Episode 94: Dossie Easton: The Ethical Slut
Why would anyone want to be thought of a slut? Isn't that an insult? Meet Dossie Easton, co-author (with Janet Hardy) of "The Ethical Slut, a Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships and Other Adventures". Dossie is a licensed psychotherapist with more than thirty-five years experience working with people struggling with jealousy, alternative relationships, and assorted "poly" issues.
Dossie defines a slut as: a person of any gender who celebrates sexuality and believes that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you. Join us for a down-to-earth discussion of ideas like polyamory, ethical sluttiness, jealousy and, of course, love. And don't miss Dossie's treasure of an exercise at the end of our interview.
Chip August: Welcome to Sex, Love and Intimacy. I’m your host Chip August, and today on the show we’re talking to Dossie Easton. Dossie is a co-author with Janet Hardy of The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships and Other Adventures. This is the second edition, which was just published in April 2009. Dossie is a licensed psychotherapist working with individuals and couples in her private practice. It has more than 35 years experience working with people struggling with poly issues. She taught her first workshop in unlearning jealousy in 1973. According to her own words Dossie is an active sex radical since 1961, as well as an ethical slut herself. She currently makes her home in the mountains of, north of San Francisco, travels around to teach at conferences all over the world, and then spends her non existent free time hiking the hills, declaiming filthy poetry to the vultures and hosting outrageous pajama parties. Welcome to the show Dossie Easton. When I was in high school calling a girl a slut was not a good thing, so why do you think being an ethical slut is a good thing? And what is an ethical slut anyway?
Dossie Easton: Well if a slut is a person who celebrates a lot of sexuality, right, why should this be a bad thing? And why is it particular applied to women. I actually learned to use it as a positive word from gay men, where it was like, “Oh you went out and had a fabulous time this weekend. Oh you slut”, and it was a compliment. And I picked that up, and that seemed to make a lot of sense to me, and it makes particular sense to me when it comes to my feminist part saying, “Wait a minute, why is a woman who openly enjoys sex considered somehow degraded or wrong?”
Chip August: Okay, so I understand your putting a positive spin on the word slut, you’re reclaiming it. So what is a slut? Tell me, tell me about this label. Is a slut anyone who enjoys sex?
Dossie Easton: Well yeah. I mean it’s all up to your own definition to say that this is someone who celebrates sex as, as a path with more than one partner, certainly as sometimes as an exploration or an adventure and in serious relationships, hence the ethical part. We came up with the title for the book kind of as by accident when we were writing it, our friend would say, “What are you guys writing now?”, and I would say, “The Ethical Slut”, and our friend’s, who all being sluts themselves, knew perfectly well what that would mean even before it became a word, an expression that other people knew and had learned. When it came time to time to title the book we thought about, you know, Polyamory for the New Millennium and, you know, those kind of respectable titles, and we had been calling it The Ethical Slut for a really long time. And people who want to read that book, this book, look at that title and they’re drawn to it. It’s like, “Oh yeah, I like that.” And so it gives people a really good idea about what they’re going to find inside the book, which is a love of celebrating sex and a tremendous respect for the ethics involved and an openness that I hope people enjoy in the book.
Chip August: I notice reading your book that your idea of a slut is about more than sort of more than just penis, vagina, sex or vagina, vagina, or penis, penis, or whatever, you know. You seem to have a really broad definition of sex, so what do you mean when you say sex?
Dossie Easton: Well in way we’re talking about an really intimate connection, any strong emotional connection, but that can include certainly the erotic, erotic energy. I mean it’s hard to say what is sex. I teach tantra, Erocese, the animated force of the cosmos in my book, and so sex is everything, it’s the life force. But between human beings I think it’s that celebration of life force and the intense intimacy that goes with it.
Chip August: Celebration of the life force? Can you say that in different words?
Dossie Easton: Yeah, it’s a little abstract and it’s almost beyond our scope here. But I think that a lot of other people who have discovered the possibilities of exploring sex, and we live in a culture that sends a lot of messages that say “Sex is only okay if…”, “It’s only okay when…”, “It’s only…”, it has to be kept in some very limited boundary. Keep it in a little box or heaven knows what might happen. So it’s only okay if you’ve known the person for three years or you share a checking account or something, you know. And when I looked at, I started expanding my life and saying sex is something wonderful to explore and it’s a loving thing to share with somebody else and a wonderful way to get connected to people in a variety of different ways, and my whole world kind of expanded, and the possibilities of what intimacy might be – not intimacy like you and me agree that we’re going to form a tight little island where we can be intimate and nobody else will ever know, you know, or can ever really know what we share. It’s the tight little island thing that I am opposed to I guess, because what I’ve discovered is that when you open the door to a lot of different kinds of experiences it really enriches your life. And yes, I do think there’s a spiritual component to that.
