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The Ethical Slut Read-Along: Chapter 9

Posted in Polyamory, Sex & Relationships, and The Ethical Slut Read Along

I am leading a read-through of The Ethical Slut, 2nd editionIf 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 9, “Boundaries.”

The Ethical Slut, Second Edition by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy

This chapter is about the limits that healthy sluts place on their lives and the people with whom they become involved. The authors place the material here in contrast to the idea that a slut is someone who is “indiscriminate.” The reality, say Easton & Hardy, is that a healthy, conscious slut is one with a lot of opportunity to determine what they do like, what they don’t like, and what they can’t abide with in their lives. In order to be happy with multiple people, the healthy slut has to know what lines they cannot cross for their own well being or that of their lovers. Chapter 9 is essentially identical to one with the same title in the first edition of the book.

“Some of us who ae kinked that way may explore kinds of power exchange that we call ‘ownership,’ but regardless of our relationship style it is essential and incontrovertible that we each own ourselves — lock, stock and barrel.” –from The Ethical Slut

Kink is a game we play, a kind of extended foreplay or a very deep form of roleplaying. It may feel like who we are, but it doesn’t change certain truths like the one quoted above. The thing is I have actually tried to date someone who wasn’t a wholly formed person — during 2009 when I was first recovering my dominant side after a bad breakup. I didn’t realize that she didn’t own herself at first. She seemed — and probably was — very submissive and there was undeniable chemistry between us.

Over time though I realized that what it really wasn’t a D/s relationship but a form of dependence. It was clear when I took a step back to look: She had trouble making independent decisions. Her mother held far more sway over her life choices than should be the case for anyone her age. Before and after our relationship she bounced from dominant to dominant in search of someone to take her in. In the end I realized, after things fell apart between us, that she was unable to truly submit because she couldn’t own herself first.

I’ve recently entered in a mentoring relationship with a young Domme named Noelle and I’ve been pleased to see the self-awareness she possesses. She’s aware that she is in a time of personal healing, transition and self-discovery and she is acting accordingly. Although she is taking on submissive play partners, she’s made it clear to all of them that she is moving slow and not leaping into any kind of committed D/s relationship. It makes me proud of her to see her show such clear self-understanding and to set such clear boundaries.

“Learning to operate our emotional system consciously may require changing some old habits and can feel very shaky, sort of like learning to ride a bicycle. … once you get your balance, you’ll never forget.” — from The Ethical Slut, emphasis added

Is communicating your boundaries really like riding a bicycle? And if so, what happens when the bike breaks down? Photo by Camille King.

Overall, Chapter 9 has some great advice for communication and boundary setting. Sometimes though I feel like the cheery tone the authors take throughout occasionally gets in their way. I think this tired bicycle metaphor is an example of that. Riding a bicycle becomes like second nature over time, but in my experience we need to constantly devote attention to our ability to communicate consciously. Especially after a bad breakup or similar emotional trauma, we may find that we have to put some attention into repairing our ability to communicate and set boundaries — at least I have experienced this. If I must extend the tortured bicycle metaphor, a person might need physical therapy after a very injurious cycling accident. It makes sense that the same could be true of our communication.

“Forget about fairness. Ethical sluttery does not mean that all things come out equal.” –from The Ethical Slut

No two relationships are the same or offer us the same pleasures or the exact same possibilities, a topic the book and our read-along have touched on before and likely will again. This chapter does a great job of discussing how we may play different roles in different relationships. As a switch I appreciate this, because my possibilities as a participant in the kinky relationships that make up all of my network these days vary from person to person. For some people I am dominant, with other switches I might change fluidly from one to the other. It depends on the person though — Pet may be a sadist and a spanking top, for example, but the power exchange in our relationship occurs along very strict lines. To try to force a relationship to be something it isn’t would be damaging to everyone involved and the potentials that do exist. As someone exploring age play with my pet I also appreciated that Janet W. Hardy was willing to share her own experiences with this fetish in an open way, as she does during a lengthy anecdote in this chapter.

This read-along will continue on Thursday, March 3. The next part of the book is an “Interlude” called The Unethical Slut. We’ll use this as an excuse to examine unethical behavior in sex and relationships that we may have seen in our lives.

Chapter 9 includes an exercise encouraging readers to consider their limits. Let’s discuss some of your limits in the comments. I’ll include a few of my own in a reply later tonight.

Kit O’Connell’s short story,Lifting The Veilwill be published March 1 in This Is The Way The World Ends, a collection of apocalyptic erotica from Freaky Fountain Press.

“Lifting the Veil” is a story of sex, experimental drugs, and the end of the world. The anthology will be available in both print on demand and ebook formats. Click here for more information and to learn how you could win a free copy of the ebook.

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