My thoughts on Alyssa Milano’s ‘sex strike’ idea
Alyssa Milano angered some women this week when she suggested a “sex strike” as a way to get lawmakers’ attention when it comes to egregious changes to abortion law in states like Alabama. (Click here to hear my most recent episode of Too Risque for Radio, where I talk about these new anti-abortion bills and how Americans can come together on this issue).
On her Twitter account, Milano mentioned the #SexStrike as a possible way for women to gain power and traction in their fight for bodily autonomy and basic human dignity.
Now, I love Alyssa Milano. I think she has been so brave and utterly inspiring in her work fighting for justice for sexual abuse survivors, and she made the #MeToo movement that much more powerful and meaningful thanks to her famous voice.
But, frankly…I HATE the idea of a sex strike! Now, I know what you’re thinking “Big surprise, a sex therapist doesn’t want people to stop having sex,” and well…yes, you’re right. My field of work has made it so clear to me that sex is a basic human need for both men AND women.
The problem with Milano’s sex strike is that it assumes that most women don’t really enjoy sex. That we do out of a sense of a duty or obligation to our partners, which should never be the case in a mutually satisfying relationship. So, not only are we being stripped of our rights across the country and losing control over our bodies and our lives, but now we also don’t get to enjoy orgasms? Talk about a double whammy.
When we ask women to go on strike in the bedroom, we are making a lot of assumptions. First, we are assuming that all women are cis and heterosexual women, and next, we are assuming that these women have sex out of a sense of duty to their spouses, not because they actually enjoy it or because they are sexual, vibrant human beings in their own right.
Additionally, the idea that a woman can or should use sex to punish or control her partner is not only unfair to the woman, but also to the man…as if the only way a man can be forced to think clearly and compassionately is if he loses access to sexual pleasure.
It’s likely Milano was inspired by similar sex strikes, such as when activist Leymah Gbowe inspired a non-violent resistance in order to help restore peace in war-torn Liberia. But Gbowe’s actions and those of the women who joined in her sex strike occurred within a very specific context. They were making do with the limited power they had, but here in America, women have ways to become much greater agents of change.
Sexual pleasure is a human need the same as eating or breathing, and this is true regardless of your gender or sexual orientation. We should not be asked to deny a basic human function in order to have our voices heard by lawmakers.
Alyssa Milano has such a strong and valuable voice, and her work for women and especially sexual assault victims is incredible. But we need to change the narrative about women and sexual pleasure in this country, and until we do, we are going to continue seeing our bodily autonomy and our rights slip away.
Instead of going on a sex strike, we need to use our bodies and our voices in ways that feel empowering, pleasurable and meaningful, whether that means choosing to have sex or choosing not to have sex. It needs to be a personal choice, not a political choice…our bedrooms are not the place where bills pass or fail, but the place where we give and receive love and enjoy meaningful connection with our partners.
Sex strikes simply aren’t a realistic or progressive solution, and until we start asking men to give up sex in exchange for their right to medical care, we need to stop asking women to do so.