October 5, 2017
Since that fateful day last November, my friend and I have been talking about what we could do in response to the unrelenting misogyny of the Trump administration and GOP Congress, who are determined to make our lives a living hell. The attacks are only picking up steam: Just last week alone, the Trump administration rolled back the federal birth control mandate, requiring employers to cover contraceptives in their insurance plans and Congress passed a bill outlawing abortion after 20 weeks.
You might be thinking the best response would be to limit our sexual activity, especially since it will be harder to protect against unwanted pregnancies and STIs. But my friend suggested quite the opposite: Women in relationships with men need to pull a Lysistrata. “That,” she argued, “would be the perfect way to fight back and protect our reproductive rights.”
If you’re not up on your Greek comedies, Lysistrata is the Aristophanes play where the women of Greece deny men sex to stop the Peloponnesian War.
The odds of this strategy working struck me as slim—besides, why punish the feminist men in our lives? For that matter, why punish ourselves? This is exactly what conservatives want.
I proposed that we do the opposite: To fight back, we instead have sex—lots and lots of sex. All kinds of sex (protected, of course). And let’s talk about it, celebrate it, revel in it.
The Republicans will hate it.
Conservatives can couch their attacks on women’s reproductive rights as a passion to “protect” women’s health, to “protect” fetuses, and to limit what insurers are required to cover, but we know better. Conservatives want to punish women for having sex outside of procreation. There can be no “safe” sex. No abortion, no contraception, no HPV vaccine. Instead, they give us dangerously misleading sexual education. If you chose to engage in such a sin, you should be forced to risk STIs, cancer, pregnancy, and shame. This is also at the heart of homophobia—a horror that people would have sex that could never be for procreation, that is purely for pleasure, bonding, and joy. It was at the heart of conservatives’ refusal to address AIDS through much of the 1980s—they pronounced it a just punishment for unacceptable sex.
Why have we swallowed the lie that sex is shameful and only to be reserved for procreation? Why do we base sexual morality on someone’s interpretation of translations of ancient Hebrew writings? Why should we be afraid of fundamentally human desires? Why do we hide something that brings pleasure and joy in lives where that can be sadly limited? Why do we accept such a narrow range of acceptable sexual activity, labeling everything outside of this as perverse, kinky, or even criminal? Why am I blushing while writing this?
Imagine the power we’ll have if we simply reject that outright.
What if we embrace sex without reservation? What if we refuse to be ashamed? What if we treated it like a normal part of life? What if we celebrated sex they way we celebrate anything else our amazing human brains and bodies can do. Consensual, non-exploitive, safe sex. Joyful, silly, awkward, kinky, vanilla sex. Spiritual, tender, rough, loving, polyamorous, monogamous, messy, hilarious sex.
We’ve been moving slowly in this direction for decades, but living in the fascistic Trump era, it’s time for a great leap forward. Now is the time to fully reject sex negativity and to show, in one more way, that we will not be cowed. If the Right is so fearful of our sexual agency, we must nurture it even more. It’s a potent way to undermine the foundations of a patriarchal power structure that is trying so hard to reassert itself. In short, get it on for the greater good.
While you’re at it, get it on for the smaller good, too. Plenty of sex will make us healthier and will relieve stress. It will bring us closer to our partners. It will bring us joy and pleasure in a world that is currently—and perhaps always—terrifying and uncertain. It will be a bright light in this very dark time in history. We can even be religious about it: God gave us this gift—the ability of human adults to have sex at any time and to find it enjoyable. To deny that gift is really rather ungracious.
Talk to your kids about sex without worrying that the knowledge will somehow damage them or destroy their innocence. Teach them to be safe and make good choices, but not to be ignorant or embarrassed.
Stop assuming that women don’t or shouldn’t want sex after a certain age. Stop assuming that it’s inevitable that couples in long-term relationships will lose interest. Defy the expectations. If you don’t have a partner, go solo. Don’t give up on sex—find a way to stay interested and excited and to make it happen. It’s for the good of humankind.
Patronize your local sex shop if it’s not full of low quality, chemically questionable merchandise. Watch some porn, but support filmmakers who make feminist, non-exploitative porn, and pay for it. Read some juicy erotic lit or a romance novel with great sexual tension. Put it on your e-reader if you’re feeling shy. Take in some neo-burlesque and cheer these funny talented performers of every body type. Read great contemporary writers on sex like Tristan Taormino and Al Vernacchio. Listen to podcasters like Dan Savage and Sex Nerd Sandra.
Stop the slut shaming. Reject sexual representations that deny people their humanity. We’re all guilty of a little objectification—we’re a visual species—but don’t appreciate a beautiful body or face without appreciating the person inside. Remember how people like Trump talk about women, their bodies, and sex. Pledge to do the opposite.
Take more care with your sexual health than ever before, given how limited birth control and abortion options may soon be. If you don't have access to effective birth control, try one of the many enjoyable alternatives to intercourse. Continue to fight sexual assault, rape culture, and misogyny with all your might. Don’t let other activism go. Keep marching and protesting loudly, keep writing and calling elected officials, keep showing up at their offices and town meetings. Get out there.
But stay inside and have some fun, too.