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Anyone for a cup of tea? Or not?

My younger son started uni last year and we have been talking about dating and yes, ok, about sex, which lead to a discussion on recognising a Yes or a No. The signs of sexual consent. Yes, tricky!

He told me that the student body had posted The Cup of Tea PSA, a clever Thames Valley Police 3 minute video featuring stick figures, to ensure the first years understood the concept of sexual consent on campus.

In The Cup of Tea PSA, rules of consent are explained using that most fantastic of English traditions, tea drinking. Almost universally you will be asked the question in every home in Britain, ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’

Tea as a euphemism, well, well!

The video begins with the very up front and straight down the line, ‘Oh my God, I would love a cup of tea!’ response, no grey lines here. But then it moves into illustrating where consent lines can get blurry. These responses range from the fairly simple: to understanding that your guest did want tea, but changed his or her mind once you put the kettle on, to the less clear: your guest isn’t really sure how to feel about tea right now.

If you say, ‘Hey, would you like a cup of tea?’ and your guest answers, ‘Uh, you know, I’m not really sure,’ then you can make them a cup of tea, but be aware that they might not drink it.

And if they don’t drink it, then — and this is the important bit — don’t make them drink it. Just because you made it doesn’t mean they have to drink it. And if they say, ‘No, thank you’, then don’t make them tea. At all.

The video goes on to explain what to do if someone loses consciousness while you are asking them if they want tea, even if they said yes prior to passing out, ‘you should just put the tea down, make sure the unconscious person is safe and, this is the important part again, don’t make them drink the tea.’

That’s a lot of talk of tea and I get it, I do. My son said that yes it was an important message but he doesn’t have to remember the making a cup of tea analogy to recognise the signs of sexual consent from potential partners and he certainly would never give tea to anyone unconscious!

In Love, Sex and No Regrets for Today’s Teens, author Elizabeth Clarke writes about how important it is being able to practise saying, ‘I’m not comfortable with that, I don’t know you that well, I want to know you better’ or simply ‘No’.

Elizabeth stresses that a healthy sexuality for teens comes down to being old enough and mature enough to know how to say ‘No’ when you need to and to recognise when your partner is saying ‘No’. That means if you aren’t getting a response from your partner, if there’s shrugging or suggestions of ‘I don’t know’ then that is a ‘No’.  An unenthusiastic anything is a ‘No’.

‘Yes, just do it’, or ‘I may as well get it over with’, are responses that really shouldn’t be heard but seem to be accepted in our sexualised society where boundaries do get blurry and issues of self-worth aren’t discussed. Elizabeth tells us what these ‘No’ signs are from other people in a straightforward, honest way.

The Brits do love their tea and the PSA does get the message across, albeit very simplistically.  However, it does ultimately demonstrate the importance of  ‘No means No, which is a message our teenagers need to know the signs of, with or without a cup of tea as their guide.

Sarah Blundell