Alyssa Milano, an actress who has been a valiant fighter for progressive causes, has taken a decidedly conservative view with her recent demand for American women to undertake a “sex strike.” The idea is that women ought not to risk pregnancy until they have “legal control” over their bodies.
This has previously been a tune that only Christian conservative women have been singing, and it is somewhat ironic that Milano is taking up the banner for women to practice abstinence if they don’t want to get pregnant. It’s almost as though the ideas make common sense. Go figure.
Probably Milano wasn’t aware that the ideas she was suggesting were aligned with the conservative Christian women’s movement, or she may not have gone on the record as endorsing the view that women shouldn’t screw if they’re not up for the consequences.
Sex Strikes, Modern and Ancient
Milano is not the first American celebrity in recent years to call for women to boycott sex until women’s bodies and rights are fully respected. In an interview with Marie Claire in 2017, Janelle Monáe advocated for women to go on a sex strike, saying that “people need to start respecting the vagina.”
Outside of the United States, sex strikes have been effective. But while those—like the successful strike in Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata”—were in demand for peace from either ongoing war, or gang violence, neither Milano nor Monáe’s call have any definable program.
Respect for the vagina and a demand for women to have legal control over their bodies are not particularly measurable results. Body parts, in and of themselves, are not something for which respect is warranted. Does anyone respect the penis? Is that something we’re supposed to do also?
And in terms of Milano’s call for women to have legal control over their bodies, there is a distinct difference between autonomy in action and autonomy from consequences. There is no autonomy from consequences. How people behave with their bodies affects those bodies, including the potential for pregnancy.
Additionally, Milano does not live in a state with new abortion restrictions, such as Georgia and Ohio. Does she imagine that a sex strike in New York or California, where there are so many more progressive women who might heed her call, would have any great effect on the voters in other states?
Same Response to Old Idea
Lysistrata, the title character in Aristophanes’ ancient comedy, undertakes a similar plan. She gathers together the women from all sides of the fighting, both Spartan and Athenian, in hopes that, through extreme measures, the women can succeed in peace where their warring menfolk have failed.
Lysistrata: Ladies, if we want to force our husbands to make peace, we must give up- [She hesitates.]
Calonice: What must we give up? Go on … If need be, we’ll lay down our lives for it.
Lysistrata: Very well then. We must give up sex. [Strong murmurs of disapproval, shaking of heads, etc…] Why are you turning away from me? Where are you going? What’s all this pursing of lips and shaking of heads mean? You’re all going pale—I can see tears! Will you do it or won’t you? Answer!
Myrrhine: I won’t do it. Better to let the war go on.
Calonice: I won’t do it either. Let the war go on … I’ll walk through the fire, or anything—but give up sex, never! Lysistrata, darling, there’s just nothing like it.
Such was the response to Milano’s call for a sex strike as a means of changing the recently passed “heartbeat law” in Georgia. She tweeted: “Our reproductive rights are being erased. 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.”
On that same thread, rife with pushback, she states “Be super careful. Sex is extremely dangerous for women. No matter who it’s with.”
Women Want Sex, Too
The comments in response to this missive were much like those of the women of Aristophanes’ comedy, who wanted nothing more than peace, unless that meant no sex. That is, of course, the other problem with Milano’s drive for a sex strike. Many women aren’t ashamed anymore to admit that they want sex as much as men do.
The same contemporary, progressive women who are the target of Milano’s tweet are the ones who have been attempting to reverse the idea that men are the only ones interested in sex. They don’t want to be the gatekeepers of sex, but equal and willing participants. For these women to withhold it for political reasons would be an admission of the anti-feminist idea that men are after sex, and it’s up to women to be chased and to grant access based not on desire, attraction, love, or any of those things, but upon political worthiness. Weird.
In one fell swoop, Milano has embraced conservative ideas about traditional sex roles and considering the consequences of sex before engaging in it. She has also indulged in the kind of fear tactics that keep men and women in contemporary society from trusting one another, with her claim that “sex is extremely dangerous for women.” If sex is that scary, it’s no wonder Milano thinks women should avoid it. If women were to take up this sex strike, eschewing pregnancy like so many birth strikers, there would be far fewer abortions anyway.
In advocating for this revolutionary concept of women withholding sex from men in order to attain bodily autonomy, Milano has stumbled backwards into the realm of Christianity. The Christian perspective posits that the way for women to attain bodily autonomy is to not give away sex outside of marriage, to not risk pregnancy unless they have a loving partner, and to be aware of the dangers of ignoring the consequences of sexual activity outside of committed relationships.
Milano probably had a much more female-forward concept in mind, but what she doesn’t realize is that, with regard to safeguarding their sexual intentions, females have been forward for centuries.