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Lysistrata Gambit

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"Hm, sex works even better than chocolate for manipulating behavior. Wonder if anyone's ever stumbled onto that before..."
Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory

A spouse threatens to remove sex from their marriage (gasp!) to force something or as a punishment. Can also occur in 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. To understand the humor in modern western culture, imagine if it was all the men who refused to have sex. 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 and you can't withhold what you aren't having in the first place, or because doing so would trigger the collapse of the Internet. And men, of course, are incapable of withholding sex (which is why withholding sex from them is so effective), so they can't try this on their women. Plus, as noted earlier, women don't even want sex in the first place, so it wouldn't work on them 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.

Compare Denied Food as Punishment and Bathroom Control, for when the characters are not allowed to eat or go to the bathroom as punishment. See also Sexless Marriage where this situation is the norm.

As it's a sex-related trope, No Real Life Examples, Please!


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    Anime & Manga 
  • One story in Franken Fran has the girls of a high school ask Fran for something that will make the boys less horny. Fran obliges, and soon there is no longer any sexual harassment at the school. However, this leads to the boyfriends becoming cold and distant, on the verge of breakup, so the girls ask Fran what she did in the first place: create a mass of living flesh emitting human hormones that the boys see as a giant pile of naked, inviting women, which they have sex with. If there's An Aesop in there, besides the manga's overarching message of "Be careful what you wish for, especially if you use mad science to make it come true" it's a really messed-up one.
  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • In an old Archie one-panel gag, this backfires on Ethel. It does help that Jughead has little more than animosity toward her.
    Ethel: Lips that touch onion will never touch mine!
    Jughead: Pop, make that extra onions.
  • Blacksad: Jezebel Karup denies sex to her husband Hans because she privately despises him while playing the "good wife" in public. She also carries on an affair with his associate Huk just to humiliate him further. There's a salient reason for this: she's actually his daughter.
  • There's at least one moment of Deconstruction of this trope in Rick's (prose) memoirs from Cerebus the Aardvark. 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.
  • Empowered:
    • Emp blows her stack over a one-night-stand her lover ThugBoy had with Sistah Spooky a month before they met. Then he manages 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.
    • Of course it is implied, and eventually outright stated, that Emp needs a good snuggling almost as much as her lover. In fact, in later volumes, it is shown that future attempts at this trope are made to even less success. She consistently cracks from the isolation ending the gambit prematurely (not that those days aren't Hell on Earth for ThugBoy regardless).
  • The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers move to a mountain cabin with a trio of Distaff Counterparts. When Franklin tries to delegate the women to cooking and cleaning duty, they in turn threaten to withhold sexual favors. When they put it to a vote, Fat Freddy sides with the women. The impasse is broken when the guys abduct Freddy in the night, tie him up, and just out of reach start eating all their food. His tortuous wails drive the women to surrender. (Lysistrata is referred to by name in the narration box.)
  • Ralf König's comic adaptation of Lysistrata spoofs the trope: after the women have been withholding sex for a while, the men start having gay sex. Then again, it still works, because now they are fucking their enemies instead of fighting. As expected of Ralf König. What's more, Lysistrata, the one who got all the other women into it, was actually sleeping with her girlfriend all the time. The sex-deprived other women were seriously pissed off when this came out.

    Comic Strips 
  • Doonesbury. Attempted gender-flip: 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?"
  • FoxTrot:
  • Parodied in a Life in Hell strip that said women have two choices: withhold all sex and be rewarded with dog-like devotion, or screw his brains out, which will also be rewarded with dog-like devotion.
  • One story in Wally Wood's Sally Forth features a group of naked Women's Lib protesters marching on the Pentagon, trying to force an end to the Vietnam War with this trope.

