What Happens After “Yes”?

Catherine Auerbach and Pia Sharma

With the emergence of Gen Z in the socio-political spectrum, a more open mindset is sweeping over the nation, and with it a rise in the discussion of topics like sex and consent. However, the problem is that “consent” is where the discussion is stopping. While it is incredibly important for both youth and adults to understand consensual sex, what’s also important in ensuring equitable and, frankly, enjoyable sex for all parties is the conversation about what happens after “yes.”


 The discussion surrounding what constitutes “sex” itself has so often been stopped at the word “intercourse;” but why is this one act so important when for many women, it is associated with pain and discomfort? What does it say about the existence of sexism in heterosexual sexual encounters that women go in believing their role is to help a man experience pleasure, and not to achieve intimate victories for themselves? So much of this conversation takes its roots in the education we receive from our teachers and parents as children. How do we initiate this dialogue in our health and sex-ed classes?


Author of New York Times Bestsellers “Girls & Sex,” “Waiting for Daisy,” and “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” Peggy Orenstein discusses in her Ted Talk the issue of girls’ shame about their bodies being integrated into their sexual desire, including their desire to receive oral sex. Let alone the fact that there is often an expectation in hookup culture for men to receive oral sex (with women receiving much less frequently), a common phenomenon among women is that when oral sex is offered, they may decline receiving it because of internalized fear of embarrassment and humiliation. This allows the stereotype of men receiving oral sex and women not to be continuously perpetuated in an ongoing vicious cycle, which undoubtedly affects each woman going into a sexual encounter. 


Part of this social shame and sexual vulnerability for women may stem from the more recent spread and accessibility of pornography, especially among young boys. With the internet, youth can easily access the world of porn online, and many take their experience from viewing porn as knowledge to apply in actual sex. Pornography, however, is created for the enjoyment of an audience and displays a perfected, exaggerated, one-sided view of sex. In adult films, women are often completely shaven and flaunt extreme and extorted curves. When men watch this, especially boys wanting to learn more about sex, a far from accurate vision of what sex actually looks like can be implanted in the mind. Rather, when women view this, they may see an image very far from what they themselves look like, which can create a deep sense of shame in their bodies. This can condition them to be more submissive in speaking up for what they want in the bedroom. 


There is also the tricky societal standard of masturbation. Masturbation is far more accepted for men rather than women in the culture. With this, there comes to be more porn created to capture the extremities of male desire and male pleasure, often completely disregarding the wants of the woman involved, aside from being completely unrealistic. In order to achieve what Orenstein calls “intimate justice,” all youth need to be taught that pornography is meant for entertainment, not as a travel guide for real intimate experiences. The sense of emotional pain and body dysmorphia that women experience with their bodies can only be countered if we stop normalizing this one-sided idea that sex is for men’s enjoyment, and start acknowledging how multi-faceted, conversational, and enjoyable sex can be for both people involved. 


I (Catherine) was talking to my mother about writing this article, and she posed the question of whether I and fellow students would really want to talk to our teachers about the actual motions of sex. Wouldn’t it be awkward? I’m sure it would — it would likely be an incredibly uncomfortable conversation. But I think that often the most important conversations are the most difficult to have. Shooting down these negative perceptions at a young age before they become a routine mindset has the ability to create more equitable, ethical, and truly intimate sexual encounters for this next generation, one where our desires aren’t dismissed, our rights not diminished, and our presence not made subservient. 

Sexual education in health class is not required to cover what happens after consent, according to the National Sexuality Education Standards. Sex-Ed generally describes the anatomical wonders of male erections and ejaculation, while we learn that women are left to bear the burden of unwanted pregnancy, birth control, and menstruation. It is indirectly enforced from day one that a woman’s genitalia is essentially a burden when it comes to sexual activity. We need to hold our sex education responsible for men’s cultural belief that the effects of menstruation, a female partner’s pubic hair, and giving a partner oral sex is a burden. Breaking this stigma starts with implanting new, more equitable ideals in the mind as an adolescent before sexist attitudes can foster. 


The majority of young girls believe that in a heterosexual sexual relationship, the man will receive oral sex before the woman. This belief reflects the cultural priority of male pleasure and dominance. Not only do statistics show that men are pleasured more than women during intercourse, a woman’s expectations and criteria associated with ‘good’ sex is significantly lower than that of a man’s. A man will judge whether sex is good based on their satisfaction and physical enjoyment while surveys have shown that many women associate good sex with whether their partner was satisfied through an experience hopefully painless for themselves. Clearly, our generation is raising a coalition of independent, strong, powerful women, but for some reason, we haven’t come to realize that this applies to sex as well. Intimate superiority for men doesn’t have to be a precedent we must accept. Through reformed health education, we can take a step away from this misogynistic script and bring a more healthy and just one into circulation. 


Conversation and communication to young people about sex usually consists of the prevention of things like disease, pregnancy, and sexual assault. After these topics are covered, it can be hard to converse about sex after consent is given, since sex has been discussed in such a negative, medical, or worrisome light. As an often uncomfortable topic to discuss, it can often be much easier to talk about the faults of sex rather than the ways it can be embraced. However, molding the way young people perceive sex must take precedence over the discomfort of talking about sex. When parents or teachers only talk about the topic when it is in relation to danger, it leaves a huge gray area around most of the important details, such as, generally, what to expect. 


Female sexual desire is also met by the social construct of virginity, and the connotations of having it or losing it. Virginity is associated with innocence and purity. Because society believes that males are sexual predators and sexual creatures, when a girl loses their virginity it is almost as if they are losing all purity and innocence they once had. It’s required to cover the topic of abstinence in the curriculum of health class, whereas homosexual sexual activity isn’t mentioned once. The definition of virginity may seem clear, but the technicalities of losing one’s purity reflects only on society’s traditional values, as well as the ‘default’ heterosexual sexual orientation which, unfortunately, reflects on America’s outdated health curriculum. 


Sex shouldn’t have to be something anyone is ashamed of talking about and especially should not be more shameful for one gender over another due to one’s gender identity or sexual identity. The whole point of sex ed is to educate, but how could our students be educated if they can’t have open conversations and don’t understand the depths of respect and intimacy? How can they be set up for a lifetime of consensual and mutually fulfilling sex when they’re only aware of the medical and dangerous aspects? WESS, like every public school in the city, follows the curriculum from the New York City Department of Ed. But, it’s not enough. Health class needs to be a place of open conversation and resources. 


Of course, students need to learn about consent but asking for consent is not the only way to show respect to one’s partner. In fact, it’s not enough. The conversation needs to start immediately and needs to be heavily integrated into health class and sex ed and integrated into our daily conversations as well. No student should be left in the dark when it comes to a matter this important.