Chip August: Now I disagree, I don’t think this is beyond our scope. This is kind of at the heart of your teaching and of my teaching. There is a sacred spiritual sensual energy exchange at the heart of sex and I think we should celebrate that and I think your book celebrates that. In your book you seem to suggest that we would do well to embrace openness and shamelessness.
Dossie Easton: Right. I think a great deal of shame about sexuality has been forced by all the rules about how terribly, terribly, terribly private it must be, to the point where being affectionate with your spouse in public is called into question by many people. Depends on who you’re talking to, but there’s a lot of limits that people have out there. They talk about public displays of affection like that’s a terrible thing. I want to see a more affectionate world. I want to see a more loving world. I want to see a more connected world. How you want to do that is kind of like figuring out what fits each person, because in order to make, you know, to explore all the kinds of connections that you as an individual, that me as an individual, that I am capable of, you know requires also being very aware of what limits and boundaries are wise and make sense help make lovers work. Does that make sense?
Chip August: Yeah, I think so. I think you’re saying that what makes this ethical are the boundaries and guidelines that honor and perpetuate caring. Can you talk about like the rules for being an ethical slut?
Dossie Easton: The rules are very different for each person, and to me I think it’s been a sense of what is the relational ecology of my life. If I had lots of sex but no affection I would be an unhappy person and my life would be out of balance. It was very important to me that I started down this path when my daughter was newborn because looked at how am I going to be, it was partly my revelation of feminism to say, “How am I going to find out who I am if I’m looking at myself as a whole person and not trying to sort of cut myself down to a smaller image that I imagined was appropriate to a wife. And remember I was a teenager in the 50’s, so that’s a very small image to be. But I didn’t want my daughter to grow up in a world that was loveless or not connected or, you know, and I didn’t want the kind of life that refused connection, that said, I’m really, I didn’t want the life, the kind of life or the kind of sex that said that we want to withhold connection from each other. I want that to be connection and I want that to be deep connection, as deep as any given relationship. I made up an aphorism in slut that I’m very proud of. I will say that every relationship seeks its own rebel if you let it, that every relationship has a form in which the two of you fit together and you create something that you can flow in for however long. But that is, it is indeed connected and intimate and is a mixing that enriches both of your lives.
Chip August: It seems to me that what you’re suggesting could really bring up jealousy, and I want to talk about that, but before we do this is a good moment to take a break. Listeners, you’re listening to Sex, Love and Intimacy. I’m your host Chip August. I’m talking to Dossie Easton and we’re about to take a break. Please do listen to the messages on this break. These sponsors support my being able to bring the show to you and they have lots of interesting information for you. Also you might want to check on my episode page, personallifemedia.com/sexloveandintimacy, where there are also some cool dollar off offers and discounts and all kinds of things just because you are my listener. And don’t forget that towards the end of the show Dossie will be offering you an exercise that you can try at home. But for now lets take a break. We’ll be right back.
Chip August: Welcome back to Sex, Love and Intimacy. I’m talking to Dossie Easton. She’s the co-author of The Ethical Slut, which is just out in a new expanded updated edition, which is really terrific. When we went to break we were about to talk about jealousy, so lets go back to that. A lot of your message is about embracing sex wherever you find it. But I love you and you love me and, I don’t know, I don’t think I want you out there fucking around with other people, you know. Like, I, it just feels kind of weird. So can you talk about that?
