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The Ethical Slut Returns: Into Threesomes, Foursomes, Moresomes?

The co-author of a cult classic about open relationships talks sex communes, romantic one-night stands, and offering chicken soup to lovers.
 
 
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An underground hit for years in sexually experimental circles, Dossie Easton’s and Janet W. Hardy’s The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships and Other Adventures makes the case that we should all enjoy an occasional threesome, foursome, and moresome with friends and strangers. "We believe it’s OK to have sex with anybody you love," Easton and Hardy write, "and we believe in loving everybody."

Newly updated, expanded, and blurbed by the likes of Margaret Cho and David Crosby, the book’s authors seek to help individuals and couples who "dream of freedom." We spoke to Easton, a sex therapist outside San Francisco who "has been an ethical slut since 1969."

By "slut," you don’t mean someone who detaches sex from emotion, or who selfishly takes advantage of others; instead you urge readers to seek love -- genuine emotional connections -- in "abundance," rejecting the notion that our affection is a pizza with only so many slices.

This idea started way back in the communal era in 1969 when I was in Haight-Ashbury. I said, "If I want to change my world in terms of how relationships are, and be non-monogamous forever in my own personal life, it should be about warmth and affection." One of the very first things I learned was how to be affectionate toward many lovers, which is very hard to do coming from New York where things are very cool and detached.

There was no precedent but it worked; I could love them, be there for them, care for them -- if someone was sick I’d bring them chicken soup -- and be loyal in a new way that fit for a lot of people, including other women and single mothers. We were the love generation, and we were very new to sexual freedom. There was a lot of idealism. Very quickly I had a community of people excited about raising our children. We created the proverbial village long before It Takes a Village.

Young people in the 21st century seem much more utilitarian about hooking up, whereas emotions are reserved for relationships, so it’s bizarre to think of one night stands as romantic.

My primary partner is of your generation, actually. People who prefer polyamory are very into the notion that these relationships can be connected and full. I have a whole bunch of lovers whom I have dates with once per year. We’re dear, dear friends… I have a primary partner -- my life partner -- whom I live with, and a secondary lover, and some playmates locally. Essentially what you are creating is a very complicated, interconnected family. It’s a community, and if someone has an illness or a breakup, everyone is there to offer support. I can’t go around in the Bay Area though because I’ve ceded it to my clients; I’ve ruled out sharing sex with my therapy clients.

Has the Internet made it easier to live this way, and experiment if people are curious?

The polyamory community has grown enormously. A lot, lot, lot of people are meeting on Craigslist or OKCupid. You might go play within the hour, if you want a particular kind of relationship… I think it’s fabulous! The anonymity facilitates more people trying this out, although many people find their partner advertising on Craigslist unbeknownst to them; people set up anonymous dates and it turns out to be their spouse who answered the ad.

You write that you chose polyamory after your ex-husband attacked you: "I decided he was right -- I am a slut, I want to be a slut, I will never promise monogamy again. I will never be a piece of property again…" (Dossie says she was monogamous at the time.) Was your choice a reaction to a bad marriage, or something you had always considered?

 
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