Afternoon Inquisition, 5/1

Happy May Day! And Friday!

Today’s AI was inspired by the story in the quickies about Kenyan women witholding sex as a protest. This tactic has been used before, probably most famously in the Greek play Lysistrata.

Do you think using or witholding sex is effective as a weapon? And are there moral or ethical implications one way or the other?


Maria D'Souza grew up in different countries around the world, including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Kenya and it shows. She currently lives in the Bay Area and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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  1. Probably depends on the individual guy attached to said woman. But there are effective ways to protest that don’t strain your relationship with your chosen partner. The personal price of failure in this case could be high indeed.

  2. I don’t actually “get” protests like this one.
    Withholding sex from someone who doesn’t have any real impact on what you are protesting? Why? What’s the point?
    And some people can and do go a lot longer than a week without sex… so what’s the impact?
    Plus, should sex be a happy good thing shared by people who enjoy it… not something you give or take or barter with for political gain? (Idealy of course, leave your marriage out of it.)
    And… isn’t this “punishing” the women too?

    I just don’t get it at all.

  3. While I have no experience to base this opinion on, I don’t think its that effective. There are other ways to get your rocks off. And, @Kaylia_Marie: , its a punishment they put upon themselves, like any REAL protest, such as a hunger strike, a boycott, and the like.

  4. Since I’m between relationships, it appears all women are witholding sex with me right now. So far, I think that’s been pretty ineffective because I haven’t received a list of demands nor been asked to take or not take any specific action. Although, if this tactic is being used to encourage me to have sex with myself, then it’s been very effective.

    In my opinion, not having sex with me is unethical and immoral.

  5. Witholding sex – the high castle walls, moat and raised drawbridge in the battle of the sexes. May result in a lose-lose situation if withheld for too long (partner finds another castle) or ineffective if willpower folds and drawbridge lowered too soon.

    Personally, I have found that offering the possibility of sex (or a particular act, outfit, fantasy, etc) more effective at changing male behaviour than withholding it….. (with apologies to the sisterhood if I’m giving away too many secrets).

    I’d offer evidence to substantiate my claims, but the male Skepchicks don’t need any additional stimulation – besides they all know what I’m saying is true:)

    Positive reinforcement might work better for the ladies in Kenyan e.g. no sex for now, but when you get your act together, you are going to get sooo lucky – with each woman tailoring the “lucky” definition to the particular proclivities of her man.

    No moral qualms whatsoever – all is fair in love and war. And not a single complaint yet from the opposing side.

  6. No. As others have pointed out there are other itch-scratching options so I don’t think it would work very well. Plus suppose it did? I’m the sole breadwinner in my house. Should I withhold money if I don’t get sex? People shouldn’t treat each other this way. Not in a marriage they expect to last.

  7. @Mully410:

    Since I’m between relationships, it appears all women are witholding sex with me right now. So far, I think that’s been pretty ineffective because I haven’t received a list of demands nor been asked to take or not take any specific action.

    Yes but if you received a list of demands in the mail tomorrow, would you do them? :)

  8. @davew: I totally agree. This type of behavior/reward/ideological commerce within a marriage spells the end of reasonableness and true friendship in the relationship. Should skeptical non religious spouses withhold sex from religious or wooish partners so they’ll change their minds?? I think not.

  9. @infinitemonkey: agree.

    Also, self-denial and protesting aren’t bad things… but this conversation is going in a direction that begs the question of why this is being discussed as if women are obligated to put out in the first place. In other words, if I am witholding something that another party has no right to in the first place, that’s not a moral issue.

  10. @notreallyalice: “if I am witholding something that another party has no right to in the first place, that’s not a moral issue”

    I like this point, but only up to a point. Clearly either partner on any given day can veto sex. However, if one partner says to the other “I am withholding sex until you do this thing for me” then this person has put sex into the realm of commerce.

  11. There seems to be an underlying assumption here that women either don’t want sex or want it less than men. This is likely true in cases where the men are bad lovers. Not so much so elsewhere.

