Are Sexual Consent Apps a Step in the Right Direction?

Feb 2, 2018 at 3:00 p.m. ET
Image: Getty Images

Could you imagine a future when you would be asked to sign a sexual consent contract with a single tap on a phone screen? Well, we are in it. LegalFling, a new Dutch phone app, has created this exact idea with a live contract that is a “legally binding agreement” according to the app's website.

This isn’t the first phone application to attempt to traverse the he-said, she-said. Good2Go was another free application with which potential partners could determine whether two people were ready to have sexual relations or not.

The app was simple: A screen pops up and asks the partner, “Are we good2go?” There are two possible answers, “No, thanks” and “Yes, but we need to talk.” If a partner chooses “No, thanks,” a screen pops up that says, “Remember! No means No! Only Yes means Yes, BUT can be changed to NO at anytime!” 

For the app LegalFling, topics in the contract touch on rules of condoms, STIs and the privacy of photos and videos.

More: Our Narrow View of Sexual Assault Is Letting People Get Away With It

However, Good2Go seemed to disappear into the depths of the internet. The only application under this name that exists now is a bathroom app for users to find clean public restrooms. Somehow, this is eerily similar to navigating the current dating world.

While these apps may have good intentions, especially with technology ruling the current dating sphere, they are lacking in many other important areas. While most people find consenting via a contract unsexy or unattractive, there are also serious implications that these applications would do nothing to help an actual victim in a situation of assault or rape.

Consent is revocable, which we have seen illustrated in the recent Aziz Ansari allegations or in the fictional (but shockingly real and accurate) New Yorker piece "Cat Person." At any moment, an individual can change their mind about sex, so a legally binding blockchain like the one created on LegalFling could be problematic and dangerous for participating individuals when it comes to full control over their own body.

Consent isn’t a yes or no answer that remains flatlined for the entire time you are sexually active with any individual. Everyone has the freedom to revoke this, and these applications are actually creating the opposite — a he-said, she-said could turn into a “Well, she originally said yes and signed a contract,” even though she later changed her answer to no.

Another phone app, SaSie, is more specifically geared toward students who are looking to sign a consent form before engaging in any further activities together. Apps like these require reading and signing lengthy contracts, providing photos of IDs and saving it onto a file via your phone.

However, pressuring someone to click yes on a phone app isn’t considered in applications like this. These applications misunderstand what it means to be a sexual individual, seeking consent from their partner and for themselves.

“People think about consent in terms of ‘I need to cover my ass so no one can accuse me of rape.’ And honestly, when you’re approaching consent from that angle, that’s a really rapey angle… it’s about covering your butt instead of actually showing up for your partner,” writes Jaclyn Friedman in Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape.

More: The Impact of Sexual Harassment on Mental Health

Consent is about treating your partner or any individual like a human being and giving them the respect we all deserve. It does not lie in the application in a checklist and long thread of words meant for legal action after consent has been violated. It is the trust that your sexual partner, your friend, a stranger, a human being, will not violate your freedom or your safety.

Terrible design flaws aside, these types of apps do bring a conversation of consensual and safe sex to the forefront. With 1 in 5 college students being sexually assaulted and not reporting it, a dialogue between partners to safely explain what they want and don't want to do is necessary. It provides a platform for intimacy, exploration and trust.

The smartphone application, PlsPlsMe does a decent job of achieving this type of activity. Couples are asked to take a quiz in which they are asked about current kinks or interests. If partners share that interest, they are encouraged to discuss those topics and how to begin incorporating them into the bedroom.

Empowering Victims created three applications that design a conversation over the topic of consent.

  1. We-Consent incorporates video consent.
  2. What-About-No has a video component of a police officer telling them no.
  3. I’ve-Been-Violated includes video and audio after an assault has occurred for them to gain as much evidence as possible.

Obviously, these applications have serious flaws and are not meant to be used in a practical situation, but are meant to create conversation and education. The executive director of Empowering Victims, Michael Lissack, said, “The goal is to encourage and ‘nudge’ such dialogue into taking place.”

More: 7 Books to Start the Conversation About Sexual Assault

Smartphone applications are taking the tech world by storm — so why not breach the world of sexual education and sexual consent? These start-ups are fostering the right questions, demanding the correct answers, but are falling short of getting users to truly understand responsible and safe interactions.

By S. Nicole Lane

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