Interview with Janet W. Hardy, Author of The Ethical Slut

Interview with Author Janet Hardy

We at SwingTowns are thrilled to share with our readers an exclusive interview from Janet W. Hardy, co-author of the bestselling book The Ethical Slut.

SwingTowns: Besides being sex educator, you are also the author/co-author of eleven books, including the bestselling book The Ethical Slut. When did you decide to become a sex educator and author, and why this profession?

Janet Hardy: I think you’re giving me too much credit for having “decided” anything! I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in my early teens, and alternative sexuality is pretty much the only thing I know enough about to sell books with. Having a love for writing and a love for sexuality and relationships all came together without much “deciding” on my part.

SwingTowns: Are you excited for the August 2017 release of The Ethical Slut, Third Edition: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Freedoms in Sex and Love?

Janet Hardy: Of course! One of the hard parts of being a book author is that inevitably, once the book is in print, you see all the things you would have liked to do differently. It’s wonderful to be able to revisit a book once a decade or so, fixing the things that make you cringe and improving all the things you loved in the first place – plus adding new stuff to address all the changes that happen in the world over the course of a decade.

SwingTowns: The first edition was titled, The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities and the second edition was titled The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures. The soon-to-be releasing third edition will also have a slight title modification: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Freedoms in Sex and Love. Why the title change?

Janet Hardy: That’s a matter of the changing nature of bookselling. The first edition was published in 1997, before online bookselling became a thing (Amazon was founded in 1994) – so searchability wasn’t really on our minds when we chose that first subtitle. When we published the next edition with Ten Speed Press in 2009, they were definite about wanting the words “polyamory” and “open relationships” in the subtitle, so that anyone searching an online database on those terms would find our book. The third one was just an attempt to take those keywords and make them a little more exciting: “freedom,” “sex” and “love” are among our favorite words.

SwingTowns: I know many readers and fans are excited for the release. What are you hoping readers will get out of this newest edition of The Ethical Slut?

Janet Hardy: The changes this time around aren’t as major as the move from the first to the second edition, where we basically took the whole book apart and put it back together again. This time, we’re more enhancing it than we are restructuring it. The most apparent change is that this edition includes sidebars ­– we kept discovering little bits of this and that which we wanted to write about, but which didn’t flow logically with the rest of the book: biographies of poly pioneers, topics like people of color and very young people in the poly world, the queer history of raising money and awareness through partygiving, and so on. Those now appear at the end of most chapters, because we think they give a more nuanced and interesting view of alternative relationships.

We also felt that the major advances in thinking about consent culture in the last decade merited their own chapter, so we built that in too. We changed a lot of our language to accommodate contemporary thinking about gender. And we just gave the whole thing a spit-and-polish: expanded a few thoughts, tightened others up for greater clarity, and so on.

SwingTowns: You are also the founder of a publishing house called Greenery Press. Can you tell our readers a little about that?

Janet Hardy: Back in 1992, I lost my job writing ad copy – my employer had been listening in on my private phone conversations and apparently decided he didn’t want people like me working there. I had written a long article on female domination for beginners, in hopes of placing it in a magazine. Because our major income source had just vanished, I rewrote it to the length of a small book, and it became The Sexually Dominant Woman: A Workbook for Nervous Beginners, written under my first pen name, Lady Green. At the same time, my then-partner Jay Wiseman self-published his own volume SM101: A Workbook for Nervous Beginners. Both books originally took shape as quick-printed, comb-bound volumes. Later, I asked for donations to place the books in perfect-bound format (the format of most paperback books) so they could be sold in mainstream bookstores. A year or so later, we published Miss Abernathy’s Complete Slave Training Manual, our first book by an outside author – and Greenery Press was born. So in a way, Jay and I independently discovered both “print on demand” publishing and crowdfunding.

Greenery incorporated in 1998, and I sold it to our distributor in 2010, although I’m still under contract as its Editorial Director and still on the lookout for great books about alternative sexualities. Over the years, we’ve published 100+ books about marginalized sexualities, and currently have around 40 of them in print.

SwingTowns: There is an October 2001 SFGate article about Greenery Press that opened with “So, say you have a manuscript you’ve labored mightily over — a detailed, probing exploration of the delicate art of sexual spanking. Or, a tome about using hypnosis to improve one’s sex life. Random House is giving you the cold shoulder, but you feel certain of the importance of your treatise. The public wants — nay, needs — to know. What’s a devoted sex writer to do?” However, it is 2017 and Penguin Random House is the publisher releasing the third edition of The Ethical Slut. What do you think has changed in the publishing industry that has the “traditional” publishers wanting to publish books like The Ethical Slut?

Janet Hardy: I’m not sure Random House “wanted” to publish The Ethical Slut (although I think they’re pretty glad they did, as it’s making them a lot of money). We’d actually had an agent friend send proposals on the second edition to most of the major New York houses, and we got turned down over and over, despite the fact that the book had sold 80,000 copies in its micropublished first edition – they just didn’t understand our market and didn’t know how to sell to it. But our friend Barbara Carrellas (Urban Tantra) introduced us to Ten Speed Press, and it turned out that Philip Wood, its founder, was a fan, and agreed to publish the book under the Celestial Arts imprint. Ten Speed was later sold to Random House, so there we were, Random House authors.

SwingTowns: What other books have you written that you believe would be a good companion for those who loved reading The Ethical Slut? Do you have any other book recommendations?

