Feminists: making everything harder for god-fearing gentlemen who feel entitled to get laid. We’ve come a long way from the good old days when men had a right to sex with their wives regardless of women’s opinion on the matter (marital rape was legal in the US until the 20th century). With the evil witch-hands of feminism continuing to reach into our bedrooms, we have to ask: will The Feminists now make us all sign a contract on an app before getting busy?
Well, dear reader, wait no more. The sex apps are here, and they’re intended to do just that. Since consent is now in vogue, app developers have done what app developers do best: found yet another way to technologize a basic aspect of human life and transfer it to a smartphone. Following #metoo, numerous outlets have reportedon the promised perks—and anticipated drawbacks—of apps that promise to streamline the process of consent.
I know what you’re thinking: yet another obnoxious imposition from feminazis intent on sterilizing all human passion and reducing dirty talk to legalese. (Side note, please stop comparing struggling for gender equality with literal genocide and fascism; it is not a good look). But you’re wrong! In reality, many feminists, including yours truly, think smartphone apps recording sexual consent are a terrible, awful, 100% horrible idea. That’s right, friends: feminists are not responsible for this affront to human sexuality and in fact, we are committed to making your sex life better.
Since I saw the specter of sexual consent apps evoked again and again during the social media flurry of #metoo, I think it’s important to address why, exactly, they’re a terrible idea. Here is a handy dandy list of reasons why apps that record sexual consent have the potential to do more harm than good.
1. Consent can be withdrawn at any time. Consent is an ongoing process of communication. Our boundaries and comfort levels can change throughout a relationship or encounter, and what we might have been down for a few hours or even few minutes ago can turn us off now. A lot of consent apps (like LegalFling) bill themselves as providing legal backup by recording the partners’ desires and intentions before sex, but saying yes to something at one point in time doesn’t mean you have to do it. And while some apps offer a “no” function, it’s an absurd idea that in a fraught sexual situation, the average person is actually going to pull a phone out, open the app, and record that in fact, they no longer want to suck dick.
2. Consent can be more complicated than a simple yes or no answer. Consent isn’t a simple yes and no; it’s a process with the aim of creating a relationship of respect for bodily autonomy. It can be as complicated as sex itself. By reducing sex to a contract (in some apps, literally) rather than a conversation, consent apps erase the ambiguity and nuance of human interaction and avoid the actual issues of power and communication which make sex so fraught, and so awesome.
3. Consent is not about liability. It’s about equality. While a lot of consent apps market themselves as helping partners articulate boundaries and ensure evidence in the event of sexual assault, being able to produce a contract that says someone consented honestly seems to offer potential protection for rapists. Because again, you can sign a contract detailing the sexual acts you want and don’t want to do, and then change your mind a couple minutes later – upon which point your partner has an obligation to stop. By making consent about liability, rather than mutuality and equality, consent apps promote the pretty shitty view that consent is something you need to practice to save your ass, rather than to respect basic humanity. Jaclyn Friedman was quoted taking down this idea in an article at Motherboard: “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.”
4. What kind of boring-ass sex do these developers think people are having that they’re actually going to stop and make a legal contract between every shift in activity? Seriously guys, advocating that sex be affirmatively consensual and that it promote a sense of mutual equality does not mean we are against spontaneity, passion, ambivalence, voracity, and all the weird human shit that makes sex so damn compelling. Stopping sex to check in, talk about what you’re feeling, pee, or because you’re bored and you’d rather watch Netflix is normal and important. Stopping sex because you want to ask your partner to sign a legal contract giving you permission to put your finger in their ass sounds pretty impractical and robotic. You could just ask.
5. For the love of god, can we stop letting tech corporations dictate literally every aspect of our lives?: Everything in life does not have to be mediated by a smartphone. From what you eat to where you go to your vaginal discharge, tech companies make wild dough off your data—and they know lots of weird shit about you that you probably wouldn’t want them (or the American government) to know. While several of these apps are made by non-profits, others come from for-profit companies—and concerns about the standardizing effects of technology apply in either case.
6. Promoting a standard of affirmative consent does not necessarily mean supporting increased criminalization or policing. These apps, through their emphasis on consent as a legal or evidentiary standard, definitely do. Case in point: The makers of the “What-About-No” app, part of the “We Consent” app suite, advertise it as a way for partners to clearly signal a no. But the feature is both impractical and comes with a highly creepy detail: the app uses a literal video of a police officer to communicate your “no.” As though corporate (and nonprofit) entities having access to your sexual data and mediating normal human interactions isn’t creepy enough, your “no” is literally communicated by the police state. Contrary to the allegations of random dudes online (or writing opinion columns), many of us who have a critique of patriarchal sex and wish to stop rape do not think the way to do that is to have police officers in people’s bedrooms.
7. This shit is hard. There’s no easy out. Consent apps are an easy out for what is in actuality an active, ongoing, lifelong process of learning to respect other people’s bodies and communicate boundaries of our own. This process is fraught, fun, complicated, weird, annoying and thrilling, like any other aspect of human life. It’s not a contract between two individuals. It’s a collective process of creating more egalitarian social norms which operates from our bedrooms to our classrooms to our movements.
I’m not a total technology Scrooge. I do think there’s a role for the smartphone in the bedroom (besides porn, obvi). Apps that are potentially useful in the bedroom don’t claim to make contracts, but start conversations. This can also be done with a good ‘ol fashioned worksheet, for example Scarleteen’s Yes, No, Maybe, which is a great tool for encouraging self-reflection and communication with a partner. The key difference here is an emphasis on facilitating communication, rather than recording proof.
So next time you’re tempted to go on a vitriolic Twitter rant about how feminists want you to sign a contract before fucking, remember: we don’t! Consent is about making sex more equal. It’s not about making sex a legalistic, cynical enterprise between two smartphone-wielding robots. There’s no Uber for sexual equality, and that’s a good thing.