Walk into any bookstore and you’ll find a treasure trove of books aimed at non-normative (that would be “one man, one woman, missionary, on Sundays, after the game, if we’re not too tired”) love and relationships. There’s a section for gay and lesbian readers, a smattering for bisexual ones. There’s “Fifty Shades” in case you’ve crossed the Big Five Oh and want to try that thing with the cuffs and the whips.

Very little has been written about polyamory that is not either a cold and critical look at people who can’t keep it in their pants or a side-note in books about the above. That leaves the “Ethical Slut“, a book written by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy which claims to be “A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures”. And I hate it.

ES is the darling of poly groups and individuals all around the nation. Not liking it is a little bit like voicing opposition to to the sanctity of Joss Whedon or cultural and social relevancy of Dr. Who in nerd circles. Not liking it is perceived as anything from sour grapes to “not really being poly”.

So, why don’t I like it? The book starts out with a reclamation of the word slut. Just like, so the authors, gay folk reclaimed “fag”, “slut” should be reclaimed and reused. Which they do by changing the definition of the term and the deliver a weak defense. Thusly prepared for whatever will come next, we dive into a book sadly devoid of citations, science, reason, and logic and pass chapter after chapter with personal anecdotes wrapped into somewhat distorted versions of current and historical events which are quickly interpreted to mean something positive for the poly movement. One very early claim reads that “[the Industrial Revolution] launched a new era of sex-negativity, perhaps because of the rising middle class and the limited space for children in urban cultures”. That sounds nifty, like a Sociology 101 book, but has little bearing on reality and doesn’t account for most factors (and the fact that “sex negativity” didn’t change much between 1760 and 1820).

The book continues on that way. The authors throw factoids freely into a blender of opinion and observation, pour the resulting hodgepodge of pop-socio/psycho into a mold of “poly is better”, and serve it warmly garnished with little stories from the field. All this is somewhat laid on a bed of constant veiled hetero-negativity, a smug “we are better” vibe that works rather well for newly poly folk but doesn’t generally do the idea that relationship realities are fluid and anyone’s personal business justice. If it is true, and I believe this, that relationships are a negotiated contract between those involved and that an informed and determined contract makes for the best longevity factor, then vilifying one relationship model over another is never, ever, a good idea. Even if it comes in multisyllabic labels and pop-psych justifications instead of Bible quotes.

The book concentrates heavily on one aspect of relationships: sex. Sex is somewhat important, sure, but should neither be the foundation of monogamous nor polyamorous relationships. It doesn’t deal much with logistics, jealousy, envy, and the implied and explicit contracts in place in any relationship model. Most people don’t grow up poly and discover this facet much later, realizing quickly that a world educating for monogamy leaves many questions unanswered in polyamory. As does this book, which is sad.

There are some good books out there. Tristan Taromino’s “Opening Up” for example. While still a little too “labeling” crazy in my book and a slight bit too heavy on sex instead of, you know, going to the movies and keeping a household budget, it addresses things in a much more practical manner. The issues of estate, insurance, taxes, and other legal and social contracts is also looked at, which Ethical Slut, other than bemoaningly, avoids.

Also, “Open” by my former Dallas Observer colleague and Dallasite Jenny Block. Jenny writes anecdotally and she does so unashamedly. Unlike Easton and Hardy she does not succumb to pop-psychology and skewed social interpretation.

I dislike the Ethical Slut for what it isn’t – a solid and intelligent book on polyamory from a social and practical angle. I am sure many readers find morsels of knowledge and comfort in it, and be it just from the unashamed and almost fanatical fanboying of one relationship model over others. But for anyone who really wants to dive into the questions surrounding non-monogamous relationships this is, at best, a primer and, at worst, social and historical misinformation.

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