I am leading a read-through of the Ethical Slut, 2nd edition. If you’d like to catch up on past installments, check the list at the bottom of the series introduction. Comments on the topics in this discussion are welcome anytime, even from people who aren’t following along in the book.
In this installment we discuss CHAPTER 6, “Infinite Possibilities”
“There are infinite ways of relating to other people — romantically, intimately, domestically, and more — and if you’ve opened your life and heart to as many of those ways as possble, you’re one of us.” –from The Ethical Slut
This chapter is about the many kinds of sluthood available to us. The authors take pains to point out, right at the start of the chapter, that sluthood is about more than just sex. In contrast to the subtitle of the first edition (A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities): “Sluthood lives in the brain, not between the legs, and can fit comfortably and joyously into whatever consensual sexual and relationship pattern you choose.” For those comparing the two editions, Chapter 6 of the second edition draws material from Chapter 7 of the old. It concludes the introductory material in part one of the new edition.
We touched on celibacy in discussions of previous chapters of the book, but now that I’ve read it I like the coverage this book gives to the topic. Friendships, involving sex or not, are real relationships. The communication skills I’ve learned and tested with lovers have often been just as invaluable when used properly to clear the air between friends or even in business. We all know people who are more socially gregarious than others, and in keeping with the idea of claiming the word for positive purposes it seems fair to call those people friendship sluts, whether or not they are sluts of another kind.
I have taken periods in my life where I abstained from relationships in order to heal from a recent breakup or to figure out some better direction. I’ve never really found sex to be a distraction for me in the way it seems to be for others, though, so I’ve been interested if sometimes perplexed by the friends or lovers I know who have given it up to focus on something like art. For me and my art (writing primarily), I am inspired by sex. I create best when I am happy, well fed, and most importantly, getting satisfying sex on a regular basis. I’ve always supported my friends who went celibate for their art, but it’s not something I can understand well.
“How do you learn to share intimacy without falling in love? We would propose that we do love our friends, and particularly those we share sex with: these individuals are our family, often more permanent in our lives than marriages.” –from The Ethical Slut
I really like the emphasis which this book places on friendship and intimate friendships (a term I’ve loved since my former intimate friend Cherry introduced me to it) as loving relationships. The truth is that I love very easily, and if I am fucking someone I probably love them too, at least in some way. I fall in love with most of my sex partners, with a great deal of degree of variety of intensity and different levels of entanglement in my lives. That love comes without strings attached; I can love without feeling that means we have to follow a certain relationship script, but that doesn’t change that it is genuinely love.
Different relationships become more entangled in my lives than others; I’m naturally more entangled with my Pet, who I am helping in her efforts to move closer to Austin with the idea that we might someday cohabitate, than I am with my lover from Minnesota that I visit a few times a year. And yet the depth of affection can be as strong, and while I might choose to build my life with Pet in certain ways, the other, ‘more casual’ lover is still the one I have run to several times when life has been so stressful as to leave me wanting to escape from Texas for a while. Both have been a deeply meaningful, valuable part of my life for all that I see one often and the other far more rarely. Trying to make one relationship serve the purposes of the other would be a disservice to them both and to the love we share. “Each relationship seeks its own level, or will if you let it” as the authors say, and like me they downplay terms like “primary” and “secondary” because of how they can place limits on importance.
What I think is the most valuable choice a person can make — and the one this book is leading its readers toward — is to stop looking at relationships as a series of scripts to follow and instead looking at all the possibilities as a set of tools to choose from. We all want different things at different times in our lives, and to feel fulfilled and satisfied a slut may need many different kinds of relationships. One of the liberating things about polyamory for me, the way I’ve chosen to do it, is that no one needs to be all things to anyone. If I’m still learning how to effectively tie people up, it doesn’t threaten me if my lover finds a lover who is a rope expert to entertain (and maybe teach us both a thing or two). The same is just as true outside of the bedroom, where for example I can enjoy cooking with a foodie lover while another shares my love of science fiction. There’s overlap, and lovers are not puzzle pieces (as we discussed before) but a diverse and close-knit network makes this slut a happy one.
“If you get hung up on forcing these relationships to be exactly the same, you may hear yourself starting to sound like a small child screaming about why your sister got the biggest piece of cake (or, in our adult world, the first orgasm). In all ethical sluthood, but perhaps especially in triads, it is vital to find ways to transcend competitiveness.” —The Ethical Slut
I’m writing these entries more or less as I go, so I this may be another topic covered in more detail later, but I do sort of wish this chapter had emphasized the above point even more. One does not have to spend much time in poly communities, virtual or real world, to encounter the countless couples seeking their third; most often these are heterosexual couples looking for a second woman, but there are exceptions. Far too many of these types have adopted scripts that seem every bit as rigid as any monogamist. They want a certain sort of bisexual woman and everyone will love each other exactly equally and probably never want anyone else outside their triad ever again. It’s possible this might happen, but I see these folks — who some have termed “unicorn hunters” in jest at their constant quest for a very specific ideal — pass up one delightful possibility after another because it doesn’t fall into the pattern that they’ve decided is the only right one.
This ends the first part of The Ethical Slut, second edition. Next week on Thursday, February 10, this read-along will continue into the next part, “The Practice of Sluthood” with Chapter 7, “Abundance.”
In the meantime, I’d like to hear about what kinds of sluthood you have observed. Do you know some celibate sluts? What different choices have you made over time? And what discoveries have you made about different slut styles that make you comfortable, happy, and fulfilled?