Episode 50: Radical Ecstasy with Dossie Easton
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Beth Crittenden: Hello, everyone and welcome to “A Taste of Sex – Guest Interviews.” I’m your host, Beth Crittenden, here from OneTaste Urban Retreat Center in San Francisco, California. On “A Taste of Sex – Guest interviews,” we do invite people from the whole universe of sensual and sexual practices to come discuss their work.
Tonight, we’re speaking with Miss Dossie Easton.
Dossie Easton: How can I be real in the present with the person I’m with?
Beth Crittenden: Welcome, Dossie.
Dossie Easton: Hello.
Beth Crittenden: It’s great having you here.
Dossie Easton: Oh, thank you for having me.
Beth Crittenden: And, for the listeners who haven’t yet had the pleasure of hearing about Dossie, she is the co-author of the book, “The Ethical Slut.” Her newest book is called, “Radical Ecstasy: SM Journeys to Transcendence.” And she also happens to be a licensed marriage and family therapist here in San Francisco, so not only is she personally engaged in the research for many years, but she also helps clients find what’s true for them and, I assume, help them break out of traditional roles that they may have felt stuck in otherwise.
Dossie Easton: Well, what I like to remember when I do therapy work with clients is that I’m not the person who votes. What I want to do is provide an environment where people can look around, question their values, try things out and see what fits for them. And, what fits for them may be very unconventional or it may be very conventional; it doesn’t matter because I’m not the person who votes.
Beth Crittenden: That’s great. I think that your open approach will be really something that the listeners would like to hear more about today and so we’ll be talking about open lifestyles and polyamory that people are very curious about but feel like, “ooh, I could never do that.”
Dossie Easton: Uh, huh.
Beth Crittenden: So, we’ll give you a little taste of that today. And, also, towards the end of the show, we’ll bring in some sex and spirituality and see how they blend together,. It’s something that we study here at OneTaste too and we would love to hear your philosophy on that.
So, how about first of all, we start with, you just mentioned that you took a vow of permanent, non-monogamy back in, what was it, 1969?
Dossie Easton: Uh, huh.
Beth Crittenden: Okay. So where does that stand today?
Dossie Easton: It was permanent, or so far, anyway. I can’t even…even back then and this was actually at the beginning of my feminism, I started asking questions, saying, “why would somebody care if I had sex with another person? Why would a person that was loving me be upset if I loved someone else as well?” It doesn’t make sense if you look at it in a certain way.
Beth Crittenden: Had you had that experience of being in monogamous relationships and then wanting to break of it? Like what, what was the path that lead you there?
Dossie Easton: I had been in three monogamous relationships and I had not felt particularly restless or horny within them. That wasn’t the problem. When I was between relationships, I found myself really delighting in making connections, a lot of different kinds of sexual connections, not necessarily the kinds of sexual connections that would be aiming at a primary relationship.
When I left the last relationship, I left, which I left in kind of a crisis condition, but I was six months pregnant and I went and had my child, who is now 38 years old, so that was quite a while ago. And realized that I really wanted independence and I was very happy to have a baby and not…and to be single, to be having my family be my kind of extended community of connections even for an important task like childrearing.
Beth Crittenden: So, did you just learn by doing? Or, what helped you the most along the path of opening up?
Dossie Easton: Well, I didn’t have any teachers. I mean, what I was doing was kind of unheard of at the time. There were some other open spaces, Betty Dodson’s open commune I found about four or five years after that, but for the first few years, I was just on my own. We were kind of a bunch of post-Summer of Love flower children. And, a lot of us, had babies at that time because we realized that we were finding an openness in lifestyle that we wanted to pass on to the next generation, in all seriousness. Instead of saying, I’ll have a child after I settle down. So, no, no, no; this is me settled down, this is where I want to settle, so I’m going to have a child now. And, I was not alone in this and nor was I alone in becoming a single mother.
So we had a lot of sort of informal cohorts. I had one household called the Church of Morally Regenerate Hedonism and another one called Liberated Ladies at Large. You know, we were young mothers, we wanted to explore, we wanted to be very serious about our connections because we were bringing these people home to where our children were, you know, that’s not just like anyone off the street sort of thing, if that makes any sense.
Beth Crittenden: It does.
Dossie Easton: This had to be somebody I was willing to introduce to my baby.
Beth Crittenden: So, what was your criteria? How would that process work?
Dossie Easton: I was not interested in having people around me who wanted me to live up to their stereotype of whatever. And so I wanted people around me who celebrated that kind of exploration but in gender roles and in sex and in parenting and the whole thing.
Beth Crittenden: What were some of the hardest things to give up about the more standard way of living? Or, did it just feel like you were so certain that you just went that way?
