We Do Need A Sex Strike
Leymah Gbowee was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for convincing warlords in Liberia to stop fighting, putting an end to the country’s brutal civil war.
How did she do it? By organising a sex strike.
Historically, mass movements of women refusing to have sex have had a lot of success in obtaining political gains. In 411 BC, the playwright Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata, a Greek comedy in which women boycotted sex to force the men to end the Peloponnesian war. Real-world women mimicked their fictional counterparts, and the “Lysistratic non-action protests” as they are now called brought an end to the war.
More recently, Polish women held a Sex-Strike when abortion was almost banned in 2016, and in 2006, female partners of gang members in the Colombian city of Pereira held back sex to demand a reduction in violence and civilian disarmament. According to the Global Nonviolent Action Database, the strike led to a drop of 26.5% of the murder rate in Pereira by 2010 — impressive in a city that had a homicide rate twice the national average when the sex strike began.
Their long history shows that sex strikes work, which may have been what actress and #MeToo activist Alyssa Milano was thinking when she called for a Sex Strike to protest Georgia’s new law which basically outlaws abortion. She tweeted:
“Until women have legal control over our own bodies we just cannot risk pregnancy, JOIN ME by not having sex until we get bodily autonomy back. I’m calling for a #SexStrike. Pass it on.”
The thing is, just because sex strikes work doesn’t make them desirable. The idea that women should “withhold” sex from men in order to change their behaviour insinuates that sex is only for men in the first place, and that women would miss it less than men. It feeds into the unhealthy narrative of women as providers of sex, and men as consumers. It adds fuel to the fire of men who pretend that women use sex to get stuff — from free drinks to jobs. (The fact that men buying women drinks is part of a rape culture mentality that women have to be intoxicated and tricked into bed, and that employers giving women work in exchange for sex is actuallu called sexual assault, is often ignored, the narrative screwed and twisted by Men’s Rights activists and internet’s resident idiots.)
Plus, the idea of bribing men to do the right thing with sex suggests that women’s only power comes from their vagina, and the desirability of their body. Women should not have to resort to sex in exchange to power — though, if this is the only avenue of power open to them in the face of systemic and institutional sexism, they may be right to use it.
Overall, Sex Strikes rely on too many sexist stereotypes to be an efficient means of action in the long run — even if they can be useful when no other tools are available.
There is, however, one Sex Strike which I am keen to see. One that involves sex.
Women should refrain from the sexual acts that bring male partners the most pleasure — penis in vagina penetration, blowjobs, anal or whatever, until those partners ensure that the woman gets an orgasm too. This would help bridge the orgasm gap and bring home the idea that both genders are entitled to pleasure during sex, and that each person should be thinking of the others pleasure as much as there own. Until this is the case, until women are getting as many orgasms as men, we need to withhold men’s pleasure.
And if history teaches us anything, a sex strike might just be the most efficient way of getting more straight men to take women’s pleasure seriously.