A Sex Strike Is Just Not The Answer To The Alabama Abortion Law
The idea of a sex strike frames women’s bodies as a sexual commodity that can be denied as punishment.
The Republican-led Alabama Senate has passed a bill which bans abortions unless there is ‘serious health risk’ to the mother, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Doctors who perform this procedure – that one in four American women have at some point in her life – face prison sentences of up to 99 years.
This is an outright and blatant attack on the reproductive rights of women,
While Alabama now has the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, this reality is not far off in many other American states. “Heartbeat bans”, which are abortion bans prohibiting the procedure after six weeks – when a heartbeat can be detected – were signed into law in Alabama prior to this new bill. Heartbeat bans and similar laws have also been signed in Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Maryland, Texas, West Virginia, and Minnesota – that’s a lot of states which are slowly stripping away the reproductive rights of women.
The issue here is that a lot of women won’t even have any idea they’re pregnant until after six weeks. Pregnancy is often measured from a woman’s last period, not from fertilization. So if your period is late and you don’t realize for two weeks, you’ve missed your window for abortion in over thirteen states.
These laws are not pro-life. The same states that are outlawing abortion have some of the highest infant mortality rates in the country, and very high rates of maternal mortality rates. As well as this, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health found that in the states that have restrictive abortion laws, women’s health is the worst. It’s clear that outlawing abortion doesn’t save babies; it just hurts women.
In response to these dangerous, archaic laws passing and rolling back the progress of women by decades, actress Alyssa Milano took to Twitter to express her anger and disappointment. She rallied for women to join her in a sex strike – agreeing to not have sex with men – until women got body autonomy back.
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.
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) May 11, 2019
There are so many glaring issues with this reaction.
The first is that it reinforces the ridiculous idea that women primarily have sex with men for men. We’ve fought for so long for our sexual freedom and to move away from women’s perceived role as walking sex objects for men. The idea of a sex strike frames women’s bodies as a sexual commodity that can be denied as punishment. It also erases the fact that many women have sex for enjoyment, not just to please a man.
Living under patriarchy has already robbed me of safety, autonomy, opportunities, and trust in our institutions. Now I’m supposed to give up sex, too, and play into the fiction that it’s just a bargaining chip/transaction for women? Love you, but nope.
— Kristi Coulter (@KristiCCoulter) May 11, 2019
The idea of a #SexStrike – where sex is something men seek and women withhold – is the same regressive model of sexuality that Republican men use to legislate! No thanks.
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) May 11, 2019
As someone who has mostly had sex solely because it’s fun (which is what the abortion bans are *really* punishing women for), I think this sex strike business is an inappropriate way to deal with sexist men being sexist. Punishing myself doesn’t hold them accountable.
— Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) May 12, 2019
The second major issue with the #SexStrike is it completely excludes issues around consent and sexual violence. Not all women who seek abortions consented to the act which led to the pregnancy, and to position the discussion about abortion from the perspective of withholding sex to prove a point excludes the very real issue that many women get abortions due to rape, sexual assault, incest, and abuse.
4. Sex strikes don’t stop sexual assaults from being perpetrated—and I have to reiterate my earlier point because it’s really important: but a sex strike gives the impression that women’s primary function is as bodies for cishet men to have sex with.
— Lara Witt (@Femmefeministe) May 11, 2019
We live in a world plagued by rape, abstinence-only sex education, rampant sexual harassment, a toxic sexual double standard, and the erasure of queer people, and Alyssa Milano thinks women saying no to sex will solve abortion bans? Give me a fucking break. #SexStrike
— Ella Dawson (@brosandprose) May 11, 2019
White heterosexual women are promoting a #SexStrike to get equal rights and seem not to have even noticed that not all women are white nor have sex with men.
That’s some intersectional feminism.
— Victoria Brownworth (@VABVOX) May 11, 2019
A #SexStrike is not the answer because.
– It insinuates women are a sex supply and men are a sex demand.
– It erases queer women.
– It ignores the reality of rape.
Stop pushing this very bad idea.
— Faith Naff?? (@FaithNaff) May 11, 2019
It’s just a really stupid idea.
To me, the #SexStrike is something which should have remained an anecdotal thought experiment angrily uttered in a group of friends discussing the ban over drinks. Where one friend points out that if the men making the laws stopped getting sex because their partners were scared of falling pregnant, they might think twice about passing them. To which another friend jokingly suggests all women withhold sex until the men start listening to women. The conversation moves forward.
And that’s where it should have ended.
For Milano to suggest a sex strike as a legitimate form of protest is not only an example of white, exclusionary feminism, but it’s simply unhelpful.
I like Milano. I think that, mostly, she does more good for women and feminism than bad. I think she’s well-intended and I can see how she came to the idea of a sex strike. But it’s problematic. It’s the kind of idea which is easy to dismiss as silly, hyperbolic, and crazy – and this is an issue which cannot be dismissed.
We need to be signing petitions and attending protests, calling members of government, organizing marches – any kind of proactive political action which can be quantified and not ignored. The cynic in me fears even these acts won’t have much of an impact, but they have more of a chance at changing something than agreeing to abstain from sex until the laws are changed.
At the end of the day, isn’t calling for a sex strike ultimately just another way of policing women’s bodies and dictating what we should do with them?
And right now, there is enough controlling of women’s bodies going on, thank you very much.
Featured image via tumblr.com.