Dossie Easton: I had a sense of safety in being partnered, actually in ’69, I vowed as well as never being monogamous again, I also said I don’t want to be partnered for the next five years, because I have to find out who I am, when I’m not out there trying to be somebody’s wife and who I am on my own. And that was very, very important to me.
It was hard to give up that sense of safety in partnership. I’ve been single for about half of my adult life and partnered for the other half and I like being partnered and I like being single. I think they’re both very neat states. But, to learn to value the state of being single was difficult and to find a way to relate to people freely in terms of how we fit together and to love them for what I loved them for, not for what I expected to get from them. And while there were two, though I think I have compensated for any bad karma from previous lives.
And, so, I mean that was all part of it too. It was like we were going to be, we were family, we were projecting onto the future into the next generation. There was a lot of communal spirit at the time.
Beth Crittenden: And, for people today, who are considering undertaking the lifestyle of openness and getting past the traditional roles, what do you think it takes for them to start, to just take one step towards it?
Dossie Easton: I suspect that your workshops, there are poly lunches, there are poly groups, chat groups on line, there’s an Ethical Slut tribe on Tribe.net. There’s a lot of places where people could go and talk to other people and find a community of other people who want to live sort of the way that you do, whatever that might be.
I’ve spoken about how important it is to be able to operate as a single agent and that has change a lot about how I do relationship. Somebody else might be coming, saying, “Why, I had this wonderful marriage that I’m totally devoted to and I wouldn’t want my open relationship to be in the context of that marriage. It’d be something that the two of us do.” So that might be a different path; they might seek out a different community.
Beth Crittenden: And, how do people know what’s too much communication or not enough? I know there must be some trial and error, but do you have any guidelines around that?
Dossie Easton: Well, people have to talk about how much communication they want to do. It depends on where you are. There are some people who want not to know nothing and that can be very difficult if that might put you in the position of talking to someone who’s your partner’s lover and you don’t even know it. Or maybe that person doesn’t know that you don’t know it. There’s a possibility of way too much secrecy. Our poly communities are kind of small.
But a lot of people do make agreements about how much they want to know about, you know, the details of what people did together. Some people like to share a lot and find that it enriches their relationship.
Beth Crittenden: And do you recommend that people have a stable foundation or a primary partnership within polyamory or is it a fully open system usually?
Dossie Easton: Well, there’s no usual. You know, we come from a culture, I want to say this kind of as just a basis of discussion, with a sort of one size fits all notion of what marriage ought to be, what partnerships ought to be. And we don’t have a really good pluralistic notion about a lot of different ways that people might do relationship. So part of where I am is to say, you know, we say somebody has a primary relationship, we kind of assume we know what that means. We say somebody’s married; we assume we know what that means. But we don’t know what that means to them.
And so, I want to really want to encourage people to look at their relationships, not for how well they match up to some gold standard of what a relationship ought to be, but how that relationship fits for them in terms of how they want to explore and grow and share and delight in their life.
Beth Crittenden: And so, how do you define the word “relationship”?
Dossie Easton: I have a tendency to take a very, very broad definition of that. Some people want to do polyamory with the notion that there are no emotional relationships with outside partners for instance. I fail to see how it is possible to not have emotional connection to outside partners. And so, to me, even a one-night stand is a relationship of a sort.
Beth Crittenden: We’re going to take a quick break now to support our sponsors. But I want to ask you about living a polyamorous and open lifestyle.
Dossie Easton: Well, I’ll give you a hint of what we’ll discuss next. Owning your own feelings, particularly jealousy.
Beth Crittenden: Great. Thank you.
And this is “A Taste of Sex – Guest Interviews.” I’m your host, Beth Crittenden, speaking with Dossie Easton, here on Personal Life Media. We’ll return shortly.
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Beth Crittenden: Welcome back to “A Taste of Sex – Guest Interviews.” I’m your host, Beth Crittenden, here with Dossie Easton, co-author of “The Ethical Slut” and “Radical Ecstasy: SM Journeys to Transcendence.” Welcome back, Dossie.
Dossie Easton: Thank you.
Beth Crittenden: So, we spoke a little bit before about SM and archetypes. So, would you introduce the listener to your research around that?
Dossie Easton: Okay, so you don’t want to follow-up on the jealousy thing, huh?
Beth Crittenden: Oh, we can do that…
Dossie Easton: Can I say something about jealousy before we go there?
Beth Crittenden: Yeah, okay. I probably didn’t want to feel it.
Dossie Easton: Well, you know what I’m going to say because you heard me say it before. Jealousy is a very peculiar emotion in our society. It’s actually a lot of different emotions if you ask a group of people how they experience jealousy, you’re going to get a whole lot of different answers. It’s not one thing.
And our society teaches us that what happens when people get jealous is they go berserk. Clearly, you can’t do polyamory or an open sexual lifestyle and not figure out how you’re going to manage your jealousy. I say “manage” advisedly. I have been non-monogamous for the past 38 years and I still get jealous.
