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 the book’s Interlude entitled, “The Unethical Slut.”
This brief section of the book is about some ways not to do polyamory. In the first edition of The Ethical Slut it was part of the chapter “Slut Styles,” but in the second it has been made part of its own section.
It’s no surprise that there are lot of ways to do open relationships wrong. Dishonesty creates a lot of them — people addicted to lying or who try to slip around their agreements when it’s convenient have a tendency to wreak havoc on themselves and their relationships. The authors highlight people who willfully practice unsafe sex and lie about it. I wish I could say I disagreed, but I have seen a lot of unethical sluts with variations on this theme — I’m not talking about something that happens in the heat of the moment, but rather people I have encountered with a consistent habit of trying to pressure others into going unprotected despite their discomfort. This kind of behavior is of course especially unethical when added to a Dominance and submission style relationship.
Another class of problems Hardy & Easton point out seems to stem from objectification of people — not the fun kind some of us enjoy in the bedroom, but in relationships where others are treated as prizes to be collected and then disposed of when the next shiny penny comes along. Most of us who are involved in subcultures — whether that’s Burning Man, BDSM, or even comic book fandom — know a person who has a habit of homing in on the shy new arrivals to the scene, befriending them, “scoring” and then growing bored. Though the authors don’t specifically mention it here, I think many “hot bi babe hunters” (a.k.a. “unicorn hunters”) — the couples looking for their perfect dream girlfriend or third wife — are guilty of this sin as well. Far too many seem to have very limited ideas of what they are looking for, and very strict roles that their potential other must fit into in their lives, their homes, in childrearing and so on which rarely reflect the real people they are trying to cram into those boxes.
There are a couple other unethical behaviors I have seen which I thought about while reading this interlude. One which disappoints me is when I see “slut shaming” among people who are otherwise sex positive. Far too often it seems like one member of a group of very sexually active people ends up being singled out as the “most” slutty and finds judgment passed on him or her. I think it stems from a lingering guilt of going against cultural norms — a way of saying that yes, I might transgress your taboos but not as much as her — but whatever the source it’s bad behavior.
I’ve also encountered a particular bad dating pattern where a person dates people they are knowingly incompatible with. One example I have seen repeatedly are those who continuously date people that are extremely kinky when they know themselves to be uncomfortable with the behaviors their would-be partners enjoy. This is of course completely separate from dating someone kinkier or more experienced than oneself but maintaining an open mind. These folks consistently seem to seek out those with an interest in something which they are unable to partake and then cause drama when their lovers seek that kink elsewhere, even in the context of honest polyamorous relationships. This behavior is not all that different from dating a queer or bisexual person and then passing judgment when they want to fuck or play with a member of a different gender than one’s own.
“While we all make mistakes, the hallmark of a skillful slut is to learn from them and keep going.” –from The Ethical Slut
As this read-along has touched on before, ethical sluts are working with fewer maps and cultural guides to right and wrong behavior. Though books like this one help, in the end there are few absolutes — each of us has to decide for ourselves, and amongst our lovers and polyamorous networks what is and is not right, what is ethical or unethical. It’s good to think ahead about what one might do in a particular situation — if approached by a person much older or younger than oneself, of a different gender than one’s normal preference, or by someone who is lying to their partners, or any number of other scenarios.
Hypothetical situations can only take us so far; in the moment you may find yourself behaving differently. When this happens, spend some time after the fact analyzing why you behaved the way you did, and what feelings and consequences doing so had. Your answers to what you will and will not do are likely to shift: if you can separate out what society or other sources of traditional moral values feel you “should” do, and instead focus on what works for you, on what is healthy, empowering, and pleasurable for you and your lovers than you’re on your way to a happy ethical sluthood that fits your unique life.
The Read-Along will continue on Thursday, March 10. Next week’s topic is Chapter 10, “Flirting and Cruising.” Until then, if you’d like to comment tell me about an unethical slut behavior you’ve encountered.
Kit’s short story “Lifting The Veil” was published on March 1st. If you have enjoyed the Read-Along or his writing in general, please consider buying a copy. You can read an excerpt here.