Dossie Easton: Okay, so the big question is why do you not want your partner fucking someone else? What is, what is the reason? Many people go, “Don’t, you know, what are you brain dead? Everybody knows”, but I don’t think everybody does know. When I do workshops on jealousy the first thing that becomes obvious to me, I often put this out to an audience, and I say, “What is jealousy for you? How do you experience jealousy?” And I get dozens of different answers; this person feels frightened, this person feels angry, this person feels abandonment, this person is, you know, goes into a raging territoriality, another person feels less then and feels like a worm and says, “I’m not worth anything” or “I’m not desirable.” It’s very different for different people. For me, one of the things I discovered when I was first experimenting with this was that my jealousy had a lot to do with massive insecurity. As a woman I had been raised to believe that my security was always going to be contingent on basically my finding a high status male partner, and I realized that I didn’t have a way to find security that I owned and operated. And so going to work on building that for myself was a great healing journey. So this is the other thing I think jealousy is for each of us. First of all, there is no one emotion, it’s a whole bunch of different emotions. The thing that is sort of universal about jealousy is that we avoid owning it.
Chip August: What do you mean?
Dossie Easton: We insist that it’s not an internal response that we own or can change. We insist that we are helpless about jealousy, but that we have no control over it and that it has caused by our partner’s actions.
Chip August: Yeah, like we’re a victim of what they did, “You made me jealous.”
Dossie Easton: Yes, exactly. So jealousy is most, is to me, I’m informed by the fact that what jealousy is about is projection. We run our fears on our love and their lovers as if they were movie screens, right. And what happens when I work in therapy with jealousy with couples and with individuals is the challenge I was to say how do you get back into ownership of these feelings? How do we look at this and say, “Well this is a problem I could solve or I could have some power to work on. Not just the power to insist that my partner not share pleasure with another person, but a positive power to say, ‘Oh, this is a place where I have some pretty deep wounding. Maybe there’s a path I could go on to change that.’”
Chip August: Okay, maybe there is a path to heal my wounding, but isn’t jealousy just a normal mammal thing? I mean, if you’ve ever owned two pets - two dogs or two cats or two horses – you’ve seen them be jealous of each other competing for your attention. Isn’t jealousy just wired into all mammals?
Dossie Easton: Well what you’re talking about is jealousy that looks kind of like sibling rivalry.
Chip August: Yeah, exactly. “Me, me, me. Pay attention to me.”
Dossie Easton: Yeah, we accept that if we have more than one child, or more than one child in a room or more than one child in our school room or whatever, that they are going to have to learn to share attention and time.
Chip August: Well in a way this is what happens in relationships.
Dossie Easton: Yeah, exactly. It’s just another form of sharing and the same things that work to deal with sibling rivalry - and the same things that don’t work probably – are exactly applied to sexual jealousy, it’s not a different animal. We’ve just decided that it’s too scary to look at.
Chip August: Well we make it a different animal because it’s about sex and sex is private and separate and it’s its own thing.
Dossie Easton: Yeah. And scary, and to me the reinforcing jealousy also reinforces a lot of fearfulness about sex that is completely unnecessary.
Chip August: And then this also supports the cultural paradigm of sex partners being kind of owned by their partner or by their spouse.
Dossie Easton: Yes. And as a woman and a feminist I have a hard time with it, ‘cause I don’t want to be somebody’s turf.
Chip August: Yeah, right. I’m not a woman, but I am a feminist, and I don’t want to be owned either. That said, I’m sure there are listeners right now thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but I’m jealous and I don’t like it. What do I do?” Maybe my partner’s flirty or my partner wants to open the relationship; what can I do about my jealousy?
Dossie Easton: Well interestingly enough, the difference in… We are celebrating right now a second edition of Ethical Slut, it’s just been published by a larger publisher, the book’s been very successful. We’re actually excited. If you Google Ethical Slut you get an enormous amount of references, and I’m very proud of that. The new book has exercises in it. I took all the exercises I give to my therapy clients as homework exercises, or sometimes exercises we do in the room, and I wrote them up as exercises that people who read the book can do. And so there’s exercises on communicating with your partner, on communicating with yourself, on how do you make agreements that make the world predictable enough, because I think people need a certain amount of predictability. People fear that you open the door and just anything might happen, and that is not this kind of agreements that most couples are comfortable with, or that most individuals are comfortable with in their life. I want to know something about the future of frankly all of my relationships, not just one.
Chip August: I noticed you had a whole chapter on making and keeping agreements. And I noticed you made a distinction between making agreements and making rules.
