Reading is quite a fascinating experience. Like a snapshot of a particular place in time, it lets us look into certain communities’ core values and thought processes. When it comes to relationships and sexuality, their evolution over time is nothing short of extraordinary. From watershed polyamory books like The Ethical Slut to the sophisticated and grounding Polysecure, it’s beautiful to see how far we have come in developing the complex but rewarding pursuit of ethical non-monogamy (ENM).
My path to polyamory started 13 years ago and in the most challenging way. Coming from a conservative, catholic, religious shame-inducing country, where there was virtually no one around to teach me, I struggled to put into words what I felt to be right for me – even though everyone else around me kept saying that I was crazy.
But then there was light, and I found a person who soon would bring me some clarity and the means to discover the answers for which I longed. That person introduced me to a then very unknown term called ‘polyamory‘. She also introduced me to the book that would forever change my approach to relationships (of all kinds) and, literally, my life.
Fast forward some years and quite a lot of research on the subject later, here are my thoughts on some of the books I find important or essential for anyone who is a ‘relationship geek’ like me. Let’s start.
Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel (2006)
When folks say to me that they’re interested in trying open relationships, the questions I ask are “How successful have you been with communication/transparency in your past relationships?” and “Where does your desire to meet/be with more than one person come from?” Most of the time, the answers are not great, so I usually recommend this book.
Esther lays out what happens when we trade eroticism for intimacy, the unpredictable for the predictable, as our intimate relationships grow with time. Often, our desires fade only to be substituted with companionship. With Mating in Captivity, I learnt what I was doing wrong in most of my previous relationships, which paved the way for realising that the so-called ‘relationship escalator’ in monogamous relationships was not for me. A game-changer. Period.
Recommended for: Those who want to understand more about their relationship behaviours
Love as a verb. Love as an action. A culture of domination is anti-love. How does that sound to you? I felt compelled to introduce a book in this list that talks about what we all seek to achieve in whatever relationship we build.
In All About Love, hooks tells us that, as a culture, we devalue the meaning of love by using it as a ‘noun’ and having no shared value of what it means. She exposes that love, more than words, should be actions based on affection, respect, recognition, commitment, trust and care. That it’s not much about how we feel but what we do about it.
Recommended for: Those who want to understand what our patriarchal culture does to love.
The following five polyamory books are in chronological order. Ideas and practices evolve over time, so in my opinion, there is more to take from more recent books than from older ones. Regardless, I find that they all have something to give, and it’s important to understand how ENM has evolved.
Polysecure by Jessica Fern (2020)
People who live ENM know that the path to secure and fulfilling relationships is attached to how we grow and blossom as individuals, improving our communication, insecurities, boundaries, and needs.
Polysecure is a paradigmatic book that picks up where More Than Two left off. It brings attachment theory into polyamorous relationships by explaining the different attachment styles, how they’re formed and how our emotional experiences influence our relationships. It then proposes six different strategies to move toward secure attachments in our relationships.
Stepping off the Relationship Escalator by Amy Gahran (2017)
Love and relationships are not one-size-fits-all. So have you ever wondered what is out there besides ‘conventional’ relationships? You may be on the ‘relationship escalator’, but do you know what it is?
Amy Gahran interviewed 1500 people about their ‘unconventional’ intimate relationships for Stepping off the Relationship Escalator. This book showcases real-life experiences of ethical non-monogamy such as polyamory, swinging, open relationships, monogamish, solo poly, non-hierarchal relationships and relationship anarchy. All the while, she makes a comparison against what is the ‘traditional’ bundle of social norms for intimate relationships, referred to as the relationship escalator, which primarily consists of steps like intimate and sexual exclusivity, hierarchy, merging life infrastructure and identity, continuity and consistency.
Recommended for: Folks that want to understand what different kinds of ENM are out there.
More Than Two by Eve Rickert & Franklin Veaux (2014)
Together with Ethical Slut, this is probably the book you’ll get the most recommendations to read – and that’s why it is important to talk about it. By now, most folks in the ENM community know that co-author Franklin Veaux is persona non-grata – and if you didn’t know, now you know. You can read an account by his survivors and also by co-author Eve Rickert.
With the strong premise that “the people in the relationship are more important than the relationship”, More Than Two focuses primarily on ethical polyamory. From basic principles on communication and negotiation to transitioning relationships, it covers key areas, including agreements, rules and boundaries, and how to relate with your metamours. It’s a very practical and insightful book, full of great tips on how to improve your relationships.
That said, I think the book lacks solo-poly representation and LGBTQ+ representation. It’s also very couple-centric, focusing too much on hierarchy and primary/secondary relationships. Lastly, it places the responsibility of building security on the individual that tends to be more insecure.
Recommended for: Folks that practice polyamory and want to deepen their knowledge.
This book is a great option if you’re starting to dabble in your first open relationships and navigating its complexities. Under 200 pages, Love in Abundanceis pretty short, and Labriola doesn’t waste time trying to argue about the validity of ENM but dives right into the practicalities of the issues that come up while trying to practice open relationships, such as jealousy, disclosure, honest communication, transparency, etc.
Labriola is a practising relationship counsellor who works with singles, couples and groups in polyamorous and open relationships. One interesting aspect she discusses is meta-communication, communicating about communication itself, though I have to admit it might be a bit impractical outside the therapists’ office.
Recommended for: Folks starting in an open relationship.
The Ethical Slut by Janet Hardy & Dossie Easton (1997)
In case you haven’t noticed, all the books so far have been focused on building open relationships and not particularly focused on the sexuality part of it.
I’m adding this book to the list because it’s a common recommendation if you’re in a monogamous relationship and want to open it up – but don’t be misled. The Ethical Slut is a groundbreaking book that still deserves to be read today regarding sexuality, and I love it for it. But that’s it. Any book in the list above is far better at addressing opening up your relationship.
Recommended for: Folks interested in sexuality and understanding the evolution of open relationships.
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