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"Hm, sex works even better than chocolate for manipulating behavior. Wonder if anyone's ever stumbled onto that before…"

A wife threatens to remove sex from her marriage (gasp!) to force something or as a punishment. Can also occur in the really close non-marital relationships. A more adult version of Exiled to the Couch or I Have Boobs - You Must Obey!.

It is Older Than Feudalism; the Trope Namer comes from Lysistrata, a Greek comedy by Aristophanes. It was considered comically absurd at the time, due to the prevailing idea that All Women Are Lustful — though it should also be noted, that when Aristophanes wrote the play, women weren't considered citizens, and were just above slaves on the totem pole of class structure, adding to the preposterous idea that a group of women would take over the government. While its original implementation was more complex, it was Flanderized (specifically by Hollywood) as "the woman threatens to withhold sex from her man".

Lesbians in fiction never withhold sex from each other, either because they understand each other well enough that this is unnecessary, or because women don't want sex, or because doing so would trigger the collapse of the Internet. And men, of course, are incapable of withholding sex, so they can't try this on their women. Furthermore, what woman would be disturbed by a lack of sex? So far as Hollywood is concerned, All Women Are Prudes, and only do it to keep their husbands in line anyway. Well, except on cable, where the standards of drama have (only just) caught up to those of ancient Greece, where All Women Are Lustful. Hollywood's idea of men, women and heterosexual relationships are peculiar compared to other times and places.

Of course, since there's a whole industry based on trading sex for something else, this has Unfortunate Implications. It's also worth keeping in mind that using sex as a weapon/tool in an argument can have negative effects on relationships.

Examples


Anime and Manga

  • In Junai no Seinen, Kaoru completely ignores Daigo for a week when he thinks Daigo's crossing the line between work and their personal lives. He intended to hold out longer, but it wasn't going so well for him.


Comics

  • Doonesbury. Attempted Inversion: the other end of this trope is played perfectly straight when done by a man: "That's an offer, not a threat. Do you even know how blackmail works?"
  • In an old Archie one-panel gag, this backfires on Ethel. It does help Jughead has little more than animosity toward her.

 Ethel: Lips that touch onion will never touch mine!

Jughead: Pop, make that extra onions.

  • In Empowered, Emp blows her stack over a one-night-stand her lover ThugBoy had with Sistah Spooky a month before they met. Then he managed to tap further into her insecurities by comparing her favorably in the skill department. He then spends several weeks on the couch in a "sexual Siberia", till there is no further doubt who is the alpha-wench in their relationship.
  • There's at least one moment of Deconstruction of this trope in Rikk's (prose) memoirs from Cerebus. Of course, we are talking about post-Reads Dave Sim here, so there are a few... weird ideas there, but the point is made that if a woman feels compelled to use her body to "punish or reward" her man, the relationship might not be the healthiest one to begin with.
  • Andy hinted once that she did not give birth to any of their kids in November as a direct result of withholding sex from Roger as punishment for his stupid Valentine's Day gifts in FoxTrot. The comment is prompted by receiving an exceptionally stupid gift in the form of a spatula.


Fan Works

  • In the The Bartimaeus Trilogy fanfic The Forbidden Heir, Kitty refuses to sleep with Nathaniel after he captures her almost all of her ex-comrades from the Resistance and throws them in the Tower.


Films -- Live Action

  • In the spoof French spy movie OSS 117 Cairo Nest of Spies, the title character OSS 117 does this to an Egyptian princess (who tried to kill him two minutes ago) in order to get information.
  • In Absurdistan, most of the women in a small village go on a sex strike because they think the men aren't taking their water shortage problems seriously.
  • A Lysistrata Gambit is prominently featured in the 1955 musical The Second Greatest Sex. There is even a character named Liza, probably a reference to Aristophanes' play.
  • In Jessica (1962), the women of a Sicilian village decide to withhold sex from their men in response to the arrival of a new sexy midwife.


Literature

  • In House of Leaves it's mentioned at some point that Karen once wouldn't let Will Navidson touch her. For thirteen months.
  • Kitai does this in the sixth Codex Alera book, First Lord's Fury, demanding that Tavi court her properly rather that he casual romance they've enjoyed thus far. Though part of the reason ends up being Kitai hiding her pregnancy from him.
    • Though she also threatens to strangle him in the same sentence.
  • Inverted with Edward and Bella in Twilight.
  • In Stephen Colbert's I Am America (And So Can You!), he warns women never to withhold sex from their husbands, as "it's a hungry dog that turns over the trash."
  • Inverted by Paul Atreides in Dune with Princess Irulan.


