My activism does not include celibacy, what's your next idea? 

By Maria Del Russo
May 13, 2019 @ 3:15 pm
John Bazemore/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Over the weekend, actress Alyssa Milano announced that she was going on a sex strike, and encouraged other women to join her. “Our reproductive rights are being erased,” she tweeted. “Join me by not having sex until we get bodily autonomy back.” The tweet included a graphic that said, “if our choices are denied, so are yours.” Although the tweet didn’t reference it directly, Milano’s proposal was in response to an extremely restrictive anti-abortion law recently signed in Georgia, which bans abortion as early as six weeks (before most people know they’re pregnant).

I’ve been fortunate enough to never have needed an abortion, but I am staunchly pro-choice. Humans are entitled to bodily autonomy, and I see the choice of when and whether to pursue pregnancy as part of that. You’d think Alyssa Milano — an outspoken advocate of the #MeToo movement in Hollywood — and I would be on the same side of this conversation, and you’d be right. She’s been a great ally to various causes over the years, but this particular idea, in this case, is not really helpful.  

My biggest issue with the sex strike is pretty simple: I, like many women, enjoy having sex, and having bodily autonomy means being able to engage in that act consensually whenever I want. By saying that I’m going to withhold sex from my partner, I’m playing into a power imbalance that has fueled misogynistic rhetoric since the beginning of time: Sex is something that men take and women give (perhaps begrudgingly). It reinforces the idea that women use sex as a weapon — that our desire and pleasure are beside the point. (Or, in some people’s eyes, not even a thing to consider.) It’s just a bargaining chip to get men to do what we want, like the dishes and laundry and pass laws that won’t cause us to die, please and thank you.

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A sex strike also feeds into the toxic idea that women don’t actually enjoy sex. That we begrudgingly roll over and let men take it from us because that’s the natural order of things. But like I said before, I love sex. I’ll go on record right now by saying that f—king is one of my favorite things to do. It’s a joy. So the idea that I need to punish myself, a woman who loves sex, by depriving myself of one of my basic pleasures, in order to teach men a lesson is ridiculous.

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Any man should recognize this, too. The only men I allow inside of me are men who recognize this. If you are on Team #SexStrike, what kind of dudes are you sleeping with who need to be taught a lesson in this way? Anyone who can only see you and your decisions over your own body as real after you’ve withheld sex from them is a man you should cast out of your life immediately. For that matter: Maybe don’t sleep with men who support policies that actively endanger your life? Setting that baseline standard of who gets to have sex with you doesn't have to be a sex strike, so much as it's being appropriately choosy about whom you allow into your bed.

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Milano’s proposed strike also contributes to the erasure of the LGBTQIA community in conversations around reproductive rights and health care. Cisgender, straight women aren’t the only people who need access to abortion and the kind of health care this new law directly threatens. Trans men can still get pregnant. Women who have sex with other women need access to reproductive care, which is at risk when care providers are forced to leave states like Georgia and practice elsewhere. And a sexual assault survivor could tell you that every pregnancy does not begin with a person actively choosing to have sex.

At the very least, you should be wary of a sex strike for one major reason — it’s exactly what lawmakers behind such Draconian legislation want. They want women to feel less sexually liberated. They want us to buy into the idea that pregnancy is entirely our “fault” and our problem, and something women get into with their naughty behavior, and simply having less of it would mean no more unwanted pregnancies to terminate (which, it turns out is demonstrably false — if you look at the failures of abstinence-only education). The entire thrust of this strike is to keep us from actively participating in the sex lives we want. I mean, conservative commentator Candace Owens was even in favor of it — that should be a red flag right there.

Like Milano, I’m angry about the attack on reproductive rights in this country. I’m sick of people with vaginas not being afforded the same bodily autonomy that people with penises are. It’s disgusting, and it’s important for us to be talking about it and making our voices heard so that our political representatives will hopefully understand how dire this situation is. But, for as well-intentioned as I think Milano was (and I truly hope this was her misguided attempt at being cheeky) a sex strike isn’t the answer.

I should be able to have sex without worrying about a woman in Georgia being treated as a criminal for doing the same thing. Both of us should be able to terminate pregnancies should we want to, without risking our lives in the process. We should each be able to have an active, joyful sex life — these days, that's a form of rebellion itself. 

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