Dossie Easton: Yes. There are no rules, there is no right or wrong way to do this. We’re entirely opposed to this notion of gold standard of relationship is just like this and you do just this and just that, and there is no one right way to do it. There’s whatever fits for you, whatever fits for you and this particular partner, whatever fits for you and your life partner, which is a term I like better than primary relationship, but the person I share my life, my mortgage, my child rearing, you know, all that other stuff way beyond sex with. So I don’t like using rules because we tend to get sort of legalistic. They’re agreements that we make, and the agreements, they may be fluid. We may find out that we need to change an agreement or update it because somebody has not managed to fit within it, right, has stepped outside of the agreement. People may disagree about agreements; certainly I see a lot of couples who are very much in disagreement about some agreement, and there are some agreements that are very, very important to respect, for instance say for sex limits. It is really not okay to bring home diseases, you know.
Chip August: And then it seems that when you believe that when things come up that make us unhappy or that our agreements didn’t anticipate, that it’s just an invitation to rethink or evolve the agreements.
Dossie Easton: Yeah, absolutely, and continually negotiate them. And it’s also kind of a learning curve to this. The agreements that I make when I start out in an open relationship, or that anyone might make, have to be, you know, safe enough. They have to keep things with enough limits that a person trying an open relationship isn’t simply going to be constantly freaking out. You can’t learn to swim by jumping in the ocean in the middle of a big storm. You need to start by kind of defining the pool and look at that as kind of a learning curve for you. So the agreements you devise for today or for this month are not necessarily going to be the agreements that fit in three months or six months. Hopefully, with experience as we work with opening up we can be less afraid and be more able to handle more openness. So our agreements may expand as we move on down the road, as we move on down the path and we develop what are really scales, we learn the scales of how to take care of ourselves, how to take care of our partners, what do you do when you go to lunch with your partners new lover…
Chip August: Go to lunch with your partners lover, I can almost hear some listeners intake of breath… So I want to talk more about that, but it’s a great moment to pause for a break. Listeners, you’re listening to Sex, Love and Intimacy. I’m your host Chip August. We’re talking to Dossie Easton, the co-author of The Ethical Slut. I want to remind you that after this break Dossie has an exercise that you can try at home. Also want you to know that if you hear something on the show that you really like or moves you or you find is profound, we make a transcript of almost every show on the Personal Life Media network, and you can just go to the episode pages, personallifemedia.com/sexloveandintimacy, find the transcript for this particular show, Dossie Easton, and maybe cut and paste some line about jealousy or something that Dossie just said about agreements, and put it up on your computer or something or mail it to your lover or send it to a friend. And while were at it it’d be great if you actually sent the link to the interview to friends. One of the ways the show grows is by your support and by your telling friends, so please spread the word, help us grow the show. Right now, pay attention to our sponsors and we’ll be right back.
Chip August: Welcome back to Sex, Love and Intimacy. I’m your host Chip August. I’m talking to Dossie Easton, co-author of The Ethical Slut, just out in a new updated and expanded second edition. Dossie I noticed you subtitled the book A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships and Other Adventures. What does that word polyamory mean? What do you mean by polyamory?
Dossie Easton: Well the question isn’t what I mean, it’s what other people mean unfortunately. There’s a lot of different definitions of polyamory and there’s people out there who have sort of a typography, “This is polyamory, that’s non-monogamy”, blah-blah. And I’m looking for – excuse me- I’m looking for an open sort of field of exploring what fits for me. Polyamory was originally coined to mean something that looks kind of like group marriage, or long-term committed relationships with more than one person and doesn’t include things like, oh, sort of tribes of loosely connected people or somebody that you might date, and, while you are partnered with someone else, that kind of thing. Or the fact that you might be dating, you might be single and dating half a dozen people. So to me the reason I use ethical slut and I use sluttery as kind of a joke, but also to try to make some terminology that can’t be made into a box, that doesn’t define the term too narrowly. Polyamory means loving many, and in that sense I agree with it and its come into common use to mean any conscious out in the open, non-monogamous lifestyle. And the out in the open part is the real difference I think, people who’ve been cheating for a really long time. So when we’re doing this out in the open, we’re looking at including everyone.
Chip August: Yeah, it interests me that human history is just filled with stories of how we’re not really monogamists, and yet I noticed that we keep making rules that say we should be monogamous and that we should feel bad if we have a lover and a spouse, or we should feel bad if we get married three or four times. I think what you stand for is not feeling bad about sexual wants, about our sexual wants and desires and behaviors. Why wouldn’t you have lunch with your lovers lover?
