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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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Highly regarded as an introductory text on polyamory and open relationships, I found The Ethical Slut to be somewhat disappointing.

First off, there were numerous problems that could have been solved by a halfway competent publisher and editor. Since one of the authors owns the publishing company, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by the deficiencies. However, double-spaced writing sort of went out of style with your high school composition paper. No book wishing to take itself seriously should be published using a combination of double spacing and a poorly selected font, featuring way too much horizontal compression and overly muted serifs. I don’t really understand the combination, but it’s hard to read and wastes a whole bunch of paper.

In terms of editing, there are several case where things are referred to “above” or “below” when in fact they occur several pages before or after. Above and below make sense if you’re writing a paper in word or on the web. In published work, however, it’s indicative that the author is forgetting that they’re actually writing a book. Secondly, there are several cases where diagrams are referred to on a particular page. “See so and so table on page 104” when one is on page 104, and the diagram is actually on page 106 or 108.

Do these people actually have an editor?

There is some additional abruptness in terms of introducing random tables every so often without warning or explanation, including a multipage table that basically amounts to one of the authors bitching about various ways people could fuck up a relationship in an indirect manner.

Here’s a quick hint: If you’re writing an unannounced bitchfest of a table that spans four pages, either resign yourself to writing for the “For Dummies” or “Idiot’s Guide” franchise, or turn your mess of whining into a chapter with readable content.

Then, there are nice little touches, like a few pages where the authors go on and on to specifically define what they mean by certain terms, like “slut” and “polyamory” and “nonmonogamy” and so forth. This is great, but the inconsistencies get pretty wild, in that in one breath they say they hate the term “nonmonogamous” because it makes monogamy sound like the norm or the correct, and then they proceed to use it casually several dozen times throughout the book. Hello inconsistencies, WTB editor!

Let’s just simplify it like this: A published book should not be written at the same level as my blog.

In any event, ignoring the publishing incompetence and early college-level writing skill (possibly the product of two different authors), the content of the book is decent, if a bit generic and overreaching. There are numerous cases where the book devolves into a self-help book, including long runs on topics like how to deal with anger or frustration, with useful advice like punching pillows, crying, and screaming. Or, for example, how to deal with the grief of a lost relationship. Yeah, this stuff is all the standard issue material, but the standard issue material already exists in several thousand self-help books and introductory texts on psychology used in high schools around the nation. In book form, it’s just padding, and an attempt to make the book look more academic, when, in fact, it is not.

It’s full of little vignettes from the lives of the authors, which are designed to show real-world examples of the lifestyle. Some of these are nice ways of tying their point together, while others are basically “I had a friend who was shy, and then she opened up and became a life partner to a person who wanted to have sex with her.” Alright. Why did I just waste 3 minutes reading that narrative again?

The overall message of the book is that the open/poly lifestyle is perfectly normal, and it’s a sustainable and satisfying way of life. Given a half-decent amount of respect for the diversity that exists in the world and a willingness to not immediately reject something that seems outside the norms of society, I don’t know that the book offers anything particularly new or insightful. Especially if one has read better researched texts by real authors on topics of sexuality, sexual health, sociology, psychology, alternative lifestyles, or for the matter a decent liberal circular, a lot of the book is redundant, too basic, or overly whimsical.

I think perhaps there is a subtle bias against heterosexual marriages as primary relationships that still embrace open relationships. Nearly all of the anecdotal vignettes offered about heterosexual relationships come off as an assault on monogamy, and feature tales of beatings, verbal abuse, controlling husbands, and dissatisfaction, ultimately leading to children and nasty separations. I don’t know that this is the intent of the authors, but they seem to only acknowledge the idea of a hetero marriage that’s also an open relationship and successful as being possible, while providing evidence and anecdotes contradicting this idea.

Like any book on alternative sexual lifestyles, it does at least pay some attention to ideas of safety, and probably one of the better features it offers is a list of potential rules to consider for people engaging in the lifestyle, as well as the general advice that it’s ok to be jealous/angry/worried/this/that. It would make for a nice pamphlet if cut down and edited as is. A little bit of effort into actually doing research, an editor and professional publisher, and more stories of greater diversity of viewpoints and sources could make this an excellent text. As it is now, slap a bright yellow/black or orange/blue cover on it and put it in the appropriate section of the bookstore, and it will fit right in. 3/10.