American author duo Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton released The integer girl in 1997 to obscure non-monogamous relationships and give the word “slut” new meaning: a person who practices sex and love in complete freedom, with as many or as few people as she pleases. This third edition, released in 2017 and now translated into Dutch, should appeal to a new generation.
That does not make the book in the slightest. First, it’s unclear who the hell it’s meant for. The subtitle ‘Handbook of Polyamory’ gives the impression that it is for those who are already interested in the non-monogamous existence. But the first hundred pages, a story against the monogamous ideas ‘we have heard all our lives’, seem primarily intended for the narrow-minded monogamists. Because they are narrow-minded, or at least a product of a narrow-minded culture. At least according to the authors, who often pedantically associate sexual freedom with absolutely everything that is good in the world: from helping the homeless to successfully raising children. The opposite of sexual freedom is sexual oppression, and this includes things like ‘severely disturbed personal boundaries’ and even death camps.
So the style. The short chapters begin with a premise that is as firm as it is unfounded: “In our view, sex (…) is an essential theme that is all-encompassing but rarely touched upon in a relationship.” When will the topic of sex ever remain untouched? “Homosexual sex usually starts with the assumption of power.” Because there are no other differences of power than those between man and woman?
On the one hand, the authors are in favor of a radical individualism: everything that is difficult in a relationship is not worth it, and because someone else can not make you perfect, it is not necessary or even oppressive to build something lasting with a other person. On the other hand, they envision a utopia in which both sexual ties and family ties are fluid and thus bring about a sense of community. They touch on the basic question of what it means to be ‘with’ someone, and that is the question for sure food for thought† It’s a shame they did not focus the book more explicitly on that question.
Another flaw with the book is that it is now obsolete. The authors mature in the wild 1960s and 1970s, when they first encountered the sexual freedom they advocate. The first version of The integer girl appeared almost a quarter of a century ago, but adaptations to modern times have been kept to a minimum: a chapter in which Gen Z speaks. The word dating app is mentioned exactly once, and Grindr is never mentioned in an entire chapter on the gay community. The authors recommend personals and saunas as ideal meeting places.
More powerful are the chapters that highlight the psychological difficulties of romantic and sexual relationships. In a jealousy roadmap, the authors discuss thoughtful, concrete ways to remove the pressure from any relationship, monogamous or polyamorous, by acknowledging feelings of jealousy at rest instead of responding immediately to panic. The chapter on sex in practice is also good. The authors rightly highlight sexual exploration rather than penetration and orgasm, and that chapter could therefore fill a gap in high school sex education.
But those interested in sex and science can do better bonk (2008) by Mary Roach, which is much better written. For a more in-depth book on the history of sexual morality, visit Love lives (2021) by Carol Dyhouse rightly. And those who are interested in ‘the delicious cake that sexual diversity is’ would rather check out the series Sex education which is just as diverse and much more modern.
Janet W. Hardy and Dossie Easton: The Girl of Integrity – The Handbook of Polyamory. Translated from English by Karl van Klaveren and Indra Nathoe. ti Have; 440 pages; € 29.99.