Consent is a topic that has somehow managed to avoid being routinely drilled into PHSE lessons as the general consensus is that we all know what consent is. The standard Oxford Dictionary definition for consent is as follows; “permission to do something” and in this case, that something is sexual intimacy. And yet, for something that has supposedly crystal clear definition, a dangerous amount of sexual assault incidents take place – and 90 percent of which the perpetrators are people we are already know. This begs the question, what systems are failing to the extent that half a million sexual assaults (and only 15 percent of those are reported) occur in the UK each year?
dissecting the tea metaphor
The tea metaphor for consent is one that I am particularly fond of for using an analogy for consenting to sexual acts, but it has to be critiqued as I don’t believe that a metaphor as quaint as this can truly represent the gravitas of sexual intimacy with the absence of consent. For those unaware, the metaphor goes as follows:
‘“Hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they go, “OMG, f*** yes, I would f***ing LOVE a cup of tea! Thank you!” Then you know they want a cup of tea,’ Emmeline May writes.
‘If you say, “Hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they um and ahh and say, “I’m not really sure…” then you can make them a cup of tea or not, but be aware that they might not drink it, and if they don’t drink it then – this is the important bit – don’t make them drink it,’ she continues.
‘You can’t blame them for you going to the effort of making the tea on the off-chance they wanted it; you just have to deal with them not drinking it. Just because you made it doesn’t mean you are entitled to watch them drink it.’
‘They might say, “Yes please, that’s kind of you” and then when the tea arrives they actually don’t want the tea at all. Sure, that’s kind of annoying as you’ve gone to the effort of making the tea, but they remain under no obligation to drink the tea. They did want tea, now they don’t. If they say no, they don’t want a cup of tea and you shouldn’t make them one.’
Whilst the analogy itself may be of use to explaining consent to a younger demographic, human sexuality transcends the simplicity of being compared to tea. There are various types of sex – oral, anal and vaginal – and just because your partner consents to one form of sexual intimacy, this does not mean that you have a right to perform any other act that they may not be fully comfortable with.
A further critique of the tea analogy is the lack of consequence represented by this particular metaphor. Sexual assault and rape can leave a myriad of physical damage but the emotional consequences often contribute to extreme reactions in terms of mental health. The tea metaphor – whilst effective to a degree – struggles to fully present the extent to which lack of consent truly affects the victim.
I will avoid trying to get too personal but as a young woman – especially since turning eighteen and finding myself with the freedom of bars and clubs, often in which the consumption of alcohol and tightly packed environment make voicing my own uncomfortableness within a situation extremely difficult – it is physically hard to say the word “no”. In hindsight, I now empathise with my past self when I have been in circumstances where “no” was not always acknowledged and reiterating it firmly is difficult, especially when you are inebriated.
It is also especially hard when the person who is making you “feel uncomfortable” – for a lack of better phrasing – is someone that we know and are familiar with, your first instinct isn’t necessarily to run away screaming like depictions of traditional rape and sexual assault are presented within the media (in 13 Reasons Why, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and A Streetcar Named Desire however, the victim is familiar with the rapist).
Placing yourself in any other scenario, if someone persistently asked you to do something that was out of your comfort zone, naturally the typical response would be a firm no, but something about the sometimes subtle nature of indicating romantic or sexual interest can often be coupled with the belief by victims that they were at fault for the events that would follow given their behaviour or dress sense.
Even with no verbal or physical encouragement, many perpetrators of sexual assault use the classically disgusting phrase that their victim was “asking for it”. When society exemplifies and continually objectifies women’s bodies (read here the backlash on a Daily Mail issue focusing on PM Theresa May’s legs) and thus creating a continual culture in which when women DO come forward to report their assault, they are blamed for the assault solely based on their attire. It’s no surprise that there is such a stigma against reporting when the perpetrator often faces very little time in terms of custodial sentencing; and that’s when the outcome is favourable to the victim.
The final aspect of this post (I’m sure that I will have far more to say separately at some point) is the lack of representation that male victims of assault receive. Purely based on preconceived notions of masculinity and the stereotypical portrayal of male strength, men who have been subject to assaults by other men or even women are mostly ignored. According to rapecrisis.org.uk 12,000 men are raped every year but very few come forward to report their assault and if they do, it is very likely it will not be taken seriously – by peers or authority.
It is also hard when biologically, men in such scenarios, may not physically show the response of discomfort. Arousal is both physical and an emotional state of being – just because physically the act is pleasing it does not mean that the participant is in the correct emotional or sober state of mind to consent to the sexual act.
There is plenty more I could divulge into about the topic of consent and sex but I shall leave this post on the following note; with consent there is no grey area whatsoever. If you were uncertain about participating in an act, you feel coerced into performing an act of intimacy or were not of sound mind to make a decision you ultimately did not give your consent to do so. With consent, there is no room for uncertainty or hesitation – it is black and white and should not be treated with any ambiguity.