Live Action TV

  • Cheers: Diane would use this on Sam a lot, especially in their first stormy relationship in the second year. Lilith would do this to Frasier as well.
  • Frasier: Maris used sex on Niles to get what she wanted, and according to Niles, Maris had incredible willpower to withhold sex for months on end.

 Daphne: Come on now, Doctor Crane. It's not like men have never used sex to get what they want.

Fraiser: How can we possibly use sex to get what we want? Sex IS what we want!

  • Family Matters: Carl was getting rather high and mighty with regards to his being the breadwinner. Harriet decided, since he was so hung up on money, that she would start charging him -- for laundry, cooking, cleaning and (yes) sex. (Fridge Logic gives the "charging for sex" bit some rather Unfortunate Implications.)
    • Hell, he should have arrested her then and there for Prostitution.
    • Harriet addressed the problem more effectively down the road by getting a job making more than him. Of course, police officers usually aren't paid what they're worth so Your Mileage May Vary on whether this was fair.
  • Firefly: Zoe is willing to use this on Wash from time to time.

 Zoe: Remember that sex we were planning to have, ever again?

  • Just one example of many on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: The family hasn't had reliably running water for days, but Uncle Phil is stuck on a do-it-yourself frenzy and refuses to call a plumber. In desperation, Will begs his Aunt Vivian, "There's gotta be something you can do... or not do..." Later:

 Vivian: Oh, Philip, if Mr. Goodwrench wants to visit Mrs. Toolbox, he better get Mr. Water running.

  • G-rated version on Drake and Josh: Mindy refuses to kiss Josh until he shaves off his mustache. The lip gloss scene on the couch, however, makes it pretty clear what it's supposed to parody.
  • Male to female example: threatened by Michael to his boss/romantic partner Jan in the American version of The Office, much to general astonishment:

 Michael: We're gonna play it like this? You give me a good raise, or no more sex. (turns to Toby) What are you writing, perv-ball?

Toby: Just preparing for the deposition.

    • Given what we later learn about Jan's sex drive and given that Michael does get a pay raise of sorts it is entirely possible it actually worked.
      • Their relationship is a complete inversion of the traditional TV relationship. She outranks him (at first), she's in it for the sex, even though she knows he's a boorish idiot, because she can't help herself and he's in it because he wants a wife and kids.
  • On Sports Night, Natalie threatens Jeremy with this during a fight ("There will be no 'precious moments' tonight, if you know what I mean. No 'precious moments' of any kind.") When Dan suggests that Jeremy retaliate...

 Dan: You can't just forgive her right away. There needs to be punishment.

Jeremy: What kind of punishment?

Dan: I'd withhold sex.

Jeremy: That sounds like it would be a lot worse for me than it would be for her.

Dan: Education ain't easy.

Jeremy: You don't know what the hell you're talking about, do you?

Dan: On this? No.