    Fan Works 
  • In An Angel and a Trickster Angel states that Loki talking about their sex life with Sirius merits a week of no sex per infraction.
  • In a Gunslinger Girl Biff & Little Britney fanfic, Triela tries this with her handler Hilshire, only to have an Oh, Crap! moment when he calls her bluff. She quickly withdraws her threat and instead offers 'something special' that night in exchange for his cooperation.
  • 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.
  • In Lesson 254 Harry threatens no sex for four months if Snape doesn't attend Harry's ballet class with him.
  • Loved and Lost features something of a G-rated example of this when Princess Cadance says that while she can forgive Shining Armor for his mistakes, he should reconcile with Twilight before they try to get married again. While Cadance doesn't mean this as an ultimatum, Shining interprets it as such. In his mind, it means that his relationship with the mare he loves now hinges on him reconciling with his sister.
  • In Narcissa Militant Narcissa threatens to never have sex with Lucius again unless he tells her exactly what Voldemort said when he gave Lucius the diary Horcrux.
  • In Shattered Souls Rosalie threatens no sex for a month if Emmett keeps swearing in front of her baby goddaughter.
  • In This Means War Hermione denies Ron sex if he uses any swear word worse than "crikey" or "blimey".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, some suffragettes sing about withholding affection from men until women get the vote.
  • 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.
  • Carmen in The Color of Money uses this to force Vincent to return to their plan and intentionally lose a game of pool.
    Carmen: You win one more game, you're gonna be humping your fist for a long time.
  • In Don Jon, Barbara is straightforward with Jon, explaining that he has to take a night school class (to further his career) before she will sleep with him.
  • In Drive Angry, Piper withholds sex from her boyfriend till he proposes. It takes him two days to break down and pop the question.
  • A light-hearted version happens to the eponymous character in Good Will Hunting. The girl he has been seeing for the last few weeks is annoyed that he hasn't introduced her to his friends yet, and half-jokingly promises to withhold the sex until the situation changes. It's the middle of the night, but that doesn't stop him from making a call to one of them.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • A Lysistrata Gambit is prominently featured in the 1955 musical The Second Greatest Sex. One of the songs is "Lysistrata". There is even a character named Liza, probably a reference to Aristophanes' play.
  • The backstory to Separate Tables reveals that back when Tom and Ann were married, she withheld sex from him just to mess with his head.
  • In the 2011 French film The Source, the women in a small village go on a sex strike because the men won't help them bring water from a distant well.
  • In Up the Chastity Belt, Lurkalot and Sir Coward disguise themselves as women and persuade Saladin's Bedlah Babes to withhold sex from the crusaders so that King Richard will become despondent, call off the Crusade, and return to England.

