According to OKCupid, 39% of their users are willing to be in an open relationship with the right person. With the increased popularity of nonmonogamy, trends of open relationships that are rooted in sexism are increasing. Many couples who first open their relationships have an extremely harmful rule- the one penis policy.
In an effort to protect themselves from jealousy and insecurity people in these open relationships agree to open their relationship, but only if their partner only dates people of the gender opposite of themselves.
Typically, one penis policies involve a straight cisgender man and a bisexual cisgender woman. There are exceptions, but overwhelmingly this gender combination is the trend. Basically, the cis man wants to be the only penis in his partner’s life as a way to control the relationship and his partner.
Opening relationships to see other people can be scary and often couples are tempted to construct rules to protect their feelings, but often these rules are ineffective and unethical.
The one penis policy is not actually protecting anyone’s feelings.
The one penis policy acts as a crutch for insecurity and jealousy. Instead of working on overcoming insecurity the one penis policy perpetuates sexism, trans- exclusion, and anti- LGBTQIA+ attitudes.
1. The OPP Oversimplifies Gender and Is Trans-exclusionary
The term “one penis policy” is in itself exclusionary because it assumes only allowing your partner to have your penis in their life is synonymous with only having one male partner. Both the name and practice of OPP are trans-exclusionarily. Men aren’t the only people with penises and not all men have penises.
Additionally, the one penis policy oversimplifies gender. The idea of the OPP is that one partner can only date the opposite gender. However, there is no “opposite” gender because gender is not a binary. Men choosing who their partner dates based on the potential new partner’s gender is sexist in a big way. Gender should not affect how okay someone is with their partner dating because relationships between all genders (or absence of gender) are all valuable and legitimate.
2. Male Privilege & Cisgender Men Make The Rules
The one penis policy’s name is not a coincidence. Usually, the rule is made by cis-men with penises and the OPP has deep roots in toxic masculinity. Often men are allowed to sleep with any gender they want (which usually is just women) while their girlfriends can only sleep with women, despite an existing attraction to other off-limit genders.
Any dating rule with a double standard for men and women is a problem. OPP is a step away from gender equality and another form of male privilege. Men should not continue to be in control of women’s sexuality whether they are in a relationship or not.
One member of a relationship making decisions for both or all people is unacceptable.
Another example of male privilege showing up in nonmonogamy is polygamy. The differences between polygamy and polyamory are complicated. However, often in polygamy men make all decisions for their female partners. The man in the relationship gets to have multiple partners, but all his partners must be faithful to only him.
OPP is not all that different from polygamy. Men allowing their partner to date only who they choose is a less extreme example of how even in alternative relationships escaping sexism and patriarchal control of women is difficult.
3. Devalues Real Relationships
During my attempt at monogamy, I was in an open relationship with a one penis policy. At first, I was excited to have a partner who was willing to try an open relationship. After a while, the hypocrisy began to weigh on me.
Why was my partner okay with me dating women and not men?
When I asked he claimed my relationships with women “didn’t count,” as if it were obvious. I was astonished and dismayed. I made the assumption that since he knew I was bisexual he was supportive of same- sex relationships. Supportive was absolutely the wrong word.
Even though he was not openly hateful towards relationships between women he also didn’t recognize the value of relationships between women. The very fact that he was more threatened by potential relationships with men than women was a red flag that he saw relationships between women as less legitimate.
The one penis policy is a quieter form of discrimination against gay/ bisexual couples that is still harmful.
Saying my relationship did not count was insulting to my sexual identity and every relationship between women or other marginalized genders. Relationships between two women do count, they are just as legitimate as heterosexual relationships, and the penis policy minimizes that.
4. Sexualizes Legitimate Relationships
Along with the one penis policy devaluing relationships between women it also sexualizes relationships between women.
It is no secret that many men are turned on by “girl on girl action.” For example, “lesbian” dominates this map of porn searches.
The problem is that this preoccupation goes beyond the porn folder. When relationships between two women are commonly sexualized it affects the women in the relationship.
Sexualizing equally legitimate relationship is dehumanizing for those involved.
The catcalling, whooping, and sexual invitations towards same-sex woman couples have gotten entirely out of hand. In fact, I have multiple same-sex partners and friends who will not participate in public displays of affection with their girlfriend because they are so jaded by these experiences. Same sex couples need to be taken seriously and be able to act as any heterosexual couple does without fear of sexual harassment.
The one penis policy is commonly put into place with this mindset of sexualizing their partner’s relationship. This other relationship turns them on- so they allow it. This is so problematic because in doing so they diminish their partner’s legitimate relationship to masturbation material and dehumanize their partner in the process.
5. OPPs Are Controlling
A lot of unhealthy behaviors are common and romanticized in romantic relationships. One of these is seeing and treating partners as possessions rather than autonomous people. When sexism is added to these attitudes OPP is the result. OPP is an extension of men trying to control women. Too often, men see their women as one of their possessions to control and this attitude seeps into their relationships.
OPP is an extension of men trying to control women. Too often, men see their women as one of their possessions to control and this attitude seeps into their relationships. Sexism contributes to this attitude being normalized and even romanticized.
Fortunately, in some cases, this controlling, possessive attitude can be unlearned. Some men are oblivious to their sexism and when they realize that OPP is problematic they correct their behavior.
Cisgender men who decide the one penis policy is necessary put a little too much value in their penis. Many see sex between women as unthreatening without acknowledging that the sex between women can be just as good- or even better (most women actually know where the clitoris is.)
What people who participate in the OPP fail to realize is that adding another penis to the relationship isn’t going to make their partner leave them any more than a vagina might. Their hurtful policy isn’t actually protecting anyone.
I have heard claims that the OPP can be ethical if everyone involved wants the same thing. However, it is always unethical to rely on a rule that is hurtful to women, transgender people, and same- sex relationships between women. Our sexist society may even lead women in OPP relationships to believe that OPP is really what they want or what they deserve. Because sexism is difficult to detangle, it is impossible to tell if this is the truth or if internalized misogyny is at play. Due to this, the OPP should always be avoided in an attempt at more ethical relationships.
Open and clear communication as well as taking open relationships slow are a much more ethical solution to the fears and insecurities that come with opening a relationship than implementing rules to control other’s behavior.