  • A legendary SNL Weekend Update sketch from 1978 involved Jane Curtin proposing that all women withhold oral sex from all men until the Equal Rights Amendment passed. She backed down when Bill Murray pointed out that "oral sex is a sword that cuts both ways".
  • A season one episode of M* A* S* H features all the females in the unit withholding intimacy of any sort from the men of the unit until one of the men agrees to be "close" with a clumsy virgin nurse due to be discharged in a few weeks. (It's never established, by the way, whether or not Margaret was part of this. On the one hand, she was pretty heartless in those days and Frank didn't seem to care much about getting the nurses to be intimate again, but on the other it's repeatedly emphasized that all the women were involved. It's a great mystery.)
  • In an episode of Gilligan's Island when the women feel they're being unfairly treated, Mrs. Howell tells Ginger and Mary Anne about how Lysistrata "convinced all the women in her town to ignore the men completely until they got what they wanted," giving her husband a look to let everyone know exactly what the emphasis on "completely" means.
  • An episode of That 70s Show plays with this. Eric and Donna have an argument over something involving politics of the era, and both decide to withhold sex from the other until one of them conceded that he/she wanted it more, thereby losing their political debate. Near the end, they get really steamy but Donna backs out claiming that as a woman, she can get too really horny and then turn it off at will, causing Eric to admit defeat. Seconds later, she says, "Oh thank God, I was bluffing."
    • At one point Donna also asks her mother, Midge, if it's ethical to do this just to get them to do something. Midge is astonished that the option existed ("You can do that?") and offers no valuable advice at all. ("Who cares? I'm getting the bathroom repainted!")
  • An Everybody Loves Raymond episode centered around Ray discovering the "power of no", i.e. that turning Debra down when she wants sex will make her act nicer and flirtier. Debra, who consequently began to worry about her age, was not amused when she found out. Ray and Debra then decided to have a bet over which of them could go without sex longer. After a month, Ray gave in and begged her for sex. After a beat Debra responded "Are we still doing that?" (She later admitted that she did remember that, however.)
  • An episode of The Secret Life of the American Teenager had nearly all the girls in school agreeing to take matters into their own hands and not sleep with the guys as an act of revenge against their philandering (or perceived to be cheating/thinking about cheating) boyfriends. It didn't last though.
  • The Scrubs episode "My Musical", after Carla and Turk's fight at hand gets derailed by his confusion of her ethnicity and the fight devolves into an increasingly antagonistic Tango. (Have At You)

 Turk: Babe, you know I know the truth.

Carla: Well I need a little proof... so list all you know about me or no sex again.

    • At one point, Turk threatens to do the same to Carla. The simple response is something along the lines of "Like THAT'll work!".
    • Thankfully she's the only one like that, and in a later episode, she is told by elderly couple that things like that ruin marriages.
    • Carla seems to love doing this to poor Turk. Just by being friends with her, Elliot has the power to deny Turk sex any time she wants to just by asking Carla to invoke the trope. Carla doesn't even need to know why, she just agrees right away.
    • Twisted elsewhere in the series by Jordan and Dr. Cox. In order to get him to do what she wants, Jordan threatens to stop having sex with him and start "making love" to him.
    • Elliot and Keith go through a big fight (instigated by a bored Jordan) and she goes so far as to email him a video of her pole dancing to show him what he's missing.
  • This trope is invoked with alarming frequency in the later episodes of My Wife and Kids.
  • Happens in an episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie with specific reference to the Greek story, though Sarah finds the lack of sex at least as difficult as her husband does.
  • In an episode of the show Cybill, Cybill's pregnant daughter wants her mother's advice since her husband hasn't shown any interest in sex since her pregnancy started showing. The advice?

 Cybill: Withhold sex.

Rachel: What?

Cybill: Withhold sex.

Rachel: But Mom haven't you been listening? He doesn't want sex.

Cybill: Well, he'll want it if he can't have it.

  • Susan on My Family actually went through with this once, when she found out that Ben had ripped off the poem he claimed to have written for her. It then subverted how it's supposed to go, with Susan getting tetchier by the day, and giving us this:

 Susan: It's all right, honey. Mummy's just been under a lot of stress... at work.

Michael: Oh, I thought it was because Mummy and Daddy weren't getting any.

  • The Chandler/Monica relationship on Friends kind of used it, with the Double Standard front-and-centre. When Monica forgets to make Chandler a valentines day present she says "I will make anything you want in there [pointing to the kitchen] and do anything you want in there [pointing to bedroom]." When it turns out Chandler's gift was actually one Janice had made for him, he makes the same offer and gets this response:

 Monica: [pointing to kitchen] Yeah, you will and [pointing to bedroom] are you kidding me?

