Why I’m Not a Fan of One Penis Policy

a picture of 2 crutches leaning against a wall - the top half of the wall is white paint, the bottom half is brick
Image by Anthony Crider / CC BY

“I’d be okay with you getting a girlfriend. But no other dudes, okay?” he says.

“Okay,” she says. Outwardly, she smiles. She’s glad to have the freedom to pursue other women.

But as soon as he leaves the room, her smile starts to fade. She’s not sure what, but something doesn’t feel quite right.

No Penis? No Problem

A heterosexual man and a bisexual woman open up their relationship to new partners. But there’s one catch. They’re both only allowed to date women.

It’s such a common practice that it has its own name: The One Penis Policy.

I’m not a fan of One Penis Policy. And I’m not alone in this. A lot of poly people take it as a really bad sign. If somebody only wants one male partner, fine, that’s on them. I personally get dicked out really fast and date fewer men than women. But to have it as a rule? That I couldn’t date boys? Yuck.

I would hesitate to date someone who had a One Penis Policy with their partner. Why? Well, it could signal that my soon-to-be metamour hasn’t handled their insecurities (and isn’t willing to).  Been there, done that, reluctant to do again.

There are many other reasons that polyamorous folks have a distaste for One Penis Policy. Here are a few common ones:

  • Because same sex relationships among women are considered less threatening, One Penis Policy implies that these relationships are somehow lesser than heterosexual ones. Or that the only kind of “real” sex is PIV (penis in vagina).
  • OPP is usually predicated on the idea that gender is binary (and determined solely by genitalia) and other ideas that effectively erase transgender and nonbinary individuals.
  • It is basically the definition of a double standard.

And another way that I find a One Penis Policy to be particularly unfair? It results in lopsided emotional labor.

One Penis Policy = Lopsided Emotional Labor

Many men find that their fears of being replaced are stronger when their partners are dating other men. But when their partners are dating other women? It doesn’t threaten them in quite the same way.

As I mentioned in an earlier piece, women in particular are disproportionately expected in their personal lives to provide emotional labor to others (even strangers). To manage our own emotions in a way that makes whoever we are talking with comfortable, to attend to the need of others and provide emotional support.

One penis policy is another manifestation of this pattern: In order to spare their straight male partners discomfort, bisexual women are expected to suppress their attractions to opposite sex partners. Or at least refrain from exploring those possible connections. And at the same time, they must still work through their own insecurities and fears of being replaced as their partner dates people of their same gender.

Or, in another sense, women are expected yet again to expend energy exercising self-control and facing their insecurities so that their men won’t have to perform emotional labor by working through their own insecurities.

Folks, it’s 2017. C’mon.

Can’t we do better?

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Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory

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1 Comment

  1. A question; as a married man with a bi-sexual wife, I have no problem with the idea of her dating other women. To a certain point the idea turns me on, even if I’m not involved. However I’m uncomfortable thinking of her with other men.

    Is this hypocritical? Absolutely; for all the reasons you mention and more. That said, no matter how much I listen to Dan Savage and try to be an ethical feminist, I get an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach with the thought of my wife dating other men.

    She has told me that she doesn’t have much of an interest in dating men, but hypothetically could see herself going with women. I do not want to be that dude who asks for a one-penis relationship (although my wife has hinted she wouldn’t mind if she didn’t know – she said something along the lines of “if something happens it happens but DADT”). She’s likes the idea of a unicorn situation, but I’m not a stunner, and neither of us are good at dating, so we know how unlikely it is to wander into such a situation.

    TLDR; Is it it ethical to give my carte blanch to date other women, but not stay monogamous myself? Is it weird? Is it a bad idea?

    Thanks for your time.

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