Consent is not a single legal document, but an ongoing discussion

Consent is not just sexy, it’s mandatory in all aspects of relationships, especially when it comes to the physical stuff. However, apps are not the best way to have the myriad conversations that should take place around this sensitive, yet important subject.

As we spend more time fixated on technology, and our lives begin to increasingly resemble an episode of Black Mirror, there have been a slew of apps designed to make it easier for users to provide sexual consent to their partners.

Legal Fling, just one example of such apps, enables users to create legal documents granting a sexual encounter and then to consent to a specific list of activities. Performing an activity not on the approved list is treated as a breach of contract. It’s important to note that the Legal Fling website states that “while you’re protected by law, litigating any offences through court is nearly impossible in reality,” which seems like an indifferent attitude to the difficulty of taking sexual assault cases through our legal system.

These apps have framed themselves as easy ways to receive and prove consent, marketing that last aspect to a sometimes creepy, and perhaps dangerous extent. In reality however, most of these apps are just providing legal documents that largely miss the point of consent conversations. As author Jaclyn Friedman notes, conversations around consent should not be about providing legal protection for activities.

Conversations around consent need to be ongoing, especially during a sexual experience, and allow everyone involved to revoke consent for any activities they feel uncomfortable with. Conversations around consent shouldn’t be one-time legal documents, no matter how comprehensive those documents posit themselves to be.

What many apps fail to do is to capture the immediacy of consent. Consent can change almost instantaneously, and consent to a certain activity can change from one sexual encounter to the next, and even within the same sexual encounter. And most importantly, all of this is normal and acceptable. An app with a supposed legal document creates a frame of mind that makes withdrawing difficult. You have literally signed up for certain activities, at least on some of the apps, so how can you tell me that changing your mind is easy?

Because conversations around consent need to be ongoing, speciality apps are not the best place for them. Conversations around consent need to take place in person, to allow for immediate feedback from a real human. As our society continues to have conversations around consent we need to also keep in mind that consent is not a one off, not just a signature or a swipe on an app. Consent is an ongoing conversation with a partner or partners about what you’re comfortable doing, so let’s have those conversations, IRL.