    • (There's a possible double meaning here, either Monica was going to withhold sex, or Chandler is so bad at it that it doesn't even come close to making up for what he did.)
    • There was also an episode where Chandler was withholding sex because Monica was mad at him (they were trying to have a baby, and her ovulation diary said they needed to have sex whether they wanted to or not). Monica pretended the fight was over until they'd done it, and then said it wasn't. Chandler was outraged by this, until Joey asked him if he was really complaining that he had sex.
  • Inverted with Married... with Children. On numerous occasions, Peggy uses sex as a punishment when Al does something wrong.
  • Step by Step used this trope a lot, though often Inverted in that Carol was far more fond of promising lots of sex if she got her way, than she was of threatening to withhold it if she didn't.
  • Done gender-flipped on Gossip Girl. Chuck refuses to have sex with Blair until she can say those three words, eight letters.
  • Subverted in the sitcom The War at Home, in which Dave (the father of the household) and Vicky (his wife) are in the middle of an argument. Dave antagonistically assumes that she's going to withhold sex from him, but she instantly shoots the idea down, remarking that she wouldn't want to deny herself and claiming that she had something else in mind.
  • Inverted as a joke in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffing of Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders wherein Mike asks if Merlin's wife just threatened him with sex if he didn't go out and look for a stolen item.
  • At the advice of her mother, Fran attempts this with Maxwell on The Nanny during one of their first arguments as husband and wife, but ends up being so turned on by him that she gives up before the first night ends.
  • On Alien Nation, Tenctonese are implied to be culturally more rational about sex; it happens, it's enjoyable, it shouldn't be taken lightly (they find oversexualized things such as pornography silly), and it doesn't matter what gender both partners are. One of Susan's coworkers boasts about the effectiveness of this technique, just as a rather complicated issue pops up. Susan is curious, but by the end of the episode the woman is divorced: her husband just became sick and tired of being screwed with, to the point where he said "Take as much money as you want, just never come near me again!"
  • How I Met Your Mother: Gender flipped in an episode where Marshall withholds sex from Lily until she starts treating Ted a little better. This is played as a ridiculous, futile gesture, in the same way that most other stories do when a man tries to withhold. Bizarrely, earlier in the show's run Lily had been portrayed as every bit as sexual as Marshall, to the extent that she developed the shakes upon going a few weeks without.
  • Subverted on The Brittas Empire. Mr Brittas's wife Helen tries witholding sex as a sign of displeasure at a proposed move to Belgium. A few weeks later she admits to a friend "it's been Hell!" for her while he hasn't even noticed.


Theater

  • Lysistrata, the Trope Namer, is an Unbuilt Trope version, in that it applies equally to both genders. The title character tries to end the Peloponnesian War by getting women from both sides (Athens and Sparta, in this case) to withhold sex until peace reigns again. (Well, they also seize control of the city treasuries, but who cares about that?) This is laughed at by the men: All Women Are Lustful, so Lysistrata's sex strike shouldn't last five minutes. But the women manage to transcend their own base natures, bringing the men to heel. The result? Peace throughout Greece.... Well, in Real Life the war went on for around eight more years, but it was a nice thought.
    • This works of course because ALL the women agree to it. Sure enough peace happens, followed by an actual onstage orgy. At least that's how it was performed at the time. (The play was most often performed during the Dionysia, during which the entire city was always at least a little bit tipsy and people were encouraged to put their hair down).
      • YMMV there weren't any actresses at the time, just actors.
  • Blake Morrison's play, Lisa's Sex Strike, is a version of Lysistrata set in modern England.
  • The Happiest Girl in the World (1961) is a Broadway musical based on Lysistrata.
  • In The Merchant of Venice, Portia and Nerissa, in male disguise, trick their new husbands out of the rings that they had made them promise never to take off. Later they mess with them further by acting furious and refusing to come into bed with them until they see the rings. (In the end, they hand them back the rings and admit to everything, and all is happy once more.)
  • Lysistrata Jones is another Broadway Musical based on Lysistrata (2011), based in a high school and featuring cheerleaders and a basketball team as the leads.


Video Games

  • Deer Avenger did this with Furries -- Bambo is a deer whose wife told him she will not let him touch her until he get rid of all hunters in the forest. Bambo takes a gun a do this.
  • Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, in one of the commercials. "I want a new fence! That's IT! We're never having sex AGAIN!"


Web Comics

  • Male-to-male example: Harley in Boy Meets Boy threatens not to have sex with his boyfriend Mikhael unless the latter buys him a PS2.
  • In one strip of Penny Arcade, the duo are trying to raise money for an expensive game with a custom controller, and, well:

 Tycho: I've been charging Brenna for sex.

Gabe: No shit. How's that going?

Tycho: I'm flat fucking broke.

