RSS
5 sex strikes in the 21st century
Across the globe, women try to force change by refusing to put out
In 2012, the American group Liberal Ladies Who Lunch, launched a sex strike in support of health care coverage for contraception. 
In 2012, the American group Liberal Ladies Who Lunch, launched a sex strike in support of health care coverage for contraception.  (Facebook.com/LiberalLadiesWhoLunch)
T

he way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but if you want to stop a war, get roads repaired, or dismantle a dictatorial regime, you’re better off going through his penis.

The Columbian town of Barbacaos is back in the news after women there followed through on a threat to hold a sex strike unless remote roads were repaved. This is the second time in two years they have done so. Repairs were promised in 2011, but after three months and 19 days of protest, there still has not been any significant improvement, so the town's women are back to crossing their legs.

But, the ladies of Barbacaos are hardly the only ones that have employed sex strikes. Here are five sex strikes from around the world (including the good old USA).

Liberia, 2003

Perhaps even more epic than ending the Peloponnesian War, the women of Liberia helped end a 14-year civil war. Under the leadership of Leymah Gbowee, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts, the women went on a sex strike for months. The women also employed other tactics, such as bringing Muslim and Christian women together to pray for peace. Gbowee herself threatened to strip naked in public, which is considered a serious curse in West Africa. Gbowee admitted that the sex strike did not have a tremendous practical effect, but brought much needed attention to the Second Liberian Civil War. She told The Huffington Post:

Sex is an exotic thing. When someone dares to bring it to the attention of the public, people start saying, "who's this person doing this?" and they start asking why the person is using sex to highlight an issue. And it gets men thinking. There are a lot of good men out there! Our strategy helps the good men because it gives them a reason to take action. They start talking to their colleagues and beer buddies, saying "this war is wrong." [The Huffington Post]

Colombia, 2006

Apparently, sex strikes are something Colombian women are really good at it. No modern country appear to employ it more or with greater success. In 2006, the women of Pereira held a ten-day sex strike to get their boyfriends and husbands in gangs to stop fighting. Violence in the community was high among young men; there were 488 murders the previous year, and 90 percent of dead gang members were ages 14 to 25. One striker told the BBC, "I would prefer him [her boyfriend] getting angry to having to go and cry at his funeral." It turns out, it might have had a lasting effect. By 2010, Pereira had Colombia’s steepest decline in the murder rate with a 26.5 percent drop.

Philippines, 2011

Fed up with nearly four decades of violence and rebellion, the women of two villages on the Mindanao Island decided to close shop until roads opened up. Due to fighting in the villages, a local road to the main market was not safe for the women to travel and transport their goods, so the women tried to stem the violence with their own powers of persuasion.

Ironically, the women devised the sex strike at an innocent sewing cooperative. Realizing that withholding sex would have a lot more influence than their stitching, the women united in abstinence. In fact, a UN High Commissioner Report film reveals one of the women telling the others, "If you don’t agree with me, you will get no salary from me." (Side note: Sex strikes sometimes involve ethically questionable strong-arm tactics.) However, it was successful, and within a few weeks, the road was safe for travel.

Togo, 2012

The women of this small African nation hoped to accomplish big goals with their call for a nationwide sex strike. Since the assassination of Sylvanus Olympio in 1963, the country had been under the harsh military rule of the Gnassingbé family. The Let's Save Togo Women's Collective wrote in The Guardian, "Our human rights situation is disastrous, torture is widespread, the press is on probation, and the vast majority of the population is languishing." It was a tall order for a sex strike to fix all of those problems, and unfortunately it was not successful. Faure Gnassingbé remains president today.

United States, 2012

When the contraception mandate was under attack in 2012, a group of women decided to take matters into their hands (and force their husbands to do the same). The group the Liberal Ladies who Lunch organized a sex strike from April 28 to May 5, to "help people understand that contraception is for women and men, because men enjoy the benefit of women making their own choices," reported The Huffington Post.

Unsurprisingly, it was heavily attacked by conservatives. The Daily Caller rounded up critical Facebook comments like, "Excellent! This is the best form of birth control out there for liberals" and "I do not want to pay for all you libs to have sex."

While the sex strike may have had little influence on the outcome, the contraception mandate went through, and those commentators are, in fact, paying for those liberals to have sex again.

Emily Shire is chief researcher for The Week magazine. She has written about pop culture, religion, and women and gender issues at publications including Slate, The Forward, and Jewcy.

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week