We have created this page to share our favorite books on polyamory and ethics. This list grew out of our Episode 38 Podcast, Book Recommendations. If you would like more information than our quick blurbs found here, listen to Episode 38.
Recommend your favorites
If we have missed your favorite book, email us with your book title and a short explanation of why you like it. We’ll read your suggestion and, if we think it works, we’ll add it here.
About the links
After each title below we have placed a link to help you find the edition of the book we suggest. Where possible, we have linked the author’s personal website and link. If we could not find a link for that, or if the link on that website was an Amazon purchase link, we have linked Amazon purchase links.
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Ethical Slut, The, Third Edition: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Freedoms in Sex and Love
By Janet W. Hardy and Dossie Easton
One of the oldest books in the field of non-monogamy, it is now in its third edition with updates. I particularly recommend this book to those investigating non-monogamy for the first time and who have not yet settled on a particular style, because the authors showcase many different methods of being in non-monogamous relationships.
I do caution that the ethics used in this book, by the authors’ own description, rely on common sense and one’s own internal compass. So it will be hard pressed to offer ethical guidance for situations other than those explicitly covered by the book itself. Even then, that guidance relies simply on assuming the authors are correct rather than referencing an explained ethical framework.
This is often called “The Polyamory Bible”. I don’t necessarily agree with all the ideology in the book, so I don’t like to call it a “bible”, but it is still one I recommend.
The book is by two friends, Janet W. Hardy and Dossie Easton, who are former lovers and have lived a shamelessly slutty life (woot, woot!). They sought to compile their experiences and the experiences of others that have lived consensually non-monogamous (CNM) lifestyles into a book as an overview of how individuals could potentially live such a lifestyle. I find it rather comprehensive in this regard.
Hardy and Easton break down a number of different types of CNM; the positive experiences, tips, and tricks they have discovered; and pitfalls that people can expect and do run into when living the lifestyle.
My favorite part of this book, and my primary reason for recommending it, is the exercises! They have managed to come up with things to try on your own that promote self-reflection and awareness within and without a romantic relationship.
The Ethics of Ambiguity
By Simone de Beauvoir (Author); Bernard Frechtman (Translator)
I didn’t actually spend time on this book in our Episode 38 Podcast because I have recommended it elsewhere. I include the book here because it is the most accessible and most helpful introduction to Existentialist ethics available.
Beauvoir opens up the discussion on how an ethics based in ambiguity and forming one’s own meaning can give rise to important and useful ethical systems. If you want to understand existential ethics, this is the place to start.
Handbook of Jealousy: Theory, Research, and Multidisciplinary Approaches
By Sybil L. Hart (Editor), Maria Legerstee (Editor)
This is a wonderful compilation and synthesis of all the existing research on jealousy as well as many new studies and discussions by the authors and editors.
If you are looking to get a handle on what we know about how jealousy works and what its helpful functions for humans might be, this is the best text around.
The Jealousy Workbook: Exercises and Insights for Managing Open Relationships
By Kathy Labriola
I adore workbooks because they prompt discussion and thought as part of the experience of the read. This one is a gem. It provides techniques to identify WHY you are manifesting jealousy and techniques to break it down. It is like at-home or supplemental therapy!
Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships
By Tristan Taormino
This is my top recommendation for people who are interested in pursuing a consensual non-monogamous (CNM) lifestyle!
Tristin Taormino conducted interviews with people from across the country and has created a step-by-step guide for building your CNM relationship, no matter what kind it is.
She starts with an overview about what CNM is and what it is not. Then she goes on to describe in depth several different forms of CNM, giving the reader plenty of knowledge to build their relationship tailored to their needs.
There are very helpful chapters on compersion, jealousy, and common challenges and problems. I continually refer back to the chapter on jealousy for helpful tips to cope with jealousy when it arises. I love this book!
The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families
By Elisabeth Sheff
Sociologist Dr. Elisabeth Sheff has conducted a longitudinal academic study on polyamorous families for 20 years, meeting with the different families she has been following every 5 years. This is a compilation of her findings, written after her third wave of qualitative interviews.
However, this is not an academic read. Dr. Sheff compiles her research in an informative manner and laces it with her own experience with CNM.
The thing I love most about this book is the stories from the children. Dr. Sheff is one of the only academics who has conducted research on children who are growing up in polyamorous households. I recommend this book for anyone who has concerns about having children in the home while living a polyamorous lifestyle. However, as Dr. Sheff writes in this book, this is a preliminary research project. More information is needed by more researchers to make a collection of information large enough and diverse enough to produce statistically significant findings, but it is a damn good start. Dr. Sheff is currently in her fourth wave of interviews.
