Earlier this month, Texas shocked the country when they enacted the “Texas Heartbeat Act,” which bans abortions after 6 weeks. This law effectively makes abortion illegal in their state, as many women are not aware they are even pregnant by 6 weeks. The average length of a woman’s cycle is 4 weeks, meaning that in truth, this new law only gives women TWO weeks to determine if they are pregnant and what they wish to do about that pregnancy. This is an incredibly difficult and important decision, and not one that can be rushed, especially in cases of sexual assault or incest. (There is no provision in the Heartbeat Act for women who became pregnant through rape and/or incest).
Additionally, many women have irregular or extra-long cycles, meaning that even if 28 days passes without a period, it’s not necessarily a cause of alarm, so these women wouldn’t rush out and buy a pregnancy test right away. Moreover, not every woman has access to pregnancy tests (the average test costs $10- $15, which is a lot for women on a tight income), let alone the transportation or the privacy to access and them utilize the test. (And, these tests are not foolproof. Many times, you can get a false negative, especially early on in the pregnancy).
And, even if the woman DOES discover she’s pregnant within that two-week timeframe after missing her period, she still has to find a doctor who is able to perform her abortion almost immediately, as well as find the funds and transportation to get to the appointment. And this all must happen (the discovery, the decision making, the money, the time off work/school) within 14 days or less (and it will be decidedly less in most cases).
So, yes, Texas has essentially made it impossible for most women to have reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. It’s terrifying to consider the ramifications of this action: Terrifying to consider the number of women who will undergo ‘backroom’ abortions or buy unsafe abortion pills online, as well as the sheer number of unwanted babies who are going to be born to women who don’t have the ability to care for them.
No wonder allies and activists across the country have united to speak up for Texas women and decry the far-reaching implications of this new abortion law. Celebrities have also joined the fight, including Bette Midler.
“I suggest that all women refuse to have sex with men until they are guaranteed the right to choose by Congress,” she tweeted.
And Nancy Sinatra tweeted back saying, “My dad actually suggested that decades ago.”
The idea of withholding sex as punishment is far from new or even modern. In the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata,” written by playwright Aristophanes in 411 B.C., the women refuse to have sex with men until the Peloponnesian War ends and peace rules the land.
At first glance, the idea sounds ingenious. After all, denying men sex ought to get their attention, right?
But I actually disagree with the idea of a sex strike for many reasons. One, it assumes that all men are sex-hungry, ravenous beasts who will be unable to function if they can’t have sex. This is harmful not only to men, but women as well: Because this type of attitude easily funnels into a ‘boys will be boys’ pipeline in which sexually aggressive or transgressive behavior by men is ignored or excused.
Two, it assumes that women don’t really enjoy sex the same way men do. That women primarily have sex out of a sense of a duty or obligation to their partners, rather than because they are actually really enjoying themselves. So, not only are women being stripped of their abortion rights, but now we are regressing back to the idea that women aren’t sexual beings who deserve and desire sexual pleasure as well?
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 Bette Midler 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.
I appreciate and applaud everyone who has spoken up for Texas women, even those who have suggested a sex strike. But 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.
To support Texas women have access to safe, legal abortions, go to Fund Texas Choice.