify their decisions by citing all the physical and mental benefits of sex, ignoring the fact that pleasure in and of itself is worthy.
There’s a certain paradox that the authors have to wrestle with in this chapter, and for the most part I feel like they do very well. On the one hand, as they point out, there are lots of secondary benefits of sluthood — everything from pain-relieving endorphins to the potential for increased intimacy and of course the ability to find new forms of fulfillment that would be impossible under the traditional paradigm.
And yet if we are truly honest, these are not the reason why we choose the path of ethical sluthood, but rather positive consequences of it. Pleasure and fulfillment alone are reason enough.
“We believe in valuing relationships for what we value in them.” -from the Ethical Slut
I also really appreciate the authors emphasis on wholeness here. Our cultural paradigm has this idea of finding a relationship to complete you and it is easy for us to carry that idea into non-monogamous practices. We may delight in the fact that, for example, one lover adores bondage while with another shares our love of Japanese animation but it would be disrespectful of ourselves and our lovers’ identities as unique people to treat them as puzzle pieces which complete some imaginary whole. This is where the stereotypical male-female couple looking for a “third” so often falls down: in looking at their desired goal as a way to “complete” themselves like one might complete a well-stocked set of tools or a wet bar, and yet they are far from alone in this behavior.
It feels a little odd for me to say it, but if anything I feel like the authors might go too far in devaluing certain aspects of the dominant paradigm — if they can even be called that. In discarding reasons for seeking pleasure apart from pleasure itself, I think it would be easy to devalue the search for a better understanding of why we get pleasure the way we do. Pleasure for its own sake is fine, but there’s a reason that the book Sex At Dawn has become so popular recently amongst the polyamorous; my friend Kiki Christie even calls it her favorite book on polyamory! And I think the reason it is so popular is that it examines the origins of sluthood; it tells us why we are sluts at the most deep-seated, biological level. I’m planning to write about this book in the near future on this blog.
I also feel like Easton & Hardy fall down a bit in the section on Rethinking Sex. I feel like it is extremely useful to broaden our definitions of sex, because the one the cultural paradigm gives us is extremely limiting. At its most restrictive, only heterosexual, penetrative, penis-in-vagina sex is considered ‘real’ or ‘full’ sex. There is so much more pleasure available when we liberate ourselves from this restrictive notion and begin to look at sex as whatever might give us sexual pleasure and fulfillment.
Yet humans pass judgment and make categories because doing so is genuinely useful to us when we don’t abuse it. I think there’s a trap people sometimes fall into when they begin to question the dominant paradigm, and specifically when they realize that the distinctions between things are not nearly as black and white as they once thought. That trap is to then discard those distinctions altogether. The important thing in my opinion is to consciously examine when distinctions have value — I can see how it’s useful to suggest that I might have had sex with someone with whom I engaged in an intense spanking scene, for example, but not how it helps me to imagine I’ve had sex with the authors just by reading their book, as they suggest in the text!
I was also a little hesitant about the authors statement that outside relationships can give us a “safe place to discuss issues that might have [us] feeling ‘stuck’ in the primary relationship.” While I certainly agree that spending time with others can confer all kinds of benefits, this one in particular can be very fraught with peril in my experience. Having other lovers to vent and discuss our troubles with can be very useful and safe in some cases, but in others can cause tensions to erupt between your lovers where none might be otherwise. I hope the authors will look at this a little more closely later in the book.
Despite my complaints, the chapter’s emphasis on consciously forming your own system of values and ethics is right on target. Realizing pleasure is enough can be one of the most powerful realizations a person can have!
In the next chapter, “Slut Styles,” the authors examine different forms of ethical sluthood both modern and historical. We’ll be discussing Chapter 4 on Thursday, January 20, 2011.
Until then, I’d like to hear your thoughts on this chapter, and maybe a few words about how you’ve gone about forming your personal slut code.