When I get jealous, I want to own that. I don’t ask my partner to do something or not to do something. I say to myself, “What do I need, how can I take care of myself?” Because, when I can take care of myself, then jealousy is not an overwhelming feeling anymore and I have a lot of practice at taking care of myself.
We have a tendency to treat jealousy as if some kind of crime is being committed against us. Even if I agreed for my partner to go play with someone else, if I get jealous, I often look around and say, “Well, I mean, you didn’t call me or you didn’t kiss me goodbye very well and you didn’t bring me flowers when you came back.” You know, I mean, I’m looking for some way to project my feeling onto my partner and I have come up with a theory, having worked with my own jealousy, more as a single person in those first five years, but I’ve worked with many other people’s. Jealousy is massive insecurity and I realized when I first experienced it with my new vows that I had no foundation of security that was mine, that I owned, that I always expected my partner to provide me with security.
Jealousy really is the feelings that come out of an internal conflict that we believe we can’t handle, that we’ve decided that we can’t handle. So we ask our partners to handle it for us. And, of course, that doesn’t work because we have to handle our own feelings.
Beth Crittenden: What helps people identify jealousy?
Dossie Easton: I think we need to be honest with ourselves. If my partner’s going out on a date and I start thinking all sorts of angry thoughts or scared thoughts or hurt thoughts or whatever, I start worrying about my tummy or something, then I look at that and say, “Oh, look, I’m upset because my partner is going out on a date. And, okay, fine. Now, what do I want to do about that?” Do I want to jump up and down and scream so my partner doesn’t go on the date? I don’t think so. That’s not the commitment we make when we enter into polyamorous relationships that we’ll like have emotional crises or to stop other people from doing what they’re trying to do.
So then, how do I take care of myself? Do I call a friend? Do I go get a movie and a video? Go to the baths somewhere and have a lovely sauna in a lovely hot tub? What do I do? Where do I…do I call up a friend? You know, what do I do to take care of myself?
And so, there may be a huge bunch of coping skills all of which should be some form of being kind to myself. Now, this is embarrassing because I ask people questions about the purpose of anger and so on and so forth all the time. Saying, where does it fit in the ecology?
I tend to think of jealousy as less a natural part of the ecology because I think so much of what we’ve been taught about what we’re supposed to do relationships is political in nature and not necessarily essentially true. So, I look at this notion that our partnerships should give us a sort of free movie screen that we can project all our fears onto as a bad way of doing partnerships.
Beth Crittenden: That’s great. Not great that we do it, but a great insight.
Dossie Easton: What I was seeking for is how do I…how can I be real in the present with the person I’m with and actually see them and not just be, in my own mind, my own massive needs and desires and wants and nervousness and fears and wanting that person to take care of me around those things? Then I’m not really seeing the person.
Beth Crittenden: I have a practical question for you. With a busy schedule, how do you fit in multiple lovers and how do you fit in that time to manage it and be connected and all of that? I haven’t figured that one out yet.
Dossie Easton: Well, sometimes there is too much happening and sometimes we have prioritize. We’re not totally open, we don’t have infinite amount of time in the day or the year or the month or whatever. What I find is that most…a lot of relationships don’t need to meet every week to be satisfied. I have relationships that go back 30 years and are with in the past 10 years. We’ve been friends, living in different cities, things like that and it was wonderful.
And so, you know, it’s like fitting on an old glove. You know? Take an old, dear connection and you reconnect. It’s something that you know how you fit in. To me, some of the miracle of polyamory is that each relationship is different and in each relationship, I feel like I’m a different person. So, each partner becomes themselves, their dear self, are something I get to see and share in and also a mirror that brings out a certain part of me. So I can get to see myself in a particular way and I get to know myself better through all these partners.
Beth Crittenden: Is there anything else you’d like to add about jealousy or shall we move on?
Dossie Easton: We can move on now.
Beth Crittenden: Okay.
Dossie Easton: Thank you for letting me do my bit about jealousy.
Beth Crittenden: Oh, totally, that’s huge. We definitely researched that one thoroughly here at OneTaste. [laughter] I’m still looking for the cure for jealousy so I’m disappointed that you didn’t give me that. [laughter]
Dossie Easton: Well, resolve your deepest conflict. I mean is that not a cure?
Beth Crittenden: Okay, I’ll get on that tomorrow.
Beth Crittenden: I’m fascinated actually to hear about SM and the archetypes that’s why I kind of jumped right into it. That sounds really hot, actually. So would you describe to us some of your work around that?
Dossie Easton: I often wonder why it is that we have such an attraction to darkness, not only the people who get done up in leather and studs, but look at the movies that we like or gothic novels or bodice rippers romances or, you know, or, I could go on forever. We see SM in popular culture and literature and often in high art, everywhere. And all those people dying at the end of a Shakespeare plays, you know?