  • According to Dave Barry, civilization got started when a smarter-than-average cavewoman convinced the others that they would "look at the men in a certain way" until the men started acting according to their wives' commands, including bringing an end to the surprise-mammoth-eyeball-in-the-mouth joke. Most of his work is based on the "A man is a Big Friendly Dog that can walk upright" dynamic.
  • Gender-flipped in A Brother's Price. Kiefer threw violent tantrums and withheld sex from his wives in order to get what he wants, and it largely works. He also cheats on them on those nights. With his sister.
  • In Claiming The Highlander by Kinley MacGregor (Sherrilyn Kenyon) a major plot point is that Maggie has organised two whole towns of women to withhold sex until the men agree to stop their silly feud. Actually goes into detail as the women are shown to be struggling because they actually care about their husbands and are afraid they might be driving them away. Maggie gets annoyed at all the women who want to give in.
  • Kitai does this in the sixth Codex Alera book, First Lord's Fury, demanding that Tavi court her properly rather than the 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.
  • In The Godfather, Carlo doesn't dare to physically abuse Connie after he's beaten by Sonny, at least not until the beating he uses to lure Sonny into Barzini's ambush, so he uses one of these to abuse her emotionally instead. It's no sacrifice for him since he's been cheating on her from day one, which he lets her discover as part of the abuse.
  • In the Gone series, Lana threatens to never have sex with Sanjit again unless he returns her cigarettes.
  • In House of Leaves it's mentioned at some point that Karen once wouldn't let Will Navidson touch her. For thirteen months.
  • 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."
  • The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. The Luna rebels have trouble getting the ill-disciplined Loonies to man the defences during the long, boring wait for the Earth military to attack. Fortunately due to the chronic gender imbalance on the Moon, women have a great deal of power and a Lysistrata Corps is formed to help with the defence. It's not mentioned whether the women promise sex or threaten to withhold it, but the next time the protagonist does an inspection he finds three female soldiers and no shortage of men.
  • In The Nowhere Girls, the protagonists declare a strike on all sexual activity, from intercourse to kissing, until the boys of Prescott High start behaving better. The strike is meant to get the attention not of the rapists, but of the other boys who allow the rapes to continue through their silence. Enough of the female students go along with the strike to make the popular boys want revenge.
  • The Saga of Erik the Red: After Erik the Red's wife Thjodhild has converted to Christianity, she "refuse[s] to sleep with Erik" because he won't give up the pagan religion and become a Christian (presumably from a concern that it is sinful for a Christian to have sexual relations with a heathen). This is "much to his displeasure", but does not seem to persuade him, as he is never mentioned to convert.
  • After catching her husband with Lady Lowborough in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Helen tells Arthur point-blank that "we are husband and wife only in name." It fails to get him to change anything, but at least she doesn't have to have sex with him anymore.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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; the "binnaum" who helped conceive her children wants her husband to sire a child on his wife — and must therefore forego sex with her for several weeks. 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!"
  • On The Bernie Mac Show, Bernie becomes very possessive once his nieces and nephew move in, only allowing them to drink the dregs of the household's orange juice, and so on. His wife Wanda gives him a stern talking-to and forbids him from having sex with her until he treats the children more hospitably.
  • The Big Bang Theory: Penny notes that while this is usually the first trick in a girls bag, Amy cannot use it against Sheldon.
  • In Bones “The Cold In The Case”, the lab gang is talking about re-animation and Hodgins starts to say it sounds really cool. Angela quips “if you say “cool”,you won’t be having sex for,like,a year.”. He quickly corrects himself to say “revolting”.
  • Subverted on The Brittas Empire. Mr Brittas's wife Helen tries withholding 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.
  • Cheers: Diane would tease Sam with the threat of this during their first romance (Season 2), whenever he was being difficult. (He would always surrender right away.) Lilith would do this to Frasier as well —increasingly — one episode has him begging her to look at him — as their relationship grew more stormy over the course of the show. To the point where she cheated on him.
  • 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.
  • G-rated version on Drake & 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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.
    • Harriet addressed the problem more effectively down the road by getting a job making more than him.
  • Firefly: Zoe is willing to use this on Wash from time to time.
    Zoe: Remember that sex we were planning to have, ever again?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Friends:
    • The Chandler/Monica relationship 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 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.
    • And another episode where Monica and Chandler get into a fight, and Chandler is so annoyed he tells her that he's 'not putting out tonight' much to Monica's annoyance. So, as examples go, they're actually one of the least sexist examples.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • A rather atypical example is provided by a same-sex couple. Feeling slighted by Brienne of Tarth's appointment to Renly Baratheon's Kingsguard, Ser Loras Tyrell not only withholds sex from his boyfriend, but he punishes his beloved even further by bringing Margaery (Loras' sister) to Renly's bed, knowing full well that Renly utterly dreads the prospect of having to consummate the marriage.
    • Invoked during Tyrion's trial for regicide. Shae gives false testimony that Sansa Stark had refused to sleep with him unless he murdered King Joffrey. Instead it was Tyrion who refused to sleep with Sansa because she was being forced to marry him and it was akin to rape in his eyes.
    • Queen Margaery does a low-key version with King Tommen. She gives sex, just not as much as he wants, so he's always eager for her and thus more easy to manipulate.
  • 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. What exactly that implies about the after-hours activities of the castaways is mind-blowing.
  • Done gender-flipped on Gossip Girl. Chuck refuses to have sex with Blair until she can say those three words, eight letters.
  • Grey's Anatomy:
    • Christina does this to Owen for one episode but for a slightly different reason. Owen has been asked by the Chief to pick the next Chief Resident. Christina was upset because Owen would likely avoid picking her because of their marriage. So her goal in this case is to avoid letting sex cloud Owen's judgment (i.e. she wants for him to think of her as a doctor rather than his wife). He ends up picking someone else anyway. She's initially upset but cools down after he tells her that a Chief Resident is primarily a managerial position, and all Christina wants to do is be a great surgeon. Later on, both of them are shown to be extremely lustful, doing it at any time of day in almost any room in the hospital until Owen finally tells her they have to do stop doing that.
    • Lexi also tells this to Alex at one point but only because he's been treating her like crap that episode. She even tells him that she wants sex but not at the expense of her self-esteem.
    • Notably averted for most of the characters. All Women Are Lustful is in play here.
  • In the Here Come the Brides episode "The Stand Off," the women of Seattle are sick of seeing their men get beaten up by Stempel's goons, so they all agree to withhold all forms of affection, from sex to hand-holding, until the loggers can come to some kind of agreement with Stempel.
  • 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, elsewhere in the show's run Lily has been portrayed as every bit as sexual as Marshall (if not more so), to the extent that she developed the shakes upon going a few weeks without.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): In "A Vile Hunger for Your Hammering Heart", Louis de Pointe du Lac withholds sex from his boyfriend Lestat as payback for the latter's cruel Tough Love stance during the Charlie incident which drove their vampire daughter Claudia away.
  • 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.
  • Married... with Children:
    • Inverted: on numerous occasions, Peggy uses having sex as a punishment when Al does something wrong.
    • When Marcy was married to Steve, there is an episode where Steve comes back from a camping trip and plans to keep his beard. Marcy absolutely hates it and pulls this gambit to make Steve shave the beard. As the episode goes on, both are showing signs of sexual frustration, but in the end, Steve shaves his beard (Status Quo Is God after all).
  • Subverted and played with in Martin. Both Gina and Martin make a bet with Pam that they both can go without sex for a week to prove that their relationship is more than just physical. Both end up on edge as a result and both try to sabotage the other into giving up.
  • M*A*S*H:
    • A season one episode of 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 explicitly stated that Margaret was in on the plot, although Frank seems rather downcast and meets with the other men about the issue.)
    • Several other episodes have Margaret cutting Frank off in this manner when she's pissed at him about something.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • This trope is invoked with alarming frequency in the later episodes of My Wife and Kids.It should be noted that this was about the time Damon Wayans got divorced.
  • 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 New Girl, when Jess tries to bond with Coach by being a Pistons fan, Nick objects based on the rivalry with his team, the Bulls. When she refuses to give up her scheme, he declares he's "turning off the tap". Things escalate between them until she retaliates by declaring she's turning off her tap. In the end, they both cave simultaneously, him in a Pistons' jersey, her in a Bulls'.
  • Male-to-female example: threatened by Michael to his boss/romantic partner Jan in the American version of The Office, much to general astonishment. Also notable that what he's demanding is completely unethical, and a perfect illustration of why employer/employee relationships like theirs are forbidden by the company. 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. Given that he gets that pay raise, it seems like it worked.
    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.
  • Private Practice:
    • Addison does this to Sam after they disagree about a comatose patient whose husband has been having sex with her. Addison thinks it's a crime equivalent to rape, while Sam is of a different opinion. When Sam tries to point out that their personal and professional lives and relationships have to be separate, she disagrees and kicks him out. Several characters try to point out to Addison that Sam has a right to his own medical opinion. Addison's usual answer is "I'm right, and he's wrong". In the end, they reconcile, but not because Sam admits to being wrong. In fact, he thinks Addison is the wrong one and wants to yell at her for calling the cops of the husband... but he'll do that the next day at work to avoid being a hypocrite. Additionally, Sam is more concerned with what Addison's behavior is doing to their relationship, although he still wants sex.
    • Charlotte also occasionally does this to Cooper. It only works because Cooper is a sex addict, although Charlotte is also constantly horny.
  • A legendary Saturday Night Live 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".
  • Scrubs:
    • The 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 an elderly couple that things like that ruin marriages.
    • Carla is so bad that Elliot has the power to withhold sex from Turk just by being friends with her.
    • 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.
  • An episode of The Secret Life of the American Teenager has 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 doesn't last, though.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • That '70s Show:
    • An episode 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 marches back into the room while really horny and 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!")
    • Jackie and Donna have a conversation where they agree it's really important men don't understand that women want sex just as much as guys do. Cut to Hyde and Eric getting high in Eric's basement, and Hyde suggesting, "You know, I think women like sex just as much as we do." Eric laughs and dismisses it as another one of Hyde's "crazy conspiracy theories."
  • Helen once tried this on Stanley on Three's Company. Of course, Stanley being who he is, it didn't work.
  • In an episode of Too Close for Comfort, Murial threatens to stop cooking dinner for Henry "among other things." Subverted when Henry tells her he can go out to eat... "among other things."
  • In the Wanted: Dead or Alive episode "To The Victor," Josh Randall's problem is a town where the women (led by Liz, the daughter of Sheriff Strata - get it?) withhold themselves from the men in a protest against guns. After an attack on the town which they can't protect themselves against, the women give in unaware that Josh had arranged for the attack.
  • 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.
  • In The Windsors, Camilla withholds sex from Charles to get him to agree to host a dinner for the Chinese president, which he originally refused to do because of a hypocritical stance on the environment. He gives in very quickly.