  12. @AgnosticOracle: I suppose there is an implied assumption with this type of story that a man when presented with the opportunity of available sex would find it hard to decline for the sake of making a political point. The article also mentioned that the protest organizers were asking sex workers to withhold their services from customers as part of the protest. It seems sex workers were the only ones being asked to make a substantive contribution to the cause.

  13. My big problem with this is that it commoditizes sex. Women have it, men want it. Never the other way around. Can you imagine men threatening to withold sex over some cause? No one no where would take them seriously, and the jokes, it would be the Daily Show’s lead story.

    The other issue here is that there are plenty of parts of the world where it is probably pretty dangerous for a group of women to tell a group of men how it’s going to be. I don’t know if Kenya is one of those places or not.

    But in this case, I doubt they’re trying to change anything by witholding sex. They’re trying to bring attention to their cause by saying they will, and in that they’ve obviosuly succeded.

  14. WTF?

    4.29 Afternoon Inquisition

    “””how many of us, when arguing a point, make use of primary and secondary resource materials?”””

    Screw it, Rebecca, this is just too much to bear: you cannot ask us whether we use primary materials in our comments in one AI and two days later post an AI on “sex strikes”. I quit.

    For sake of “reproducibility”, what would your own “primary materials” be like in this 5/1 Afternoon Inquisition?

  15. In my previous comment, where it says “and two days later post… ” it must say “and two days later allow Masala Skeptic to post…”

    Sorry for that, I got nervous because of this whole primary sources fraud ;-)

  16. I must have done something very, VERY wrong to have sex withheld from me for as long as it has been. Along with having hand-holding, dating, and even sweet, sweet make-outs withheld… I must be a pretty bad dude!

    I suppose it’s too late to say I’m SORRY? :-P

  17. BTW, I also know the reason why sex strikes make no sense: in some cases, having sex may actually be worst as a punishment. Why would women stop having sex when aggravated, and resume it just to get aggravated further? :-D

    P.S.: Never considered allowing anonymous comments conditioned on the AI question? Right now I feel unnecessarily in the spotlight. :-D

  18. @notreallyalice: Let me say that no man/woman has a “right” to sex.

    Now, if we decided to boycott Jim Carrey movies, asuming we all like Jim Carrey movies, then he would not be getting our money, and we would not be seeing an actor we enjoy. He does not have a right to our money, and we do not have a right to his movies, but we trade off for the enjoyment of what the other has, and punish ourselves by withholding something from ourselves, to withhold something from him, until his behavior changes.

    Likewise, if he were to go on strike until the MMR vax was pulled, the same scenerio would apply.

  19. As a quick interjection, using sex as a coersion I’ve seen, and have no problem with. Using kids as coersion I’ve seen, and have much larger problems with it, and honestly, consider that abuse, to both the man and the children.

  20. I think it’s ridiculous and cheap. Effective? Maybe, but only at fomenting turmoil in the relationship. Not feeling like having sex with a partner who is not holding up their end of the agreement in a relationship is perfectly reasonable. Deliberately withholding it in order to get your way is like a toddler having a tantrum, holding his breath to get what he wants. It can only backfire and levy the punishment on both of you.

    People who have to bribe their partners into being partners have much deeper problems than using sex as a weapon.

  21. I’ve been withholding sex from everyone for quite some time now, until my demands are met. My demands are simple:

    1. Sex

    2. See 1.

    Thus far, my demands have not been met. I think this may be an ineffective method.

  22. @Hanes: According to my “primary” evidence, you have to wait at least three more years (still counting).

    Better luck with the Large Hadron Collider.

  23. @Skepthink: I’ve just thought perhaps “preventive war” also applies in these cases. Perhaps in the future I become a mad scientist and enrich uranium in my garage, which leads to the end of world via the War with the Machines or something. That’s the only explanation for 26 years… I feel like I’ve undergone USA Army’s “waterboarding” training to resist lack-of-sex torture :-D

  24. As the victim of the entire world of women witholding sex from me I fail to see how the women of Kenya expect to see this protest work. But they were wise to keep it to a single week. In the Lysistrata the women’s position gently eroded because they were getting horny and defected from the cause in droves. Keeping it to a week they got their headlines and no one ends up with blue gonads.

