A sex strike, sometimes called a sex boycott, is a strike, a method of non-violent resistance in which one or multiple persons (usually women) refrain from sex with their partners to achieve certain goals. It is a form of temporary sexual abstinence.
The most famous example of a sex strike in the arts is the Greek playwright Aristophanes' work Lysistrata, an anti-war comedy. The female characters in the play, led by the eponymous Lysistrata, withhold sex from their husbands as part of their strategy to secure peace and end the Peloponnesian War.
Among the Igbo people of Nigeria, in pre-colonial times, the community of women periodically formed themselves into a Council, a kind of women's trade union. This was headed by the Agba Ekwe, 'the favoured one of the goddess Idemili and her earthly manifestation'. She carried her staff of authority and had the final word in public gatherings and assemblies. Central among her tasks was to ensure men's good behaviour, punishing male attempts at harassment or abuse. What men most feared was the Council's power of strike action. According to Ifi Amadiume, an Igbo anthropologist: "The strongest weapon the Council had and used against the men was the right to order mass strikes and demonstrations by all women. When ordered to strike, women refused to perform their expected duties and roles, including all domestic, sexual and maternal services. They would leave the town en masse, carrying only suckling babies. If angry enough, they were known to attack any men they met."
World history and prehistory
Citing similar examples of women's strike action in hunter-gatherer and other precolonial traditions around the world, some anthropologists argue that it was thanks to solidarity of this kind—especially collective resistance to the possibility of rape—that language, culture, and religion became established in our species in the first instance. This controversial hypothesis is known as the "Female Cosmetic Coalitions", "Lysistrata", or "sex strike" theory of human origins.
In October 1997, the chief of the Military of Colombia, General Manuel Bonnet publicly called for a sex strike among the wives and girlfriends of the Colombian left-wing guerrillas, drug traffickers, and paramilitaries as part of a strategy—along with diplomacy—to achieve a ceasefire. Also the mayor of Bogota, Antanas Mockus, declared the capital a women-only zone for one night, suggesting men to stay at home to reflect on violence. The guerrillas ridiculed the initiatives, pointing at the fact that there were more than 2,000 women in their army. In the end the ceasefire was achieved, but lasted only a short time.
In September 2006 dozens of wives and girlfriends of gang members from Pereira, Colombia, started a sex strike called La huelga de las piernas cruzadas ("the strike of crossed legs") to curb gang violence, in response to 480 deaths due to gang violence in the coffee region. According to spokeswoman Jennifer Bayer, the specific target of the strike was to force gang members to turn in their weapons in compliance with the law. According to them, many gang members were involved in violent crime for status and sexual attractiveness, and the strike sent the message that refusing to turn in the guns was not sexy. In 2010 the city's murder rate saw the steepest decline in Colombia, down by 26.5%.
In June 2011, women organized in the so-called Crossed Legs Movement in the secluded town of Barbacoas in southwestern Colombia, started a sex strike to pressure the government to repair the road connecting Barbacoas and its neighboring towns and cities. They declared that if the men of the town were not going to demand action, they would refuse to have sex with them. The men of Barbacoas showed no support at the beginning of the campaign, but they soon joined in the protest campaign. After 112 days strike in October 2011, the Colombian government promised action on road repairs, and construction ensued.
In April 2009 a group of Kenyan women organised a week-long sex strike aimed at politicians, encouraging the wives of the president and prime minister to join in too, and offering to pay prostitutes for lost earnings if they joined in.
In 2003 Leymah Gbowee and the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace organized nonviolence protests that included a sex strike. Their actions led to peace in Liberia after a 14‑year civil war and the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, country's first female head of state. Leymah Gbowee was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize "for her non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."
In the build-up to New Year's Eve in 2008, hundreds of Neapolitan women pledged to make their husbands and lovers "sleep on the sofa" unless they took action to prevent fireworks from causing serious injuries.
In October 2014, Pricilla Nanyang, a politician in South Sudan, coordinated a meeting of women peace activists in Juba "to advance the cause of peace, healing and reconciliation." Attendees issued a statement which called on women of South Sudan "to deny their husbands conjugal rights until they ensure that peace returns."
In 2012, inspired by the 2003 Liberian sex strike, the Togolese opposition coalition "Let's Save Togo" asked women to abstain from sex for a week as a protest against President Faure Gnassingbé, whose family has been in power for more than 45 years. The strike aimed to "motivate men who are not involved in the political movement to pursue its goals". Opposition leader Isabelle Ameganvi views it as a possible "weapon of the battle" to achieve political change.
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- Lucy Burns, sex-strikes through the ages.
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