  • A less obnoxious version comes from Johann Sebastian Bach's "Coffee Cantata" (formally titled Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht): the main character is a young woman who loves coffee so much that it worries her father, and he tries to bribe her into quitting by finding suitors for her. She then secretly tells each suitor that she will only marry him if he lets her keep drinking coffee (in essence, "You will never touch this unless you promise never to touch my joe").
  • "No Sugar Tonight" by The Guess Who is an example of this, apparently inspired by an actual conversation between a would-be mugger and his partner when she caught him trying to mug a member of the band.
  • Melanie Martinez song "Cake" is about a sexual relationship without emotional meaning. The singer is tired of this and offers this solution to earn some respect from her partner.
  • The song "Raking the Lawn" by Possible Oscar has:
    How can I enjoy the game if I go outside?
    She tells me to move my ass
    Or there'll be no action tonight
  • Meghan Trainor's "Dear Future Husband" implies this is happening, with sex being used as a reward for apologizing to the girlfriend who's in the wrong. This song isn't ironic.
  • P!nk slips this gem into her song "My Signature Move":
    You said I needed to change
    I did, I went and tried a different outfit
    And if that's not enough
    You won't be ridin' dirty tonight
  • An example Played for Drama happens in "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" by Meat Loaf: two teens are getting it on in the back of a car, only for the girl to stop the proceedings and refuses to let the boy go all the way with her unless he promises to marry her and stay with her forever. The boy in understandably reluctant, but his desire to lose his virginity eventually overrides his common sense and he makes the Rash Promise to "love [her] 'til the end of time."

