Sex Strikes, A Legitimate Form Of Protest


Women farmers of Togo, photo courtesy of Erik Cleves Kristensen

Women have used sex strikes as a form of protest many times. Most recently, women in Togo called for a week-long sex strike in an effort to promote true democracy in their country. In Liberia, women held a sex strike to promote peace, and were major players in ending its civil war in 2003. Women in the Philippines recently held a successful sex strike to end fighting in their village. The sex strike in Togo is another example of the significance of sex strikes in relation to women’s empowerment.


Sex strikes have often led to favorable results for the nations in which they are held and have often achieved their intended objectives. In Liberia the civil war ended soon after the sex strike. Women’s role in ending the conflict was empowering to these women and lifted their status in Africa, especially when one of the women promoting peace, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was elected president of Liberia — the first elected female president in Africa! Using a sex strike in Dado, Filipino women achieved their objectives of bringing peace to the village and reopening a road to the market, bolstering the local economy.


Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Photo courtesy of Chatham House, London

Such strikes lead one to think about the role of women in war and activism. Are women using their subordinate positions and making a last desperate attempt at change, yet again using their bodies as leverage? Or are women fighting the patriarchal world we live in using a peaceful mechanism? Are women empowering themselves or simply sexualizing themselves through sex strikes?


It is likely that some would find sex strikes an unfavorable way for women to create a political voice. Frida Ghitis, a CNN commentator, wrote “…it is a sign that women's power remains very limited that their best strategy is to pressure men to take action.” The focus is, as always, on women’s sexuality instead of their intelligence. It is their body that is desired rather than their mind. Women on sex strikes are also putting themselves at greater risk of sexual assault or marital rape.

However, women use sex strikes as a way to pressure men because men are the ones in charge of these situations. Men are the ones that are creating the intolerable situations these women want to fight. Men are the ones perpetuating patriarchal and violent societies. Instead of fighting men with violence, women are using peaceful sexual means to achieve their objectives of peace.

Photo courtesy of "istolethetv"

A sex strike can be empowering for women as it gives them power over men. Even though the power is based on sex and women’s bodies, it is something that women are controlling. This is a display of women making choices for themselves. In most cultures, sex is dictated by either men or tradition (for example, you have sex after you get married). A sex strike is not actually sexualizing women, but rather it is acknowledging that women (and men) are sexual beings and the strike is putting control into women’s hands. By taking ownership of their sexuality and withholding sex, women choose when they are sexual. They are making a statement that they have a choice about with whom and when they have sex. Their reasons for choosing whether or not to have sex are up to them. In this instance their choice is based on bad decisions made by the men they are with. In this way sex strikes are fighting the notion, embedded in numerous traditional cultures, that men can have their women whenever they want, with or without the women’s mutual desire.

I see using peaceful means, such as sex strikes, to end a conflict as feminism in action. Sex strikes are a harmless form of power that can help overturn patriarchal structures or at least patriarchal situations. While women are using their bodies as leverage, they are doing so to force others to recognize that what they are saying is important; what they think holds legitimacy. In this manner, sex strikes have given women a political voice that they may not have otherwise had. And they have often led to the outcome women wanted and made the countries they held strikes in, more peaceful and more prosperous places.


Not only are these strikes nonviolent, but they have also led to positive change. What’s a better way to fight patriarchy than to hit ‘em where it hurts? And win!