My partner is only okay with me dating women, but can't explain why.

I have a poly relationship with my bf. First he said I could date women but not men (I am pan). Because then he would be jealous. Now I like a man and told my bf, we fought. I don't get it? Why would he be jealous of men and not women I asked him and he doesn't know. Do you have any idea?

First off, if your partner doesn't know how to talk about what's going on in their head, it's okay to ask them to do more introspective self-work. "I have this feeling that I'm going to ask you to act on, but I can't explain what it means or where it's coming from" is a non-starter as far as I'm concerned. This is what I mean when I'm always recommending introspection and self-work. Sitting with your thoughts and feelings, examining their contours, finding words for them - this is a requirement for healthy polyamory. If you're going to act as if your feelings are facts and let them dictate the terms of your reality and your relationships, you should have a solid understanding of what they mean and where they're coming from.

Your partner is asking for something called a One Penis Policy, or OPP. This is common in relationships where the 'primary' couple is a man and a woman, and the woman identifies as bi or pan. Men tend to be more jealous of, and feel more threatened by, other men. It often comes from internalized ideas that penis-in-vagina sex is "real" sex, and therefore two women having sex is somehow less "real," and therefore less threatening. It also comes from assumptions about partnerships, where "the man" is the one in control or in possession of "the woman." Therefore, another woman wouldn't be a threat, but another man would. 

Even if your partner isn't overtly sexist or possessive, these assumptions are super common in our culture and worm their way into the way we think about reality. To most people, i's not an opinion or a worldview, it's just "how things are."

You and your partner should do some reading about OPPs (also called One Dick Rules, or ODRs) in polyamory. You can start here and here. Encourage him to find words for his feelings and start thinking about how he can explain them to you and work out how to manage them in the contect of your polyamorous relationship.

Of course, no one is obligated to, and many people are not able to, research and rationalize themselves out of their fears and feelings. Your partner may choose to just hold to this rule, citing his discomfort. He has the right to choose not to try and 'get over' his feelings, and he may try his hardest and still find it impossible. You can only control your choices: whether you want to stay in a relationship with these terms. 

How can I actually start working on my issues around OPPs?

I've found a great many articles about OPP and why it does nothing helpful, but I'm having difficulty finding anything on eliminating or overcoming the feelings that lead to the "need" of an OPP in the first place. I think/feel I may be poly, I think my wife is poly, but before I broach this with her, I want to get these jealousies and insecurities under control first. Could you offer any strategies or point me somewhere that can help me? Thank you!

I absolutely love this question - this is one of my favorite questions I've ever gotten. Short of popping over to your closest liberal arts college for a quick minor in gender studies and queer theory, there's a lot you can do and read to try interrogating the feelings and assumptions behind an OPP!

There are a lot of strategies from CBT/DBT to help you examine this - there is a delicate "switch point" where a feeling becomes a fact, and it's in that point that you'll be doing most of the work.

"I feel threatened" becomes "This thing makes me feel threatened" becomes "This thing is threatening me" becomes "This thing is inherently dangerous and should be avoided for my own safety."  And it's totally understandable that we go through that unconscious process - we have to be able to rely on our perception of the world! But sometimes, assumptions and prejudices warp what feels like simple observations.

You can try and stop that nearly automatic thought process with awareness and intentionality. When a feeling-fact comes up, ask yourself:

  • Where did this information come from?
  • What is the evidence for and against?
  • What would the world look like if that was true?
  • Does the world look like that?
  • What else might be true?
  • How does this thought make me want to act?
  • How might I act if something else was true? 

I think it also helps to be aware of where certain ideas come from. Again, things often seem like "facts" because they're just floating around in our world being taken for granted, but they become much easier to challenge when you can actually see them as products of a specific worldview rather than just how the world works. 

  • When you were growing up, what were you told about men, masculinity, and male sexuality?
  • What were you told about women, femininity, and female sexuality?
  • How were you taught to understand gender and sexuality?
  • What messages from songs, movies, books, and culture have you internalized?
  • How do you interpret your own sexual feelings and desires?
  • What of your own thoughts and feelings might you be projecting onto a theoretical other man? Where did those thoughts and feelings come from?

Imagination and thought exercises are also powerful tools:

  • Think about your partner having sex with a man. What feelings come up?
  • In this image, how similar is the scenario to your partner having sex with you (assuming you are a man)? How different is it? 
  • Think about your partner having sex with a woman. What feelings come up?
  • What feels different to you, between the two?
  • Why does it feel different?
  • How might you feel about your partner seeing a trans man? A trans woman?
  • In each case, what is your best-case-scenario? What is your worst-case scenario?

It might seem cheesy, but journaling about these questions - actually brainstorming and writing down what you actually think and where you think those thoughts came from - can really help. Sometimes, getting into the nitty gritty of what you actually think and why can help you let go of assumptions that aren't really well supported or aren't serving you.

Sometimes, those pesky feeling-facts will stick around longer, refusing to dissipate just because you took them into the light. But they will be much easier to talk about, find resources for, and work on once you have a better sense of what they are and where they come from.