We get adrenaline rush off this kind of art. We like roller coaster art, we like things that scare us. We like things that are about power and victimization. I think that there’s plenty of evidence if you just look at Hollywood movies, that the whole culture gets off on SM. It’s not just some little subset of people. What our subset of SM people are doing is finding a consensual way to role play in a safe way some of those kinds of fantasies and to take on roles that I personally wouldn’t want to take on full time, although some people do full-time exploration.
So, then I kind of ask the question, well why are we so drawn to this dark stuff? And I think about Jung’s theory of the shadow, a kind of garbage mitten of the mind where it resides still somewhere inside of us, everything that we have tried very hard not to be conscious of. Whether it was some experience that was too scary or too shameful or too painful. The things, I’m sure you can remember, there’s not one person listening who can’t remember some humiliation in their childhood that made them cringe. It makes them still cringe to remember it.
Well, we consign that stuff to what Jung called the shadow. We put it somewhere out of clear view so we don’t be bothered by it. And that includes our individual experience, it might include traumas we’ve experienced, it might include very ordinary experiences that, for one reason or another, we’ve cast off. It also includes family things you’re not supposed to pay attention to, like Aunt Martha getting drunk at Christmas dinner or Uncle George chasing after little boys, and even social things that we’re not supposed to be aware of. We’ve all had some experience of how…of how we are supposed to not be aware of information about sex. We’re not supposed to talk about it; we’re not supposed to put words to it. It’s like a huge societal repression.
So, you get shadow from all over the place and I sometimes look at…you also talked about the creatures in our dreams, the gods and goddesses in the world, all the myths and so on, as archetypes. When I think about archetypes, I think about our SM archetypes. I’ve never seen anyone or spoken any audience who didn’t immediately get a mental picture when I talk about the archetype of Nurse Nasty. Everybody knows what I’m talking about. Pirates and me proud beauty, you know, it goes on and on.
We have these archetypes in our culture, more popular culture, and SM people play with them. To my mind, what we’re trying to do and, what my experience is, is that we’re drawn to that stuff that we’ve been told or that we’ve told ourselves we must not be conscious of. It creates a split in the mind that it will never be satisfying to us. We’re always going to want to some how, get back that part that we sent away. And, to me, SM is a way we do that.
We walk down this really scary paths, having made agreements with our partner or partners, to do that in a way that is ultimately in a safe container, that we know we’re going to walk down, sort of like a roller coaster, there’s an agreement we have to say, we’re going to make this safe, we’re going to make it look real scary, but we’re going to make it safe.
Beth Crittenden: We’ll keep our hands in the car.
Dossie Easton: Yeah, right, exactly. And travel down it and see what happens. Now, an SM journey has a lot of powerful stimuli in it. There’s the role playing that’s going into our own kind of psychodrama; we play with intense stimulations, we play with painful stimulations that bring up all kinds of endorphins and other nurtrients [sp] [xx]…we play with sex which, again, plays with our state of consciousness enormously.
So, to my mind, these are healing journeys. I go after something dark and dangerous and scary in my mind, bring it into my life.
Beth Crittenden: And it sounds like some of the link to spirituality is in there as well.
Dossie Easton: Yeah, I believe, first of all, that all sex is spiritual and I also believe that the animating force of the universe flows through all of us all the time. I don’t, it’s just a question of are we paying attention. The animating force of the universe is always there. It doesn’t go away. And I think of it as huraso [sp] kundalini or the life force. And, that’s what I think of is, indeed, divine. I that’s what I think is God. And I guess what I believe, I guess, more centrally, is that God is love and I mean that quite literally. I don’t mean that God is some parental figure, male or female, up in the sky that loves me the way I wished my parents had.
I mean that when I feel love in my heart, that is what is divine about being human and, thus, I continue to maintain that God is love.
Beth Crittenden: It just lovely.
Dossie Easton: I mean, even my little Catholic catechism taught me that God is everywhere.
Dossie Easton: It means God must be in me.
Beth Crittenden: A little Catholic girl.
Dossie Easton: Oh, we’ve done a little Catholic girls scene, yes.
Beth Crittenden: Dossie Easton, thank you so much. Before we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to add, you’d like to let the listeners know about.
Dossie Easton: Well, I’m a therapist in private practice and I guess I’d like to put out there that if people think working with me would be of any use to them, I’m listed in San Francisco so you can find me with no trouble.
Beth Crittenden: Great. Thank you so much.
This has been “A Taste of Sex – Guest Interviews.” My name is Beth Crittenden, here at OneTaste Urban Retreat Center in San Francisco.
We’ve been speaking with Dossie Easton about her fascinating practices and amazing, trailblazing life. Thank you so much for being here.
Dossie Easton: Thank you for having me. It’s been great.
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