Are consent apps causing new problems in the dating world instead of fixing the ones that already there?
Are consent apps causing new problems in the dating world instead of fixing the ones that already there?

Big problem with strange sex apps

It's a situation we're all familiar with.

You're getting to know a new partner. Sweet nothings are being whispered and kisses are being exchanged, so you head towards the bedroom and reach out your hand to get a nice firm grasp on … your phone?

Okay, so this isn't an everyday occurrence for us yet, but it soon might be.

Our fascination with technology and all things digital has taken a new turn and the topic of our obsession this time isn't meeting people, pornography, or even paid sex with robots.

It's consent.

A new product launched on Kickstarter promises to "take the luck out of getting lucky". LoveSync is a pair of buttons designed for you and your partner to use when alerting one another that you, basically, want to have sex.

Simply place each button in a spot that you both use frequently - say, on the bedside table - and when you're hoping to get some action, tap your button.

If your partner is feeling randy too, they'll hit theirs, and a light will flash indicating that you're both in the mood.

But if your partner isn't keen, they'll never know that you hit your button unless you tell them and all evidence of desire will fade away after a set time period. Turned on yet?

LoveSync isn't the only invention designed to streamline the process of seduction and quantify our desires. It joins a number of apps either already available or in development that promise to demystify consent, a topic that seems to have become increasingly intimidating for some after the rise of the #MeToo movement.

LegalFling is one such app. Made in the Netherlands, LegalFling enables users to quickly generate a personalised, legally-binding document to send to any party - or parties - they may be interested in getting intimate with.

Prior to any sexual contact a notification will pop up on the partner's phone saying that they have received a request for consent, and when opened, the generated document can detail everything from whether the requesting party has any STIs, to whether the encounter can include 'explicit language' or BDSM-related 'erotic practises'.

If at any point either party's consent is violated, the app can be used to generate a cease-and-desist letter, request a 'penalty payment', secure a statement, and seek out professional help.

If this all sounds like your cup of tea, LegalFling isn't your only option, either. An app called We-Consent records a video of you or your chosen partner stating out loud who you want to have sex with, immortalising video proof of your consent forever, while What About No exists to give users the option to say no to any sexual activity: all they have to do is open the app and a video of a police officer will sternly shout 'NO' at the screen.

Whether you're an experienced lover or someone who's just starting to indulge their curiosity about sex and pleasure, an understanding of consent isn't just an ideal thing to take in to the bedroom with you: it's a must.

And while the past few years have seen, maybe more than ever, the importance of consent highlighted in the media; what apps like LegalFling and devices like LoveSync forget is that consent isn't a checklist, it's an ongoing conversation.

In our rush to digitise everything and turn all of life's special moments and events in to an automatic process as smooth as ordering a pizza off Menulog, we seem to have forgotten that in some instances, a quick user agreement really isn't the ideal outcome.

Consent isn't a once-off question that requires a yes or no answer: It's a continuing process of checking in with your partner, asking about their comfort and satisfaction, reading their body language and non-verbal communication, and - crucially - making sure they feel comfortable enough to speak up if something happens that they don't like, or that makes them feel uncomfortable.

While it's very important to make sure your partner is consenting at the beginning of any sexual activity, that consent can be withdrawn at any time, for any reason.

An app that encourages us to view consent as a once-off agreement misses that point to a dangerous degree, and only further encourages the belief that once someone agrees to sex - whether it's with a new partner or an existing partner - they can't take it back.

Even if the worst-case, nightmare scenario - that someone used an app to affirm their consent and then withdrew it, off-app, but was ignored - never occurs, we're still missing out on a lot by outsourcing our seduction to a few lines of code.

I mean, whatever happened to conversation? To - dare I say it - romance?

If we're so rattled by rejection that we need a light-up button to assure us of our partner's sexual interest in us, do we not have bigger issues at hand than just a lack of sex?

Our most intimate relationships aren't contractual agreements in which we get our desires met at will, they're spaces in which we should feel safe enough to be vulnerable and honest with our partner: both in asking for what we want, and saying no if we need to.

Part of being adult enough to have sexual relationships is also being mature enough to talk about everything that comes along with them: the good, the bad, and the awkward.

We're doing ourselves no favours, neither individually or as a society, to outsource communication about our sex lives to a button on the bedside table, or a contract drawn up by a phone app.

If you're having trouble talking to your partner about sex, do whatever you need to do: write to an advice columnist, hire a sex worker, or see a couples therapist.

But if somebody pulled out their phone and asked me to record a statement of consent before I next hopped in to bed with them, I'd be out of there faster than you can say 'no'.

- Kate Iselin is a writer and sex worker. Continue the conversation @kateiselin



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