  25. Reading over the comments I see a lot of people who haven’t had sex but want to. People it isn’t that hard. There are a gazillion websites that will help you meet people who have a lot in common with you. Join them all. Talk to people that are members of the gender that you are attracted to. There are people you know or ar acquainted with or have seen or will meet today that would have sex with you. And you wouldn’t have to pay them. A lot of people want to have sex, just like you. Now go and have sex. You can do it, there isn’t anything wrong with you.

  26. This AI made me think of Debeers comercials, really all jewlery commercials and quite a few other commercials that are trying to get men to give gifts to women. The underlying message is that all women will sell the use of their bodies for sprakly pretty bits of old coal. I’m waiting for this commercial. “Diamonds, because you want her to swallow.”

  27. I think the moral/ethical/marriage equality implications of with-holding sex as a power tactic is entirely different in Kenya than in the west.. *Note: reference!

    The women are trying to get attention to their cause in a country where the only “power” they have in their marriage is sex (provided that the husband’s don’t just rape their wives anyway – it’s neither illegal nor considered wrong in Kenya).

    In Kenya, sex is something women have and men take and control, and the nature of their protest doesn’t translate when judged by our society’s standards. This isn’t even mostly about getting their husbands to do what they want, it’s about getting in the news in a country where sex, especially women’s role in it, is not discussed – the article even mentions that.

    I think it’s a great idea for the women of Kenya – they don’t have a lot of rights, power to them for finding a way to manipulate the society that keeps them down.

  28. @SaraDee: I think this is an important point. There is a big difference between women who can and do “have it all,” even if some of us have private troubles and dramas, and women who only have their sex to use as a commodity. I don’t think anyone was diminishing the terrible situations of women in supposedly less-enlightened counties -I hope! In the west, we have lots of ways at our disposal to encourage our partners to be more partner-like -including legal recourse if things are really bad. In some places, all they have is the fact that they are women and all they want is to be treated like humans. I certainly didn’t meant to compare an argument about socks being left on the floor (again) or the dishes not getting done to the actual tragedies these women are protesting.

  29. It has been pointed out that the state of bedroom affairs in Kenya is pretty different from most Western democratic countries — or first world countries, if such a term still has any meaning.

    Do you think using or witholding sex is effective as a weapon?

    Effective? I guess it depends on what your connotative definition of effective is.

    As for denotative definitions, here’s a few:

    1. a. Having an intended or expected effect.
    b. Producing a strong impression or response; striking: gave an effective performance as Othello.
    2. Operative; in effect: The law is effective immediately.
    3. Existing in fact; actual: a decline in the effective demand.
    4. Prepared for use or action, especially in warfare.

    My understanding of how most marriages and long-term relationships work, from some 50 years of observation and participation, plus studies in sociology, psychology, human behaviour etc., is that sex as a weapon is pretty darn common in democratic, Western nations.

    I would hypothesize that if we dig into it and do some serious research, we would find that occasional use of sex as a weapon is the norm in a majority of long-term relationships.

    Whether or not it has the intended or expected effect, Im not sure. Men are pretty easy to manipulate sexually, so I would guess when it comes to withholding sex from men the answer is probably usually yes.

    As for producing a strong impression or response? I should think so.

    And are there moral or ethical implications one way or the other?

    Surely there are moral and ethical implications and issues in any form of manipulative emotional control in any relationship. Especially with something as fraught with irrationality and conflict as sex and its concommitant psychological and emotional whirlwind is.

    I fail to see how withholding sex, which is so fruitful and constructive to building and maintaining a good, well balanced, meaningful relationship, could be anything other than a rather emotionally twisted form of passive abuse.

    But hell, I’m male, and today is Saturday. I might feel different Monday.

  30. Does telling my husband that if he doesn’t seek medical attention for the big gaping slash in his finger and it gets infected and ends up being gross and lumpy and deformed then I won’t ever let him touch me with that hand again count as using sex as a weapon?

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