The Consent is like Tea analogy is making the rounds again, and while it’s great to see pro-consent messages floating around the tubes, this analogy falls into an oversimplification trap. Which means when we try to apply this analogy to real life, it falls down.
Emily Nagoski over at The Dirty Normal lays the oversimplification trap out nicely, so I won’t reiterate, I’ll quote:
“This is how you know you have consent” doesn’t teach people to recognize what a person really wants when they say yes – and it certainly doesn’t teach either partner how to clarify.
And it just… it feel dismissive of the experience of the person being asked for consent, to say it’s as simple as wanting tea or not wanting tea, like it’s an off-switch/on-switch.
Emily’s right. Sometimes sex can be a simple yes or no question, but when it’s hook up situation? Or a new partner? Or trying to fuck while depressed? Or engaging in sexual activity while living as a survivor? Those situations can be complex and delicate and a simple yes or no isn’t going to give people what they need to feel comfortable.
I’m really into finding accessible ways for talking about sex and consent though; so what can it look like using the tea analogy to negotiate a real life sexual encounter?
A few week when I was asked if I wanted to go somewhere a little more suitable for [drinking tea] and [share a cup], I answered with maybe. I laid out how it’s hard me connect to drinking tea desires at certain times (like now) and I asked if we could move to the [tearoom] and play with [some cups and saucers first]. Ask about their safer [drinking] practices and expectations and shared mine. I asked if they wanted to start by [me pouring tea for them] and I may or may not want them to [pour me tea] The very last thing I asked was if they could [drink tea with me] and still respect me after the [tea] was done.
It worked really well because we both got to enjoy some [tea] in ways that worked for us. I can’t speak for them, but I felt the encounter feeling really good about them, myself and our encounter and I’d like to get sexy – I mean, drink tea with them again. It didn’t work so well because the process took so long, the[tearoom] closed before we were done [drinking] – but that isn’t anyone’s fault, it’s simply what I needed that day to feel good about what I was about to do, and my partner was cool and gracious around that. If I hadn’t taken the time I needed, the encounter wouldn’t have happened, so while it was time consuming, it was necessary, and thus, no fault. Building that foundation will only help in future encounters because this person has shown me their someone I can trust.
So yes, the tea analogy still works – and we can plug in any words that make people feel more comfortable when it comes to talking about sex — but we still need to talk about the acts we’re engaging in and how they affect us in all our glorious complexities if it’s going to be a happy, healthy making part of our lives.