Imagine the scenario: you’ve met someone at the pub, you find they laugh at quite a few of your crap jokes and you both decide to spend the night together. Now, rather than the usual awkwardness leading up to sex, you instead both reach for your phones and click ‘I give consent’.
That’s what is being offered by a new blockchain (the same technology behind cryptocurrency) app called LegalFling.
Putting aside the fact that an identical sexual consent device appears in the latest season of Black Mirror, it raises some important and potentially troubling questions: is the new app actually empowering, especially for women? Or does it just cement the male-favoured power structures of sex? And isn’t it better to aggressively educate men about consent rather than rely on an app?
Here’s what we know about it so far.
Created by the Dutch company LegalThings, the app makers say the app “allows you to request consent from any of your contacts” because “sex should be fun and safe”.
LegalFling creates a legally binding agreement, which the creators say means any offense during or after sex is a breach of contract. By using the LiveContracts protocol, the app makers say your private agreement is verifiable using the blockchain. And they say that “you can withdraw consent going forward through the LegalFling app with a single click”.
Speaking to Artificial Lawyer, co-founders Rick Schmitz and Arnold Daniels said: “It’s about making the law more accessible and our plan is to open source the technology so that other people can make live contracts of whatever type they want.”
Reacting to the app, Stylist writers weighed in with their excellent and erudite opinions.
Sarah told me: “My thoughts are… HAS IT REALLY COME TO THIS? Far from being a ‘safer’ option for women, I would say this puts us in even more danger, where our phones can very easily be hijacked and a few buttons pressed, giving the impression that we have consented to sex. And not just consented to sex, but LEGALLY AND CONTRACTUALLY consented to sex. How can they prove any time frames here?”
Another Stylist writer, also called Sarah, added: “How did we get here? I find the need for ‘legally binding consent’ incredibly dubious. Who does it protect? Consent should be an ongoing conversation – not check-box.
“I worry the app digitises (and simplifies) an important person-to-person conversation about consent, pleasure and respect – something that many young people, who are sorting through an already complicated world of sexual identity, need to be confident to initiate. Ideally, any person who wants to have sex could communicate to their partner any sexual preferences, including do’s and don’ts by talking to them.”
Meanwhile, Megan said: “I think it would be very awkward to use, especially with someone you might have just met and therefore probably won’t catch on.”
And the app has sparked major controversy on Twitter, with some users pointing out major potential pit-falls.
Legal activist Paul Kidd argued: “The most important thing to ask about #LegalFling is, whose interests does an app like this protect? The only legal scenario in which an app like this will be realistically used is to defend against rape.”
And writer and sex educator Lux Alptraum attacked the app, saying: “There’s no tech hack for basic human decency, ya dipshits.”
WOMEN: Okay, so, consensual sex is when everyone is comfortable with what's going on.— Lux "Friendly Neighborhood Contrarian" Alptraum (@LuxAlptraum) January 10, 2018
MEN: I don't get it.
WOMEN: It's when everyone is willingly participating.
MEN: So... like a contract?
MEN: What if the contract is on Blockchain tho? https://t.co/u2vOA6Chsl
There's no tech hack for basic human decency, ya dipshits— Lux "Friendly Neighborhood Contrarian" Alptraum (@LuxAlptraum) January 10, 2018
Arnold Daniels, from LegalThings, responded to the criticism by telling me this afternoon: “We’ve created LegalFling in response to the new Swedish law stating that explicit consent is required before the act of sex. This law is a clear signal, but mostly symbolic.
“One of the problems is, what are you consenting to? If you want to have sex, does that mean anything is a go? Of course not. To be honest, a law like this shouldn’t be necessary in the first place and neither should this app. Unfortunately reality shows that it is. The moral standards are so misaligned that we need to be explicit about our do’s and don’ts concerning sex.
“You can configure your preferences in the app and by flinging, the rules and boundaries are communicated with your partner. This app uniquely gives the possibility of reminding [people] about basic decency like ‘no means no’ and ‘being passed out means no’ at the time it matters most, right before having sex. I wouldn’t say the app is empowering women per se. It’s a reminder of us as a society at whole on how to behave respectfully.
“We do not think the agreement will empower sexual predators due to the way it’s constructed. It’s legally binding to enforce those things that make sense to do so. Take for example nude pictures. You might both consent to this, however that doesn’t mean that these pictures can be shared. Yes, this is already forbidden by law, but litigating for this through criminal court is tough and expensive, so most don’t do so. The contract contains a non-disclosure agreement with a penalty clause in case you break this. Knowing a share could mean a $50,000 fine, will make you think twice.”
At the minute the proof-of-concept app is not available for download, but could this be the future of sex?
(Images: LegalFling / Jonathan Prime / Netflix)