Following dinner one Saturday night, your date begins to walk you home — but you wonder, will it end there? The two of you really hit it off and you’re anxious to see where this goes. Small talk begins to die out as your reach your doorstep. You pull out your keys to unlock the door… DING! Your phone notifies you of a Fling request from your date, outlining boundaries for a sexual encounter. Does this make you feel more comfortable or less?
This is not a Black Mirror episode. This is not science fiction. This is LegalFling, and it is changing the way the world says “yes” to sex. Following the #MeToo movement which gained attention in 2017, Sweden is pushing a bill calling for explicit consent before sexual activity. Inspired by the new legislation, Dutch company LegalThings is developing LegalFling, a sexual consent app hoping to be released at the end of this month.
LegalFling is meant to create clear boundaries between partners anticipating sexual activity. Users create their profile then send their date a text called a “Fling” through a messaging app such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. The request will generate a match of the preferences of the sender and receiver, outlining the “do’s and don’ts.”
Once a Fling is accepted, the outlines of the encounter are agreed upon and anchored and timestamped in blockchain, a digital ledger which creates a legally binding contract (depending on the users’ country of residence).
Although the contract seems that it will provide more protection, some are not convinced. Dax Hansen, a partner at Perkins Coie and chair of this firm’s blockchain and digital currency industry group, is concerned with the validity of such a contract in U.S. courts considering that it lacks aspects of a traditional contract, such as signature or notary or other third-party witnesses.
But, even if the contract is not deemed legal that proof of consent could be used as evidence in cases of false accusations. Instances such as the alleged gang rape at University of Florida in 2014, which despite being proved untrue tarnished the reputations of numerous involved, could potentially be avoided. In spite of such cases, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center created by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape claims that “the rate of false allegations tends to be inflated and why many inaccurately believe false reports are commonplace.”
While LegalFling may be the first app using blockchain, it is not the first sexual consent app to emerge. SaSie and We-Consent are very similar apps, aimed specifically at reducing sexual assault on college campuses. There are also a few popular dating apps, such as Tinder and Bumble which allow users to search their databases for partners who match in personality versus sending a request for intimacy.
Tinder and Bumble, however, may be used with romantic or sexual intention. “I choose to use it for either a hook-up or something serious, because it’s like my neighborhood grocery store. I can grab a snack, or get a full meal,” Paula Aiko Watanabe, age 19, said in an interview published by Vice.
GIZMODO journalist Melanie Ehrenkranz recognized a considerable pitfall to the LegalFling app, which is that consent needs to be continual. A sexual encounter is a journey between two partners, not a one-click-and-done business; Giving legal consent should not cause sexual partners to fear revoking their consent. LegalFling does encourage partners to be verbal, acknowledging that, “‘no’ means ‘no’ at any time. Being passed out means ‘no’ at any time.” Consent can be revoked through the app with a single click. The app also notes that an accepted Fling is not a right or obligation to sexual encounters. If the terms of an accepted Fling are breached, violations can be reported through the app.
But still, could this app cause problems in court, especially for those who fall victim to sexual assault? If the app has record of given consent, will allegations of rape be disregarded? Also, what happens if a rapist forces their victim to press that “yes” button?
Despite these questions, founders are clear to state that they are not providing protection for predators. Their website efficiently avoids rape language, instead telling readers, “Think of unwanted videos, withholding information about STDs, and offensive porn reenactments.” The goal they say is to clear the gray areas between sexual partners with more information than just a simple “yes” would provide.
Already much controversy has been expressed about consent apps, especially on Twitter. Some say that while LegalFling may be unromantic, it is the future of personal relationships. Others say that LegalFling misconstrues the meaning of consent, calling for education on true consent rather than contracts. Georgann Willis, UCC associate professor of psychology, points out that gender roles are much to blame for the misconception. “Women can’t appear too eager, so they often initially say no,” Willis says. Over time, men have misinterpreted this, assuming that no usually really means yes.
Jasmine Sitt, UCC assistant professor of communications, is also concerned. “Before daters even get to know each other, personal information is released on the screen,” Sitt says. In a group interview with Sitt’s interpersonal communications class, students expressed much doubt about the consent apps’ potential. The women in Sitt’s class mostly said they would not feel comfortable sending a Fling and would feel uncomfortable upon receiving one.
Despite agreement that the app could help with false accusations, the class was unanimous in concluding that nobody (male or female) would use LegalFling at this time. But, responses from a UCC classroom discussion will vary from one conducted at Portland State University or in the Netherlands where prostitutes are placed in a window display.
Even if students are not comfortable with sexual consent apps, they can still set boundaries with sexual partners. “In a committed relationship, good communication should be established before crossing over into sexual intimacy,” Willis says.
As for flings or one-nighters, Willis recommends that any mind-altering substances be excluded from the situation and partners be explicit about their wants and needs. Establishing a safe word is also a good precaution.