Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Stacks - Open

Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage
by Jenny Block
Seal Press, 2008

Jenny Block wants to make sure you understand that she's normal. She dated in high school and college, sowed some wild oats, experimented with bisexuality, then met a man whom she fell madly in love with, got married, had a daughter, moved to the suburbs, started a career, had some marital problems but worked them out through good inter-spousal communication and now lives with her husband in a stable, quiet open marriage. Wait, huh?

If you're already practicing polyamory or if you're familiar with it, Block's book won't be much of a revelation for you. The parts where she is explaining the logical reasons why she chose open marriage are the same as what you'll find in many other books on the subject, such at The Ethical Slut, by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt (aka Janet Hardy), or Opening Up, by Tristan Taormino. And the parts where she's relating her trials and tribulations as she worked out how to have an open marriage will be a story that you've heard a hundred times.

The book's contribution is its appeal to people who are not polyamorous, who have never met a polyamorous person and who freak out at the very idea of open marriage—the people who believe that if you're going to find love outside of your marriage, you should at least have the decency to lie about it to everyone you know. Those people can dismiss Easton and Hardy as established BDSM players in San Francisco. They can dismiss Taormino as a porn director and female anal sex expert. But they're going to have a harder time dismissing Block.

Block walks you step by step through her process of deciding to open her marriage. She doesn't sugar coat the mistakes she has made, nor does she claim to have discovered all the answers. While Block does take time out to discuss some of the built-in double standards and mixed messages aimed at women in monogamous marriages, her feminism doesn't go as far as The Ethical Slut (which theorizes that monogamy exists to pass on land in an agrarian society). By sticking to her personal experience and removing a lot of the politics of sexual liberation that can be off putting, Block has created a good introduction to polyamory for the uninitiated.

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