An Intimacy Advisor Exclusive interview with ‘The Ethical Slut’ author, Janet Hardy
If you ask Janet Hardy, monogamy is definitely not the one and only way to enjoy sex & love! She wants you to be into whatever brings you the most joy, fulfillment and great, tingly, explosive feels, of course. But if you’re open to exploring polyamory – the practice of engaging in multiple romantic (and typically sexual) relationships, with the consent of all the people involved, Oxford Languages tells us – then welcome to her world…and a world of possibilities.
The co-author with Dossie Easton of The Ethical Slut: Third Edition: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Freedoms in Sex and Love, Hardy definitely knows her stuff on this subject. She’s lived and embodied the poly and ethical non-monogamy lifestyle for many years. Hardy has penned a significant canon of books about topping, bottoming, being a mistress, open relationships and other related subjects for her publishing firm, Greenery Press.
In fact, it was after teaching a bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism workshop at a sexual lifestyle-themed retreat in 1995 that they came up with the idea for their book. That night, they learned that they and their morning session were the hot topic during a round of evening steamy hot tub activities in Solamar, California. People were excitedly sharing their randy reviews of the workshop: “There were two women talking about stuff they had done together, and one of their boyfriends was right in the room!”
“It was the first time that it had occurred to us that people would find our polyness more shocking than our kinkiness,” Hardy recalls with a chuckle. “So that was when we decided we needed to write a book about our polyness. Poly was by then so much a part of our subcultures that we had forgotten that other people might find it noteworthy, so we had to step back from it and figure out how we do what we do.”
The first edition of their book came out in 1997. At that time, there wasn’t much available about the topic. Hardy remembers probably the one good book, Love Without Limits: The Quest for Sustainable Intimate Relationships : Responsible Nonmonogamy, that was published in 1992.
“But it was about a very specific kind of polyamory that is long-term, multi-partner, living-together relationships so basically through marriages,” she says. “While that’s one excellent way to be poly, it’s far from the only way, so we wanted to write something about all of the other options that are out there… from sex parties to all of the different ways people can arrange their relationship life.”
Then an article came out about their daring new text with the headline: “Geeks, Nerds Make Best Lovers Say Ethical Slut Duo.” “Our phone rang off the hook,” recalls the California resident. “I was on the radio every morning for weeks, and the East Coast morning drive was my 4:30 am! But I really think that was what launched the book.
The Ethical Slut has gone through multiple printings since then. Hardy, who self-published the book, says she never spent even one dime on marketing. Rather, it’s the kind of book that, if someone is into polyamory or would like to get into it, they buy multiple copies for themselves and whoever they want to get it on with in or out of a hot tub.
So let’s suppose that you and your lover are feeling equally daring. If you are open-minded to the many possibilities that polyamory or ethical non-monogamy can open up to you and your relationship, you may be wondering how to start.
So, what does Hardy think you should do to begin to take that walk on the wild side together?
Here are her four key steps to get you started in the polyamorous lifestyle:
1. The single best thing a person could do if they want to start looking into a more open sexual lifestyle, Hardy advises, is to enter the words “polyamory munch” and the name of their town into their search engine. Find your local polyamory community.
“That’s going to be the place where you can ask people what books helped them,” she says. “If there’s something you want to do and you’re not sure if it will work or not, you can talk to people who’ve done it and find out what worked for them and what didn’t. If there’s someone that you want to connect with that you’re not sure that you’d feel comfortable with them, you can ask about them. Give references.”
2. Be prepared to do a lot of communicating and a lot of processing, Hardy adds: “Any healthy relationship requires a certain amount of communicating and processing, but if you are poly, you’re by definition doing that a lot more because you’ve got a lot more people in your life. The interactions between those people have to be processed a lot more. So, if talking about your relationships and your feelings is something you hate, it’s probably not going to be a good lifestyle for you.”
3. Next, if you haven’t tried polyamory, take baby steps.
“Pick one change you want to make to your current agreement that doesn’t feel too scary and try it,” she says. “Then afterwards, get back together and talk about it a lot and see how it felt and decide if that’s what you want or not, and then try something else that’s the next step on your ‘scary list’ and do the same. If you try to go too far too fast and it blows up, you don’t know why. For example, kissing someone who isn’t your regular partner, that would be a pretty easy baby step for a lot of people. If that goes okay, maybe try sleeping at their house or whatever feels like the next scariest thing.”
4. When you’re still getting started: “Set up a regular time to sit down and talk about how things are going”, Hardy says. It’s important to have regular check-ins to make sure everyone involved is emotionally okay with everything. If you discover something that needs to be changed to make someone more comfortable, talk about what you can do to change it.
As a long-time polyamory lifestyle practitioner, Hardy likes the fact that while the type of relationship may evolve and change, the people she loves remain part of her life.
“Relationships tend not to end much in poly,” Hardy concludes. “They tend to change, and I like that a lot. If I like them well enough to have them in my life in the first place, I want them to stay in my life.”