Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The One-Penis Policy column continues to generate a great deal of comment, both on the Stranger page and on various social-networking sites. I’m mildly surprised at the level of emotion my opinion seems to provoke in people. So – not that I think this is going to make the people who are upset about it feel any better – but let me just clarify a few points.

If you haven’t read the column, this will make no sense to you. Everything here is in relation to that article. Go read that, then come back.


First, note that we’re not talking about acknowledged, full-time D/s relationships, that’s a whole other discussion. Assume that 24/7 dominance and submission do not come into play here. I would have thought that since I didn’t mention D/s anywhere in the column, people would understand that it wasn’t a factor, but that seems to have been unclear.

I am not suggesting that the woman in the hypothetical couple is obligated to have sex with other men, okay? She gets to make that decision. And you know what, if she chooses not to sleep with other guys because she knows her male partner wouldn’t like it – well, that’s her choice.

Of course it’s her choice anyway. But there is a huge difference between your partner saying, “No way can you sleep with other men. I cannot handle that" and your partner saying, “It would be hard for me. I’d rather you didn’t. But the choice is yours.” One is pressure, and one is stating a preference.

We can get off on a whole tangent about how much influence it’s healthy to let your partner’s feelings have over your decision, but that’s a somewhat different conversation. I've heard the argument that it's a loving thing to do, that the woman in case is sacrificing her wishes to help ease her partner into polyamory. I'm not saying that can never be true.

(The woman-easing-man-into-poly idea actually amuses me greatly, given how that flies in the face of the myth that women don't really want to be poly, but men get them to be so unwillingly. Hah.)

So if a m/f couple said "Okay, for six months, she's going to date only other women, and then we'll see how that goes and how we feel," I would not think that was terrible. Setting a fixed time for the training period makes it much more palatable to me.

And notice also that he's not dating anyone. Although if he wanted to date other men, I think that would also be perfectly reasonable.

But a permanent system in which the man is explicitly permitted to fuck other women, but the woman is explicitly forbidden to fuck other men? How exactly is that easing anyone into anything?

I am utterly unimpressed with any talk about how it’s really about STDs or pregnancy. For one thing, both those can be controlled with a pretty high degree of success. Trust me on that, I’ve been doing it myself for years. Sexual health education, careful management, and planning ahead eliminate a lot of the risks in multiple-partner situations.

Besides, it takes two to pass an STD, or get someone pregnant. I find it hypocritical in the extreme that a man would want to have other female sexual partners himself – thus exposing them to those possible risks – but say it’s too much risk for his original partner. Frankly, I think that type of attitude should not be dignified with the name polyamory.

If the original piece pissed you off, what I’m going to say now will really inflame you: Just because two people are engaged in a certain system of behavior does not make it “all right, because it’s their choice.” There actually is such a thing as a bad personal choice.

So yes, I do think there are better ways and worse ways to run a relationship. Outside of consensual D/s, I think it’s inherently better to have as few “rules” as possible for other adult human beings that one is having an equal partnership with. I think that’s being controlling – not in the sexy way – and I think it negatively impacts both people involved.

I think if there’s an obvious inequity in the relationship, it should at the very least be openly discussed, and it should be a goal for both people to bring about a change to that.

And I think the basis for the One Penis Policy is basically insecurity and sexism.

Now, feeling of insecurity and sexism are both pretty common (to both men and women), and neither of those things makes someone a Bad Person. But they are traits that can be changed, and being less insecure and less sexist will make someone a better person.

Who am I to make all these judgments? I’m me. Who else would I need to be? I’m a person, I have an opinion, and I'm talking about it. Why shouldn't I? Obviously I have no power to compel anyone else’s choices, nor do I have any wish to. But that fact that people are getting upset that I dared to state this opinion is very interesting, isn’t it?

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