Janet Hardy: Most of my/our other books are BDSM-oriented to at least some degree. The New Topping Book and The New Bottoming Book are specifically about BDSM, focusing on the emotional aspects of doing it safely and well. Radical Ecstasy, my personal favorite with Dossie, is about merging BDSM and ecstatic practice to find new pathways to transcendence, and When Someone You Love Is Kinky is written to help the family, friends and coworkers of kinky people to understand what their loved ones are doing and why. My memoir Girlfag: A Life Told in Sex and Musicals is about life between genders and orientations. And there are more – so, plenty to choose from.

If any of your readers haven’t yet encountered Kathy Labriola’s The Jealousy Workbook, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Jealousy is the single biggest obstacle most people encounter in seeking alternative relationship styles, and Kathy does an amazing job helping the reader to understand and uproot it in all its many forms.

SwingTowns: Can you envision a future where non-monogamy/polyamory lifestyles are as accepted, welcomed and mainstream as monogamy? What does that future look like?

Janet Hardy: Yes, I can, because I think we’re moving toward it faster than I ever imagined. Keep in mind that many kids and even young adults these days are being raised in poly households; they’re not going to have to struggle for self-awareness and understanding the way we older folks did. And the growing visibility of nonmonogamous lifestyles – Newsweek cover stories, television shows and the like – means that pretty much everybody knows that polyamory is a viable lifestyle that can work for regular folks, whether or not they themselves choose that pathway.

One of the difficulties will be that a huge number of social structures are built around the idea of the couple as a fundamental social unit; if we were to wave our magic wand and pass a law allowing multipartner marriage right now, institutions from probate lawyers to insurance companies to the real estate industry would fall apart. A better approach, in my opinion, would be to take marriage of any kind off the table as a legal entity; instead, we would allow any number of partners to sign up as a domestic partnership, basically a subtype of legal partnership and subject to the rules that govern legal partnership. People who also wanted the religious and social sanctions of marriage would be free to seek those out from whatever religious or social institutions were available to them, but religious/social marriage would have no meaning in terms of finances, child custody, etc. In other words: the legal sanctions of domestic partnership would be available to any group of people willing to jump through the proper legal hoops to ensure proper care for children and other dependents, as well as safeguards for property ownership, inheritance and so on; and marriage would become a purely social/religious practice with no legal/financial meaning.

SwingTowns: What advice would you give to readers who are sincerely interested in living a non-monogamy and/or polyamory lifestyle but are afraid of alienating their friends and family?

Janet Hardy: One question to start with is, why do you want your friends and family to know? If you’re doing a lifestyle that involves a couple with occasional outside lovers, there may not be enough of a reason to share that information with unsympathetic outsiders.

But if you do have a good reason to tell your family and friends – if, for example, you are sharing a one-bedroom apartment with multiple adults – then be considerate. Do they really have to know that you are Pat’s dominant and Sam’s submissive, and exactly what those entail? Or is it enough to know that the three of you love and are committed to one another?

I don’t actually recommend The Ethical Slut as the best book to give to your relatives, friends and coworkers: the sexual content is a bit TMI. Thorn Tree Press publishes a booklet by Dr. Elisabeth Sheff called When Someone You Love Is Poly; that might be a good place to start. I’d also suggest that Ask Me About Polyamory: The Best of Kimchi Cuddles, a compilation of poly-related cartoons, is cute, humorous and unlikely to freak out anyone’s parents. Beyond that, if you want to give a book (generally a good idea), try to pick one that reflects the lifestyle you are in or want to be in – there are so many good ones out there now!

SwingTowns: Do you have any other upcoming books or events you would like to let our readers know about?

Janet Hardy: I’m at work on an updated, comic-book-style edition of my first book, The Sexually Dominant Woman, which will be coming out in Fall 2018. I’m also seeking a publisher for another memoir, Impervious: Tales of a (semi-)Retired Deviant.

No major events coming up for a while, which is good, because I’m just finished with a flurry of them and I need some downtime. But I’m always available for speaking engagements – visit my website at for more information.

Check out Six Benefits of Polyamorous Relationships by Dr. Elisabeth Sheff.

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Janet W. Hardy
Janet W. Hardy is the author or coauthor of eleven groundbreaking books about relationships and sexuality, including The Ethical Slut (more than 160,000 copies sold to date, including the second edition published in 2009 by Ten Speed Press).

Janet has traveled the world as a speaker and teacher on topics ranging from ethical multipartner relationships to erotic spanking and beyond. She has appeared in documentary films (Slut, Beyond Vanilla, Vice and Consent, BDSM: It’s Not What You Think), television shows (SexTV, The Dr. Susan Block Show), and more radio shows than she can count.

Janet's writing has appeared in publications as various as The Sondheim Review, Clamor and EIDOS. Her book Girlfag: A Life Told In Sex and Musicals was a finalst for both the Lambda Literary Award and the Bisexual Book Award, and her essay “Ex” was a finalist in the Event and New Letters creative nonfiction contests. "The Portal," a very personal essay about vaginas and their relationship to gender (which is not necessarily what one might think), appeared in Best Sex Writing 2010 (Cleis Press, 2009), and "The Old Folks At Home," an essay about aging in an ambiguously gendered relationship, appeared in Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation (Seal Press, 2010).

Janet serves as Editorial Director for Greenery Press, the firm she founded in 1992, as well as for Down There Press. She also runs The Active Voice, which offers editorial, event and promotional consulting.

She often fantasizes about being handcuffed to Stephen Sondheim’s piano. Click to learn more about Janet W. Hardy.