Do sex strikes ever work?


Lysistrata Aristophanes’s Lysistrata called a successful sex strike.

You can’t blame the Belgians for considering radical measures. Their elections were held 243 days ago, politicians still can’t agree on forming a government, and as a result, unlikely proposals are being made to end the impasse. It’s been suggested men should stop shaving in protest, and this week Socialist senator Marleen Temmerman proposed that age-old remedy: a sex strike. “I call on the spouses of all negotiators to withhold sex until a deal is reached,” she says.

Temmerman was inspired partly by Lysistrata, the Greek play in which Arisophanes’s heroine calls for women to abstain from sex to end the Peloponnesian war. In the play, the gesture is successful. But the question of whether sex strikes are generally effective calls up mixed, murky results.

In Pereira, Colombia, in 2006, the girlfriends of gang members held a widely publicised “strike of crossed legs” vowing to give up sex until their partners gave up violence. Last year, the city’s murder rate saw the steepest decline in Colombia, down by 26.5%. Then in Naples, Italy, in 2008, women formed a similar strike against the notoriously dangerous New Year fireworks displays; in 2011, yet another man died and 70 people were injured at the event.

1 comment
  1. Chris said:

    I really like the idea of women deploying sex strikes to disband organizations of male violence. The invocation of the name Lysistrata — Λυσιστράτη (λύσις+στρατός): disbander of armies — has a forceful and beautiful valance of undoing violence, scrambling a strategic field. There’s a psychoanalytic point somewhere in here about the secret tie between sex and violence, the disarticulation of one implying the break up of the other.

    It seems less strong — and a bit too pietistic — in situations where it is not being deployed against violence, as in the case of Belgium, where the complaint is more general. What does it mean to gender and sexualize a problem that cannot be considered either gendered or sexualized? Maybe I’m just having difficulties imagining that old European parlimentarians have fierce / passionate sex lives with their spouses.

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