Why a Sex Strike is Problematic


You may be aware by now of Alyssa Milano’s Sex strike, but if not, allow me to enlighten you:

sex strike www.callmeharlot.com

Alyssa Milano is the epitome of white feminism, and from her highly privileged platform as a celebrity and as the ACLU’s reproductive justice advocate (omg, why) she decided to respond to Georgia’s draconian abortion ban by purposing a sex strike. This sex strike, as the name implies, encourages women to stop having sex until we all reproductive justice. 

Excuse me, but what the fuck did you just say?

Sexual autonomy is not synonymous with bodily autonomy! 

Let me repeat that again: sexual autonomy is not synonymous with bodily autonomy!

While there is overlap, they are not the same. It’s a Venn diagram, people!

As soon as Milano purposed this sexist, misogynistic, LGBTQIA exclusive, whoremisic and reductive sex strike, the people of Twitter spoke and justifiably ripped into Milano. Many of my immediate friends are sex workers who rolled their eyes hard. However, for those who may be confused or curious about why the sex strike is problematic, allow me to explain. 

Milano frames abortion as a cishetero women’s issue, when that is simply not the case. Any person with a uterine reproductive system may become pregnant, this includes Transmen, non-binary and gender non conforming individuals. By framing a sex strike within a cis heterosexual lens, Milano excludes the LGBTQIA population and implies that heterosexual women are subjected sex to rather than enthusiastic participants. And funnily enough, in a horrifying way, men outed themselves as rapists or self-absorbed sexual partners by claiming, in their experience, that women have never been keen on having sex. 

Which brings me to this truth bomb: sex strikes do not prevent or stop sexual assaults!

A sex strike implies that a women’s primary function is to be body for cishet men to have sex with. 

The absolute worse part of a sex strike is how it directly feeds misogyny. It suggests that women refusing to have sex is in some way a protest, akin to workers striking for higher pay or fairer working conditions. A woman withholding sex, aka their “labor,” to pressure for change confirms the fallacy that a person’s worth (in this case a woman’s), lies solely in their sexuality - and feeds the stereotype that women don’t enjoy sex for pleasure.

But this is not a case where people coming together will have an impact. Women are not about to achieve the power of 1970s trade unions any more than we can bring Lysistrata, a classical Greek play where women deny men sex and men walk around moaning how their life is tragic, to life. To suggest this as a solution is not only misguided but also dangerous in itself, and in my opinion feeds into the beliefs of Incels

Believe it or not, "Incel,” or involuntarily celibate, was a term coined by a Queer Toronto woman, Alana, in the 90s to give a name to how she was feeling at the time. It morphed into something horrific. During an interview with Elle Magazine in the March 2016 issue, Alana is quoted saying:

I can’t uninvent this word, nor restrict it to the nicer people who need it.

Alana started a community with good and genuine intentions, a home for all Incels, where rigid gender norms and lack of openness around sexuality burdened everyone, especially in the early 90s. There were and are so many ways for people to end up lonely. From awkwardness to mental illness, to over-investment in the illusion of “normal.”

However, since the dawn of time, men did to the Incel movement what they always do: they hijacked it. Men began to identify as being “involuntarily celibate,” not because of awkwardness or mental illness or disability, because of misogyny.

Self-described Incels today are almost entirely men who are laser-focused on their inability to have sex and blame women when they can’t get laid. So I feel that the many sex educators I know who are spreading the “joke” that we all should “mind fuck” Incels, by congratulating them on their participation in the sex strike is inherently problematic, just like Alyssa Milano.

Because the analogy of Lysistrata fails to acknowledge the possibility that women derive any standalone pleasure from sex – something feminists have been fighting until very recently to even have recognized by the social and medical establishment (the clitoris was virtually erased from female anatomy until 1998. Actual facts provided by my surgeon partner [thanks babe]).

Women still struggle to advocate for their own autonomy, consent and pleasure when it comes to sex with men. They’re consistently judged on their sexual appeal to men. The idea that all women’s power lies in their sexuality is one of the most pervasive evils of a patriarchal society – and this is precisely what Milano is reinforcing. 

So what can you do to protest the abortion bans?

  1. Well, if you have a penis: get a vasectomy! They are non-invasive and are 100% reversible! If you are Transgender, have a penis and are taking estrogen: hate to explain this but no, being on Hormone Replacement Therapy will not prevent pregnancy! 

  2. Donate to the Yellow Fund! The Yellow Fund helps the marginalized people gain access to abortion healthcare.

  3. Donate to Planned Parenthood!

  4. Advocate for the Safe-Access Zones, a designated area outside of clinics that prevents the protest and harassment of Anti-Choicers. And no, these Safe Zones are not an infringement of free speech, you can still be a morally bankrupt individual, but OUTSIDE the Safe Zone.

  5. Spread the word far and wide about aidaccess.org

  6. Call your representatives!

  7. Donate to the ACLU as they fight the unconstitutional abortion bans.

  8. Advocate for inclusive, trauma-informed, and scientifically based sex education curriculum! 

There is so much you can do, but first and foremost, in my opinion, stop putting all the responsibility on those with uteruses. In the words of Iliza Shlesinger from Elder Millennial:

Fucking do something, Scott!

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Bethany Killen (she/her), whose time spent finding ways to navigate through her own personal struggles led her to pursue a career in social work.

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