I looked around for poly-centric resources on actually working past the worldview that gives rise to an OPP, and you're right - most just explain why OPPs are bad but don't give a clear roadmap out of the OPP braintraip. This article is the closest I got. Hopefully people in the future can also find this blog post - thanks, letter-writer, for actually asking this super important question!

Postscript: I am tempted to get in deep on my personal philosophy about OPPs, how my polyamory is wrapped deeply in with my radical politics. To give just one example, male" is often associated with "property owner" and "female" is often coded as "property to be possessed," so interrogating OPPs might also mean looking into anti-capitalist thinking and understanding how our concepts of gender and capital are all intertwined; how understanding the fundamental assumptions of our culture goes so much deeper than just figuring out how to make non-monogamy work - but I wanted to keep this answer pretty open and leave it as a guide to pursue your own self-work. If ideas about righteousness and sin; or abandonment and families; or economic ownership, or other sociocultural concepts come up for you while thinking on these questions, there are tons of resources out there to dive deeper into whatever you're most interested in. 

How can I talk to my husband about the OPP in our relationship?

I saw your last post about the OPP and realize that’s what me and my husband have. Do you have any resources on how my husband can get over his hangups over the OPP? I want to help him work through this because I love him so much and want to stay married to him, but I also don’t want to not be who I am.

The two articles linked in my longest post on this issue are the ones I'd endorse as starting points.

Start from a place of openness and gentleness, asking questions to help both of you understand where his OPP is coming from. Help each other give language to your needs, your desires, how you see your relationship, how you frame the openness of the relationship, your fears, etc. For a lot of people, being asked to explain just what threatens them about a man vs a woman helps them realize that there isn't really anything they can identify - it's just an underlying assumption they never questioned.

For a long time, I thought I didn't like coffee cake. I can't stand coffee, and coffee cake seemed to always go with coffee. Adults liked it, and I didn't like adult things like almonds and red wine and mushrooms. I kinda figured it tasted like coffee, and the crumbly bits on top looked like other things I don't like. So I just moved through life as a person who didn't like coffee cake. I turned it down when it was offered and never thought much about it otherwise. Until someone asked me: "you don't like coffee cake? Why?" And I said "Well I don't like coffee, so..." and they explained that coffee cake tastes like cinnamon and sugar and loveliness. And so I tried some. And now I like coffee cake. Well, now I know that I like coffee cake.

The point is that we all move through life with assumptions that we think are empirical facts, but are really just things we absorbed somewhere that may or may not be true. They're amalgamations of messages we've gotten from other people, from the media, one-off experiences, and misinterpretations. A lot of beliefs that stem from mono-normativity and hetero-normativity and cis-normativity fall into this category. They seem true because they seem true. But they don't stand up to actual scrutiny. 

All that said, keep in mind that although there are lots of good articles out there about how to interrogate and challenge the mindset that leads to OPPs, it's best to let go of "get your husband to get over his hangups" as a goal. You can have the perfect conversation, share with him the ideal article, have a wonderful metaphor in your head, be totally awesome at deconstructing the ideas behind OPPs - and there's still no guarantee that you can change another person's mind. For a lot of people, those internalized assumptions are their truth, and the feelings and values attached to them are just too strong.

Stay focused on what you can control - your own choices. If he won't or can't change what his boundaries are, and if a relationship with those conditions isn't healthy or fulfilling for you, then you may need to make some changes for yourself.

Where can I find more info about this blog's thoughts on OPPs?

Do you have more resources, on or about your perspective in the "one penis policy" thing?

My non-tumblr homepage has a search feature on the right side of the page - so anyone curious for more from me on a specific topic can start there! I've written about OPP style thinking a few times, but here is the post where I include some links and discuss my personal perspective on this topic.

My partner only wants me to date women, but I also want to date men

Is it normal/fair for my boyfriend of a year and a half (who has been pushing for us to attempt poly/open relationship since we started dating) to restrict me from dating my preferred sex while he can still date his preferred sex? I feel this tears at me because he encourages me to be with women, but the idea of being open is also making me attracted to men and the whole ordeal is causing some inner turmoil for me.

Is it normal? If you define "normal" as "common," then yes - this sounds like a "one penis policy" or "one dick rule," and those are relatively common. Does that make it fair or okay? No. It's not really a good benchmark for appropriate behavior to ask whether other people do it. 

I think such "restrictions" in open relationships are pretty stupid - they betray a lot of assumptions on the part of the person setting them that aren't really based on reality and are pretty arbitrary. There is nothing about sex with a man that is more emotionally threatening than sex with a woman, unless you decide that it is, because you think that it is, because your perspective is warped by weird misconceptions about gender and sexuality. Your partner thinks he is keeping himself "safe" from something if you only date women - but that makes no sense. Safe from what, exactly? Those misconceptions deserve to be interrogated rather than indulged. 

So now you have me, an internet advice blogger, confirming what you already know: that these relationship terms are not working for you. The problem is not you being unreasonable while your partner asks something entirely fair, reasonable, and valid. Now your job is to do something with this information. Have a chat with your partner about where this comes from and what the two of you can do to help address the real root of his feelings and fears - not by scapegoating an arbitrary trait of potential partners. And if he continues to hold that something is non-negotiable when it's really bothering you, then you have clear information about whether the terms of this relationship will work for you.