Dossie Easton: When I was first dating, this is back in 1969, we had a household of three single mothers called Liberated Ladies at Large. And we would have brunches where we invited all of our lovers, and because there were three of us people would come to visit and they had no idea who they were talking to, if they had a lover in common or not. And it sort of opened people up. We had these lovely lunches, there were babies crawling all over the place, all our friends came and many of them made friends with each other. At that time in my life, one of my lovers came over one night and said, “You three never get to go out and just socialize and, you know, go to clubs and have fun with all three of you ‘cause somebody always has to stay home with the kids. So tonight I’m going to be, I’m going to stay home with the kids and you guys go out and play.” And it was just very sweet, the kinds of things that would happen in that environment. And a lot of very committed energy in child rearing as well.
Chip August: Yeah, so you get children raised by a village, not just a person or a couple.
Dossie Easton: Absolutely, absolutely.
Chip August: If people wanted to get in touch with you or find your book, how would they find you?
Dossie Easton: Okay, well to get in touch with me I have a website, dossieeaston.com. It’s mostly focused on (unintelligible) of the practice and the kind of work I do. I actually have a very wide background because I’ve been doing this work for a very long time and my other specialty is working with survivors of trauma or child abuse or serious illness. And so I do a lot of work around that as well. And on my website you can also find my email, my contact information, my phone number and so on. The book is available through most online resources and in many, many bookstores. Ask your local, if you order it at your local bookstore it’s good for us because then the bookstores get to know the book and maybe they order some more copies and put it on their shelf and more people find out about it. But you can also order it online, and many people order it for their entire families and wind up ordering a dozen copies.
Chip August: What a great idea. As we wind up our time together I always like my guests to suggest an exercise that my listeners can try at home to improve the sex, love and intimacy in their lives. Do you have an exercise to suggest to them?
Dossie Easton: Yeah, a very simple one, very simple and very powerful. I do this with my clients all the time, and when I do it in my office I’m always amazed at the emotional fall over. It’s very simple; you take a piece of paper and a pencil and you write “Ten reasons why I am lucky to have my partner.” Or this particular partner, if you have more than one partner. “Ten reasons why I’m lucky to be in a relationship with this particular individual.” Sometimes partners do that together and they each make a list and then they share their lists and that feels sort of like Christmas, what a lovely gift. And another thing that you can do with that is just focus on what a treasure your partner is. You’re in this relationship… When we get in long-term relationships we tend to be very focused on what the problems are; struggle, struggle, struggle. And so it’s a time to reflect on “What am I doing here in the first place. Well this is a treasure to me because… Because my partners wonderful, a great sense of humor, we love, it was great when we put the new roof on the house”, whatever, right. Fabulous lovemaking, whatever you did. But “Why am I lucky to have the partner that I have?”
Chip August: What a lovely exercise. As we all know, when you focus your attention on something it tends to grow. You know, in the book you recommend carrying around the list and carry it with your for a few days and adding to it.
Dossie Easton: Absolutely. And a companion exercise, by the way, is to make a list of why your partner’s lucky to have you as a partner. And this is a wonderful thing to carry around as well and to share with your partner, because to say, “Yeah, my partner is with me because I am valuable.”
Chip August: Listeners, I really encourage you to do this, really do this. And perhaps you might actually want to share what you wrote with your lover. Read it to them. Dossie thanks for taking the time to be here on the show. Do you have any final thoughts today?
Dossie Easton: Yeah. I think I want to end with one more notion about love, which is that love is something that flows and there’s a lot of it. You just have to focus on it. I think I like the “I am lucky to have my partner” because it focuses on the love we share. We are capable of sharing an immense amount of love. We are capable of opening our hearts in a whole bunch of really wonderful ways. And this is what I would really like to see, is I mean, here I am, this old love hippy right. But to see our opening up of the flow of love in the world.
Chip August: Yeah, it’s the fundamental force in the universe. Well thanks Dossie for joining me today, and thank you listeners also for joining me. This is bringing us to the end of another episode of Sex, Love and Intimacy. If you have comment or criticisms or you want to suggest guests – Dossie’s here at the suggestion of one of my listeners – please send me a line at [email protected]. I always like to hear from my listeners, and as I say, I’m grateful for you listening in. Thank you for joining me and I hope you join me again next time.