Whether it's stopping traffic in the name of animal rights, skipping school to highlight the dangers of climate change, or posing naked in front of your local pothole in an attempt to get the local council to fix the roads, as one group of Canadians did in 2006; there are plenty of ways to protest.

This week, actress and activist Alyssa Milano came up with a novel way to protest an extremely serious new law.

In response to the US states of Georgia and Alabama passing bills that will almost totally ban abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, Milano tweeted: "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. I'm calling for a #SexStrike. Pass it on."


While she didn't elaborate on the specifics of the strike — such as when it should begin or how it will be policed — she did note, correctly, that sex strikes have proven to be a surprisingly effective method of protest in the past.

In 2003, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace group organised a series of protests, including a sex strike, that led to the end of the country's civil war, the election of the first female Liberian head of state and a Nobel Peace Prize for Gbowee and her fellow activists.

Nobel Peace Prize 2011 laureates Yemeni journalist and activist Tawakul Karman, left, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Photo / Getty Images
Nobel Peace Prize 2011 laureates Yemeni journalist and activist Tawakul Karman, left, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Photo / Getty Images

— Kate Iselin is a writer and sex worker.

A sex strike also played a huge role in Kenyan politics in 2009, when the Women's Development Organisation announced that women would be denying their partners sex until the country's Prime Minister and President could meet and reconcile their opposing views. The organisation approached both leaders' wives and invited them to take part, and even offered to pay local sex workers' wages until the strike was over.

In under a week, the two leaders had agreed to meet and talk.

Sex strikes have played a role in everything from fighting for road repair in Columbia to preventing injury from fireworks in Italy, and they're a huge part of sex work history as well.

In 1975, thousands of sex workers in France went on strike to protest ongoing police harassment and discriminatory laws, and a further hundred occupied the St Nizier church in Lyon, chanting: "You who have threatened us with hell, we have come to eat at your table."

This sex strike wasn't as immediately successful as many others that would follow: the workers in the church were forcibly removed by police after eight days and the protest eventually ended. But the day the strike begun on June 2 is now commemorated across the globe as International Whores' Day and the occupation of St Nizier continues to inspire sex work activists worldwide.


While it has to be noted that there's a big difference between a commercial sex strike — which is, in essence, industrial action — and a strike centred on the sex we have in our private lives, Alyssa Milano's proposed sexual ceasefire is another in a long history of women standing up for what they believe in by refusing to uncross their legs. But it's far from a flawless idea.

By encouraging women to deny sex to their male partners until such time as the new anti-abortion bill is challenged, blocked, or struck down in court, I believe it only reinforces the patriarchal belief that sex is something women submit to and suffer through, rather than actively enjoy and seek out.

The vast majority of women I know, myself included, like having sex and initiate it just as often as men do. Why should we have to give up something we enjoy because a group of politicians have chosen to take a terrifyingly draconian approach to women's reproductive healthcare?

And by refusing sex with men, including those we women are already in relationships with, are we shutting them out of the conversation entirely — and doing more harm than good?

Even in casual hook-ups, conversations about contraception, reproduction, and sexual health should be common, with both parties taking an equal and shared responsibility. Reproductive rights might centre on the uterus, but they're hardly a women's-only issue.

After all, Alabama's Human Life Protection Act – one of the controversial anti-abortion bills at the heart of the sex strike – was introduced by State Representative Terri Collins and signed in to law by Governor Kay Ivey, both women. State Senator Bobby Singleton made headlines last week after his objection to the bill went viral, later saying in an interview with The Guardian that he would use 'every procedural technique there is' to prevent the bill from even coming to a vote.

So we might imagine a group of shadowy male lawmakers working to legislate against women's bodies, but I firmly believe that the battle lines here aren't drawn so strictly between genders.

Still, with all this having been said, if it wasn't for Alyssa Milano's #SexStrike tweet then many of us may not be aware of the bills at all.

It's probably pretty unlikely that every woman in the United States, even those who are deeply passionate about access to reproductive healthcare, will be able to maintain the sex strike until 2020, when the bills come in to effect; but what we are all doing – no matter our political beliefs or sexual habits – is talking about it.

Given the amount of misinformation out there about abortion, pregnancy, and sex in general, maybe starting a conversation about these often-taboo topics is the best win we can get right now.

Sex sells, as they say, and it certainly grabs headlines: and if the sex strike has got us all talking, maybe we can call it a success.

— Kate Iselin is a writer and sex worker.