  • In Clan of the Cats, Jubal threatens to withhold sex from a shape shifted Chelsea in heat when she breaks off the amulet that helps control her shape changing. It ends with him observing, "Never argue with a PM Sing panther."
  • In one strip of Questionable Content, a female member of a newly formed rock band uses this to force her boyfriend (also a member of the band) to support her choice of band name.
  • This comic shows you why this trope is a bad idea.
  • Aversion: Ben and Lily of Goblin Hollow specifically agreed never to do this to each other, as they consider it immature and unlikely to earn sincere apologies. Besides, in Lily's words, when a friend asks her why she didn't withhold sex after Ben did something which upset her, "Hey, it ain't like I did anything wrong."


Western Animation

  • Another G-Rated example on Avatar: The Last Airbender: Mai repeatedly refuses to let Zuko touch her while the two of them are having a fight in the Beach Episode.
    • Then again, given how much radar-dodging those two indulge in, the implications might not be very G-rated at all...
  • Done in song form in American Dad during an argument between Francine and Stan about a hot tub he's just purchased.

 I'm your wife, listen to what I say

Get rid of that tub, or no boo-tay!


Real Life

  • This 2008 Naples sex strike over illegal fireworks.
  • A 2009 sex strike by Kenyan women.
  • This 2011 one actually ended armed conflict between 2 villages in the Philippines.
  • Despite their reputation, the Puritans in America viewed sex as a normal, important, and expected part of marital relationships. In fact, in an inversion of this trope, there are records of a James Matlock being excommunicated from church fellowship for, among other things, withholding sex from his wife for two years.
    • In fact, despite the reputation of Christianity as a whole, there's a verse in the Bible that warns husbands and wives not to deprive each other.
      • Not to mention an entire book that celebrates intimacy between a man and a woman.
      • There's also a similar passage in the Qur'an, which damns wives that do that. On the other hand, a husband who fails to satisfy his wife in bed prior to satisfying himself is equally guilty.
      • The Torah lists that a husband should not deprive his wife of food, clothing, or "marital privileges", and that doing so was grounds for a divorce on her end. Withholding sex was considered abandonment.
  • Rock the Vote advises this tactic against opponents of the health care reform bill.
  • Inverted during the Vietnam War: "Girls say yes to boys who say no" (to entering the draft).
  • Bill Engvall brought this up in one of his routines. He says that "women are like camels" and while they don't like going without sex for long periods of time, they're still capable of it. As opposed to men who...aren't. Right.
  • Several bits of dating advice for women say to never sleep with a man if you want to marry him. After all, what man would want his children raised by a filthy, filthy whore who actually had a sex drive?
  • After their football team got off to an 0-4 start in 2010, New Mexico State University started distributing propaganda urging the female students to refrain from having sex with members of the football team until they earned their first win. They won the very next game.
  • Something similar happened in relation to the 2010 UK general election. Namely, The Sun, famous for its pictures of topless women on Page 3, threatened to stop putting them in if the Conservative Party lost. Whether or not this had an effect on the results we shall never know.
    • They also pulled this in 1992, using an uglier picture with the caption "THIS IS WHAT PAGE 3 WILL LOOK LIKE IF KINNOCK WINS". Kinnock lost, but despite The Sun's bragging it's hard to tell whether they really were wot won it.
  • An inconclusive election in June 2010 and deep divisions over regional and linguistic matters led to Belgium taking 540 days to form a government, finally obtaining one in December 2011. During the endless negotiations, one group encouraged MP's wives to use this tactic to break the deadlock after Belgium surpassed Iraq's then-record of 249 days without a government.
  • This was a factor in George W. Bush's decision to quit alcohol. It tends to not get mentioned much, partly because his status as a Born Again Christian, as a result of his alcoholism, is a big part of his political identity.
  • This was used to try and help get prohibition off the ground. With many ladies using sex to try and get the laws passed, the old phrase "Lips that touch liquor will never touch ours" still being remembered today.
  • According to some versions of her story, a young ukrainian woman named Roxelana allegedly became sole legitimate wife of an Ottoman sultan that way. As his favorite harem girl, she managed to cajole him into making her a free woman again; however, according to ottoman law, a man couldn't sleep with a free woman who wasn't his wife, so she refused him until he agreed to her terms. The name of the sultan? SULEIMAN I THE MAGNIFICENT.
  • In the middle of a highly charged debate about abortions and mandatory ultrasounds. Virginia Rep. David Alpo jokingly complained that his wife wouldn't have sex with him.
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