The Ethical Slut, by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt

I recently finished reading The Ethical Slut by Catherine Liszt and Dossie Easton. It seems like one of the standard books one comes across when expanding one’s views on human sexuality and sexual relationships. I had heard of it before, and wanted to read it to expand my knowledge of the books written on the subject of open relationships.
 
The main premise of the book, I think, is that being sexually promiscuous (being a “slut”) is not a “bad thing.” It actually is a positive experience to live as a slut: to have the freedom and ability to express one’s sexuality and to act on (consensual) sexual desires. The authors attempt to reclaim the word slut as a label that positively describes someone’s ability and desire to have a variety of positive sexual encounters, experiences, and partners.
 
While there were a few things I did like about this book, there were also some things I was not as fond of. The writing feels disconnected from my generation. The authors seem to place an emphasis on “free love” which feels out of touch with the way our society is structured and with how most people live right now. This isn’t to say that I don’t think “free love” is a humbling and sort of noble idea; I would actually prefer it, I think, if people had the humility and security to love many people and have sex with many people without it causing anxiety, fear of loss, jealousy, and anger. Overall, though, it doesn’t feel like a practical guide to expanding relationships and sexual experiences. The authors actually admit to having their roots in 1960s San Francisco, and most of the book feels couched in a small, small slice of the American experience and not applicable to mainstream America.
 
I really did like, however, their discussion about how the taboo nature of sex has led to distorted views about the sexual experience and misinformation. If no one can openly talk about sex and ask questions when there is confusion about the real mechanics of sex, then I think people go off of the messages they receive from mass media and porn. Sex is always passionate, right? The woman always squirts, right? The man is always bigger than the woman, right? There is always a lot of grunting and screaming, right? I think if we all talked to all of our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers, we would find out that the sexual experience is as diverse as people are in general. Because social constraints keep us from talking openly about sex with everyone we might want to, we have no way of knowing that not every man grunts, not every woman orgasms the same way, that sometimes sex is just sex and not some mind-blowing, earth-shattering event. One of their suggestions for breaking yourself out of your own “sex is taboo” box is to write down all sex-related words that you can think of, and then choose the ones you like (cock, dick or penis? Vagina or cunt? Squirting or female ejaculation?). Say them out loud five times in a row so that you actually feel comfortable saying them. It makes it easier to communicate to yourself and others what you want, what you like, and what you want to do.
 
They also lead a thoughtful discussion about body image and how body image distortions and anxieties affect our expectations surrounding sex (body image distortions create and further emphasize our feelings of inadequacy, worry about loss, etc). This part honestly really hit home for me because I have struggled since high school with breast size: why can’t mine be BIGGER dammit?? Don’t all men want their partners to have big boobs? Since I don’t have them, does that mean my partner is unsatisfied? Will he leave me for someone with bigger boobs?? See, I wrote that, and I know it sounds ridiculous! But Liszt and Easton are definitely on to something when they discuss how our culture’s perceptions of beautiful bodies affects our perceptions of what sex should look like and feel like.
 
The chapter on jealousy was also solid, and had some great tips about how to manage and face jealousy. A lot of their suggestions had to do with relaxation techniques, being honest with yourself and your partner, appropriate ways to respond to jealousy, and how to problem solve and manage conflicts peacefully and constructively. The chapters on health and raising children were also informative and helpful. Lastly, I really liked the authors’ ability to talk about the “real-world” constraints of having an open relationship: time, money, and one’s ability to have sex many times a day are all limited! It does take honest negotiation and communication to make an open relationship work.
 

Overall, I am glad I read The Ethical Slut as it seems to be integral in open relationship literature. I definitely think it has some valuable parts in it. Besides the 1960s feel to the book, I would recommend it to anyone looking to expand their views on what relationships can look like and how to ethically create open relationships.

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