The One-Penis Policy (OPP), states that within a primary relationship, there can only be one penis. This means, within the context of consensual non-monogamy (CNM) that when you have sex with or date people outside of your relationship, those other partners must not have dicks.
If you’re active in the online dating realm, you’ve probably been hearing more about CNM — aka ethical non-monogamy or ENM — lately. The term “ethical non-monogamy” has seen a 213 percent spike in searches in the last year alone. Dating app Feeld attributes the surge in interest in non-monogamy to the pandemic’s impact on our relationships and the fact that “a lot of people and couples that were stuck at home started to question their relationship structures as a result of spending that time closed in together.”
What is the One-Penis Policy (OPP)?
According to non-monogamous sex expert and kink instructor Julieta Chiara, the OPP is also (jokingly) known as the “Monopoly on the Meat-stick Mandate.” And while this is a hilarious thing to call it, this “rule” within CNM dynamics has more issues than a newspaper stand.
A OPP tends to center the idea that penetrative sex with a penis is the only “real sex.” Meaning, it’s the only kind that actually counts. This is, of course, entirely untrue. “It operates on a false assumption that people with [penises] are more likely to be a threat to a relationship than people [with vulvas],” explains Nicoletta Heidegger, MA, MEd, MFT, a sex therapist and host of the Sluts and Scholars podcast. “It can also minimize and invalidate the connections and experiences between women/femmes.”
What is consensual non-monogamy?
Within a classic OPP: The penis is the center of everything. And if that sounds sketchy AF, that’s because it is. Of course, where there are controversial relational rules, there is always the need for a nuanced conversation. We will endeavor to embark on such a journey.
So, let’s break down what the One-Penis Policy actually is, when it could be sinister, if it’s ever OK to have one in relationships, and — and possibly most spicy of all – whether or not your partner’s insistence on an OPP could be grounds for a breakup.
“It operates on a false assumption that people with [penises] are more likely to be a threat to a relationship than people [with vulvas].”
As we’ve made pretty clear: The one-penis policy is when there can only be one ALMIGHTY PEEN!
While this dynamic is most often seen between a heterosexual cis-man and a bisexual or pansexual cis-woman, a male partner or a penis-owning partner may also be in a relationship with another male, trans, or non-binary partner, says Dr. Lee Phillips, Ed.D, a psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist.
The male partner’s penis is the only penis allowed when seeking sex or other partnerships. The implicit message here being: If you have a penis, you must be a man. (Again, not true).
And yes, a lot about this policy is dripping in heteropatriarchy (and misogyny).
Why is the One-Penis Policy problematic?
To be frank, the one-penis policy is simply unfair within a partnership (if both people aren’t 100 percent down). “One partner gets their cake and eats it too, while the other does not have the opportunity to explore another penis if they wish to,” Chiara says. The heterosexual male partner gets to go out and explore in any way he wants, while his (usually vulva-owning) partner is limited in what she is and isn’t allowed to do.
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Heidegger tells us that the OPP is rooted in some dark stuff. It comes out of patriarchal and misogynistic ideas of control and ownership of women and femme bodies. “Especially if the partner making or desiring the policy is allowed to have cross-gender experiences, but the other partner isn’t. It can be a double standard,” she says.
What’s more: The one-penis policy can be hella biphobic and transphobic. It literally does it all, folx! “[It] dismisses bisexuality (and limits the spectrum of it), belittles trans folks to their genitals, and usually caters to the misogynistic concept of men doing what they want and having their own rules (and women being limited),” Chiara says.
How to get started with non-monogamy
Within the OPP, trans women, non-binary, and all AMAB (assigned male at birth) folx are left in the lurch because not all people who have penises are men!
Why might someone try to enact the ‘one-penis policy’ in their relationship?
The reasons one partner or both partners might agree to the one-penis policy are going to vary widely (because people be complicated), but Philips says that the reason a penis-owning partner may enact an OPP is quite likely rooted in their own insecurities. “They may be jealous and afraid their partner may find [more] joy in other penises than their penis,” he says. “They may have body image issues regarding their penis size.” When a penis-owning partner ‘puts’ the OPP on their partner, it’s usually born out toxic masculine ideas of what it means to “be a man” and “what real sex looks like.”
When a penis-owning partner ‘puts’ the OPP on their partner, it’s usually born out toxic masculine ideas of what it means to “be a man” and “what real sex looks like.”
This high-key goes against the very tenants of CNM – which center autonomy and freedom. The one-penis policy, when used with the intention to control a partner’s behavior to make you feel more secure, is highly suspect.
Now, a quick note on when an AFAB (assigned female at birth) person may choose a one-penis policy for themselves. Perhaps they simply do not want to explore penetration with people other than their partner. This is their choice to make.
It’s really about the intention here, right? If we’re making solid, informed choices based on sexual freedom and autonomy, that’s A-OK.
Is it ever OK to have an OPP?
If you and your partner are cool with/want to have a one-penis policy, that’s your business. Only the two of you get to decide how your open relationship should function. So, if you’re both on board, yes, it’s OK to have an OPP.
With that being said, it would still be wise to interrogate why that is. Why does this feel OK or good to you? Is this the way you want to explore open relationships, or are you making concessions to keep your partner happy? What is your understanding of freedom in CNM dynamics? Would you be OK with never having another penis in your sex life again? Are you OK with your partner getting to have cross-gender experiences when you’re not?
Have non-monogamy labels on dating apps caused more harm than good?
Heidegger invites all people to compassionately question their choices in order to gain greater insights, grow, and be aware of internalized and systemic oppression. “The way we show up sexually and relationally is affected by the systems in which we exist; therefore, sometimes we just accept things as OK and/or our choice, when really we have been deeply influenced by these systems of injustice,” she explains.
These questions may be challenging, but they are worth exploring.
“The way we show up sexually and relationally is affected by the systems in which we exist; therefore, sometimes we just accept things as OK and/or our choice, when really we have been deeply influenced by these systems of injustice.”
How to discuss the ‘one-penis policy’ with your partner.
If your relationship currently has an OPP or your partner is trying to mandate an OPP, it’s time to get vulnerable and have some open and honest conversations. Heidegger says that the policy is often in place to avoid feeling or talking about uncomfortable emotions like jealousy.
But the only way we can better understand each other and our subjective reasoning is by talking to each other. If your partner can voice where the insecurities are stemming from, you can work to find solutions to soothe those feelings and foster security in your relationship, rather than throwing a blanket rule over the issue in an attempt to smother it.
Philips says that it can be helpful to review your consensual non-monogamy agreement often, in order to address disputes with assertive communication. He suggests the following example for bringing up these conversations: “I know we have the one-penis policy, and I want to know more about why we have this in place. Help me understand what you are feeling.”
When we approach conversations with empathy for each other, rather than harshness or judgment, we open the door for more fruitful conversations – that can hopefully lead to more agreeable solutions for everyone.
Is it OK to end a relationship if a partner wants a one-penis policy and refuses to budge?
The answer: Yeah, if your partner is insisting on an OPP and you’re not down – it’s completely fine if you want to walk away from the relationship. You’re allowed to cut your losses and go seek out a relationship that is more in-line with your values and needs.
“This is absolutely grounds for ending a relationship since it messes with something big: a power inequality,” Chiara says. “If you’re not both on board, it’s time to part ways.”
You should never feel pressured or coerced into certain behaviors in order to make a partner happy. That isn’t how egalitarian partnerships work. Everyone deserves to have the relationships and sex lives that give them joy.
Sex & Relationships