Tea, Sex, Consent, and Me

The Tea Metaphor is Good, But What if You Don’t Like Earl Grey?

Franklin Veaux


Image: Ben Collins

I like tea. I also like sex. Occasionally, these two interests intersect. I have served tea at an orgy, and been served tea at a different orgy. Tea makes everything better.

Tea as a metaphor for consent

As a passionate fan of both tea and sex, I was delighted when a video using tea to explain consent started making the rounds a few years back. If you haven’t seen the Tea Consent video on YouTube, please do. If you have, I hope you’ll forgive a quick recap.

The basic idea is that we all know what consent is, whenever it doesn’t involve sex. If someone offers you a cup of tea, and you say no (though as a dyed-in-the-wool tea drinker myself I can’t imagine why one would decline tea, but let’s go with it), you probably realize that if the person keeps badgering you to have a cup of tea, that’s a consent violation. And if they pour a cup of tea down your throat, that’s definitely a consent violation.

Even if you’ve accepted tea from them before.

Even if you like tea.

Pretty straightforward, right? Take sex out of the equation and we all get it. It’s only when we get to sex that people don’t understand, or perhaps pretend not to understand, what consent looks like.

As lovely as that analogy is, though, it doesn’t go far enough.

So let’s talk about tea.

My favorite teacup

I like tea. I like tea quite a lot. I have a couple of lovers who share my passion for tea. My tastes lean toward black teas, while my co-author prefers green teas.

I do not, however, like Earl Grey. Not yucking your yum if you do, but I’ve never been fond of it, and not even Jean-Luc Picard can convince me otherwise.

I’ve been offered Earl Grey, of course. And green tea, and a number of other teas I don’t particularly care for. That’s how I found out I didn’t particularly care for them: I tried them, decided they didn’t suit my tastes, and came away somewhat the wiser for the trying. Or if not wiser, at least with a better appreciation of what flavor of tea agrees with me and what doesn’t.

This is Point 1. Stick a pin in it; well come back to it in a minute.

Now that I’m older and wiser in the ways of tea, I’ve learned that Earl Grey and I will never be drinking buddies. So now if someone says “Hey Franklin, would you like some Earl Grey tea?” I know enough to say “no thanks, that’s not my cuppa.”

But let’s imagine, for just a second, that someone were to say “But you’ve never tried Earl Grey the way I brew it. You might not like Earl Grey the way other people make it, but you’ll like it the way I make it.”

Let’s say I reply “no thanks, I really don’t like Earl Grey,” and my imaginary tea-offering companion were to carry on about the tea, and all the health benefits of Earl Grey, and how Earl Grey has a long pedigree among the English (who are, after all, the most famous tea-drinkers in the world, and therefore know their tea).

Besides, my insistent companion continues, Jean-Luc Picard drinks Earl Grey, and who am I to say I’m better than the captain of the Enterprise, hmm?

That would be…a little creepy and kinda gross. This person clearly didn’t hear, or doesn’t care about, my “no.”

That would still be true even if I were to try the tea and think, hey, you know, this tea really is better than the Earl Grey I’ve had before.

This is Point 2.

Consent is independent of outcome.

Point 1: I can consent to do something, realize I didn’t like it, and my consent has not been violated.

Point 2: I can say “no” to something, and if you override my “no” and fail to respect my boundary, but then I discover that the whatever-it-was you coerced me to do wasn’t terrible, or was even enjoyable, my consent has still been violated.

You can consent to something you later realize you didn’t enjoy, but that doesn’t mean your consent was violated. You can be coerced into something you later realize you did enjoy, but that doesn’t mean your consent wasn’t violated.

These things can be hard to separate in our heads. When someone suggests something we don’t like it can be easy to say “You bastard, how could you do this to me?” And on the other hand, if someone coerces us to do something we end up enjoying, it can be easy to say “Well, I liked it, and if I liked it, that must mean I wanted it, right? Right? And if I wanted it, that must mean I consented, right?”

I’ve been in both of these positions. I’ve had lovers suggest something that initially turned me off. But I figured, hey, you never know, I’ll give it a try. When I gave it a shot, I discovered it really wasn’t for me. Like deeply, viscerally, “oh my God that sucked, and I never want to even think about that again” wasn’t for me. In the middle of those feelings, it’s hard to remember “Hey, wait, they did nothing wrong. I agreed to this, I learned from it, and in the future, I can say no.”

I’ve also been in the position where I said no and someone completely override that “no.” I asserted a boundary clearly and directly: No, this is not something I want to do. No, this does not interest me.”

It took longer than it really should have to wrap my head around the fact that even though I found something to enjoy in the experience, that didn’t change the fact that my “no” was disregarded. That little voice whispering if you liked it you must’ve wanted it is hard to ignore.

Okay, so why is this important?

First, because no means no. You have the right, at any time and for any reason (or even for no reason), to say “no” to something and have your “no” respected. Someone who violates your “no” has violated your consent even if the activity is something you enjoy.

That famous tea video covers this to some extent: if you say yes to tea on Saturday, that doesn’t mean someone can show up at your door and pour tea down your throat without permission on Tuesday. The bit that can sometimes get lost is this is true even if you say “wow, a spot of tea is exactly what I needed.” No means no. This is, or should be, fundamental.

More than that, though: if we are to accept that no means no, we must also accept that yes means yes. If you choose, freely and without coercion, to do something, and you find it doesn’t suit you, that’s okay. None of us comes from the womb knowing what we will and won’t enjoy. All of us are remarkably bad at predicting how we’ll feel about unfamiliar situations or new experiences, and it’s okay to give ourselves room to experiment.

If there’s one thing you can take home from this talk about tea, it’s this: Remember that consent is separate from outcome. We can all, I think, benefit from holding two spaces in our head: “Did I agree to this?” and “How did I feel about this afterward?”