Here’s the tea: consent education needs to change

Sydney Liebhauser

In eighth grade, my classmates and I gathered in the Hall Middle School library to watch a video titled “Tea and Consent.” With over 4 million views, the video marks the first time many Bay Area middle schools, Hall, Kent, Ross and Del Mar included, introduce their students to the concept of sexual consent. In short, the animated stick figure video establishes a metaphor comparing a cup of tea to sex. If someone says they would like a cup of tea and later decides they don’t want to drink it, don’t pour it down their throat. The same goes for sex; if a person says they want to have sex but later changes their mind, don’t force them to have sex. Though the video is favored amongst teachers, it not only fails to properly prepare students for the rest of our lives, it’s also insufficient on many other levels.

 While objectively the metaphor from the video is valid, when my class heard, “The other day, when I asked a friend if he wanted me to get him some tea his reply was, ‘Yes, but I might change my mind so don’t make me drink it! Tea consent is important!”’ the room filled with giggles. The “Tea and Consent” video stands as a notorious comedy relief amongst students. 

But what I thought was a joke about tea stopped being so funny when, only a couple of weeks later, I was walking down my street in pajamas and was catcalled by a group of middle-aged men in my neighbors’ garage. Or when my best friend woke me up in the middle of the night on a camping trip to tell me she had just gotten sexually assaulted by one of our now former guy friends. In a time where one out of every six woman has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, it is critical that consent is taught correctly in schools.

Consent can be a tricky subject to teach, especially to middle schoolers and young high schoolers. The “Tea and Consent” video is used on a large scale because it ultimately simplifies consent and seems to be an easy way for students to learn about it, however simplifying the subject isn’t a beneficial way to teach it.

The first problematic element in the video is the fact that it’s desensitizing rape by essentially comparing rape, a disgusting, life-ruining and sickening topic, to a mug of hot water and leaves. The video insinuates that rape is less extreme than it is in actuality, therefore unintentionally discrediting the experience of victims. The second issue is the way schools decided to introduce sex to us through this reductionist scope: we are no more than corporal beings who perform sexual actions. The video completely disrgardes the idea that there is a lot more depth and emotion in being human, let alone being a teenager new to sex. Rather than implementing the message of valuing and respecting our fellow human beings, my peers and I were fed surface level “rules.”

There’s a lot of wisdom to be acquired before entering the world of sex and relationships, all of which Marin middle school administrations decided to cram into a three-minute video about tea. 

Redwood students are facing the consequences of the lack of consent education first hand. According to a Bark survey in June 2020, 31 percent of Redwood students have witnessed sexual harassment or assault, yet only 15 percent have filed a complaint to the school’s administration. Due to the lack of information students receive about consent, it’s often hard to determine what classifies as sexual harassment or assault. Grey areas come about often when drugs, alchol and relationships become intertwined with sex, making it common for teens to rationalize situations where they were exploited. If students were to be engaged in a sex education course throughout high school where we are reminded and educated about the laws and logistics that go into consentual sex while also taking into consideration the complications that come with being a teenager, these grey areas are more likely to be prevented.

The Tamalpais Union High School District follows legislation that was passed in the state of California requiring the teaching of affirmative consent at least one time in the high school years. Throughout her job, Redwood Wellness director Jessica Colvin and her colleagues have worked to create a consent curriculum. But the curriculum has only gone so far, as Colvin believes social issues should not be the only class required by the district that teaches consent.  

Colvin and her colleagues’ efforts are appreciated but, unfortunately, the systems currently haven’t made a large enough impact. Presently, the majority of students have received one lesson about affirmative consent in ninth grade social issues because it’s the only requirement. Workshops like Colvin’s should be implemented into more curriculum’s beyond just freshman year. Marin is known for overzealously starting kids early, whether it’s teaching math, instructing piano lessons or enforcing SAT preparation. It’s time we start investing in teaching a life skill that is bound to benefit people for the rest of their lives, and make consent a regularly taught topic.