This is a great way to get a first-hand look at how some polyamorous families live and grow over a 20-year period. As Sarah and Dr. Sheff note, this is a preliminary study to help point the way for more detailed study. The very small sample size, the original self-selection method of participants, and research selection at each stage of the process mean that the outcomes are extremely biased, likely to reasonably successful outcomes and more the usually stable families.
This means you can’t point to the outcomes as authoritative or indicative of the general trend of polyamorous families. Nevertheless, in a research-starved field,
Dr. Sheff’s book is a welcome read and still creates anecdotal evidence and accounts of lived experience that can be priceless to those new to non-monogamy.
Polyglamorous: A Queer Mom’s Misadventures and Lessons in Non-Monogamy
By Robin Beatch
As a mom, relationships are tough to navigate in general. Now throw in multiple adult relationships and try to balance that with your mom stuffs and household stuffs. It’s hard and it’s hard for everyone. This book was essential to me feeling like I wasn't alone in the struggle. It provided ideas through the author's mishaps to weave these relationships and make it work.
Relationship Agreements: A Simple and Effective Guide for Strengthening Communication, Reducing Conflict, and Increasing Intimacy to Design Your Ideal Relationship
By Eri Kardos
This workbook taught me autonomy and how to look at things from a level place. This book has been so instrumental in helping me identify areas I needed/still need to work on and gave me ideas to work through those areas. I recommend this book for anyone in ANY type of relationship, but it should be required reading for people navigating multiple relationships.
Relationship agreements are a must for any healthy relationship — poly, monogamous, non-monogamous, any relationship. If you are not already intimately familiar with relationship agreements, this is the book I recommend to get you started. It will help reconcile implicit, but divergent, expectations that your partner/s and you don’t even know you have. This stops fights before they even start, gets you both on the same page, and generally makes your relationships more fit, healthy, consensual, autonomy, and ethical.
Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships
By Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha
Sex at Dusk: Lifting the Shiny Wrapping from Sex at Dawn
By Lynn Saxon
“Sex at Dawn” was the first book I ever read about polyamory. Before I even had a word for it, I wanted to understand our natural inclinations for mating behaviors – not for ethical reasons, since that is the naturalistic fallacy, but because I find it difficult to fight my nature and as long as it’s not unethical I choose the path of least resistance.
This text opened my eyes to the fact that the dominant narrative that humans are either monogamous by nature or band maters with one male dominating a harem of females was an obfuscation of the more likely truth that we are in fact multi-maters.
“Sex at Dusk” is a necessary counterpoint to “Sex at Dawn,” showing the darker sides of the historical and anthropological examples pulled by the authors of “Sex at Dawn.” For the most complete picture, read them both and make up your own mind.
The Second Sex
By Simone De Beauvoir (Author); Constance Borde (Translator), Sheila Malovany-Chevallier (Translator)
One of the most important books ever written for feminist and existentialist ethics. Also one of the few books I would call a must-read for everyone.
For those who are trying to understand how existentialist ethics can be applied to an entire field, such as feminist issues, and who have already read “The Ethics of Ambiguity” to get a basic understanding of existentialist ethics, this is a fantastic next step.
Make sure you buy the modern translation, because the original translation is highly abridged and cuts much of the heart out of this seminal work.
When Someone You Love Is Polyamorous: Understanding Poly People and Relationships
By Dr. Elisabeth Sheff
An inexpensive way to explain the way you love to people who matter. I bought a handful of these for my mother to keep in her purse. She seems to get more questions about me than anyone.
This book describes polyamory in a very simple and uncomplicated style. It is a great "summary" book for explaining what polyamory is to other people and answers concerns that some folx might have for you or your partners.
It's a perfect introductory to others about polyamory, a nice companion book when you come out to your friends and family.
This book is so perfect for what it sets out to do. It is 38 pages long, inexpensive, and covers every question I have ever been asked by people who are curious or critical of a polyamorous lifestyle. I love it!
Because it is such a short read, and it is so cheap, it is easy to give to people who are concerned about what you are doing and want to learn more. It is also helpful if you want to have some ideas about how you might explain things to others.
Another thing I love is that Dr. Sheff presents her factual information (from the academic research she has been doing for 20 years) in a gentle non-threatening way, which is what you want (well, what I want) when I am explaining something controversial that I love to someone I love.