    Myths & Religion 
  • All the Abrahamic religions have passages saying a married couple should not do this.
    • In 1st Corinthians 7:5 of The Bible, Paul the apostle both defies and deconstructs the trope, telling the Christian couples in regards to sex, "Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control."
    • In Exodus chapter 19, Moses commanded the men of Israel to go on a sexual fast and not come near their wives in preparation for the "third day" when the Lord would meet with His people on Mount Sinai.
    • A similar passage in The Qur'an damns wives who do this. On the other hand, a husband who fails to satisfy his wife in bed prior to satisfying himself is equally guilty. That's right: Muslim men are required to go down on their wives. Still, passage "4:34" advises men to punish disobedient wives by withdrawing sex (for up to 4 months, according to "2:226") and with beatings.
    • 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.
  • Gender Flipped in a Navajo myth. After First Man was insulted by First Woman, the men collectively do this to the women to make them sorrynote . (They move away from the women and stop cooperating with them entirely, but lack of sex is explicitly an important part of the punishment.) It works, but not before making both genders miserablenote . It is interesting to note, perhaps, that while not strictly matriarchal, Navajo culture does put most of the political and financial power (usually associated with men) in the hands of the tribe's women.

  • The Happiest Girl in the World (1961) is a Broadway musical based on Lysistrata.
  • Blake Morrison's play, Lisa's Sex Strike, is a version of Lysistrata set in modern England.
  • 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 (it helps that the whole reason the women are upset in the first place is that they want the men to be home having sex with them, not going off to war). 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 let their hair down). Notably, both men and women were immediately desperate for sex as soon as the strike started. Most of the play's humor (what didn't come from regional stereotypes, anyway), was based on the antics of people from either side trying to get laid.
    • The original play acknowledges a dark reality that most versions of this trope don't need to: the men's Marital Rape License. The women's fallback plan for if they exercise it is to Lie Back And Think Of Greece, on the theory that the men want enthusiastic partners when they have sex with their wives, and will find the experience of raping them so unsatisfying that it will be as effective as no sex at all for the sake of this trope.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • In The Opposite Sex by David Tristram, a woman threatens her husband with "no sex for a year", only for him to snark back that he's getting so little sex from her he wouldn't miss out on much.

    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 gets rid of all hunters in the forest. Bambo takes a gun and does 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!"
  • Summertime Saga: MC can pull one on Melonia Rump, the vapid Trophy Wife of the town's mayor. If he gets her pregnant, the only way to convince her to keep it is by threatening to stop having sex with her. She immediately agrees but ignores the child when it is born and hands it off to her Robot Maid.

    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 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 PMSing panther."
  • 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."
  • Karin-dou 4koma: When Aiina visits, she decides to withhold sex while walking around in a Naked Apron and such until Elza properly answers Mifi's feelings. By the time Aiina departs, Elza is wandering around aimlessly with bloodshot eyes.
  • 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 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.
  • Times Like This: Agent Scott's wife isn't above using this tactic to get him on board with Cassie's current scheme.

    Western Animation 
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • A few times on Daria, Brittany threatens to "get a headache" if Kevin doesn't do something she wants. He never gets what she means, though.
  • In The Simpsons episode Four Great Women and a Manicure, Marge forces Homer to kill all of the other Springfielders so that he can can be the best actor in a production of Macbeth. When the ghosts of Homer's victims confront Marge, insisting that it's her fault Homer killed them, Lenny invokes the trope when Marge tries to deflect blame.
  • South Park has another G-rated example: in season 20, an Internet Troll named Skankhunt42 begins harassing all the girls at school, leading them to believe all of the boys at the school shared the troll's opinions on women. When the boys' attempt to find and stop the troll fail, the girls all break up with their boyfriends en masse, leaving nearly every boy in school crying on the floornote . By the end of the season, this situation does not change.