A glossy new app is trying to simplify consent — but may be counterproductive

Photo: Legalfling/Getty Images
Photo: Legalfling/Getty Images

#MeToo is more than a public reckoning, it’s a movement that’s reshaping the culture of America. Through public testimonies, online or in real life, women (and men) are fortifying the boundaries between yes and no, and reinstating the long-forgotten rules that govern our bodies.

It may be cathartic for those affected, but the movement is reshaping society: changing the way women farm, govern, act, teach, and mother, among many other things. Above all else, it’s emphasized that crossing the line, whether into sexual harassment or full-blown rape, will no longer be tolerated.

And now, as is so often the case in our tech-friendly world, there’s an app to prove it.

LegalFling is an app that allows users to instantly catalog their consent with a partner on a user-friendly, brightly colored interface that not so subtly mimics online dating sites like Tinder. The app’s tagline, plastered on its bright-pink homepage, offers a simple directive: “Get explicit about sexual consent.”

Safe sex is not only about using physical protection,” the site reads. “It’s about consenting to what will happen in the bedroom.” Still in beta, it’s powered by Live Contracts, a Netherlands-based startup that allows users to create instant, easy-to-understand, legally binding contracts in minutes.

LegalFling seems, based on its design, to be aiming to make consent as “sexy” as swiping on Tinder. Sex should be fun and safe, but nowadays a lot of things can go wrong. Think of unwanted videos, withholding information about STDs and offensive porn reenactment. While you’re protected by law, litigating any offenses through court is nearly impossible in reality,” the site reads. “LegalFling creates a legally binding agreement, which means any offense is a breach of contract.”

Relying on blockchain, a technology that encrypts data, the contracts are only accessible to the two people involved, and the claim is that they are 100% safe from hacking. Initially, the app seems like a smooth, user-friendly solution. First, it has users apply their own preferences —whether they’ll allow explicit photography, for example, or whether they’re into BDSM. Then they’re ready to send a “fling” (request) to the next person they’re getting up close and personal with in their contact list.

The “fling” itself can be sent through Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, or a simple text. It seems easy enough, right?

But a closer look at the mechanics of the process raises some red flags. Just like Tinder or Bumble, users choose to X a request for consent (swipe left) or heart it (swipe right). The implication is that a heart is yes and an X is no. This, according to the company, is how you can “get sexual consent with one tap.”

Tapping yes constitutes a legally binding agreement. Legalfling is quick to note on its website that someone can “absolutely” change their mind after selecting yes. “‘No’ means ‘no’ at any time. Being passed out means ‘no’ at any time,” it reads. “Revoking consent is always done verbally at any time and without giving a reason. You never use the app to revoke consent. In case the rules of consent were not honered (sic), the app can be used afterwards to secure a statement and get professional help.”

It’s a helpful explanation, but one that still fails to answer a large number of questions. Such as, what happens if either individual feels pressured to sleep with someone because he or she has already said yes? Or what in the middle of sex, someone who says yes changes their mind? Could the consent be used against them?

So while the idea of a consent-focused app may seem like a win, the reality may be more complex. Experts aren’t necessarily enamored with the idea either. In an interview with The New York Times on Friday, relationship and technology expert Dr. Michelle Drouin called the process “completely unrealistic,” and expressed concern that it limits the “fluctuating” emotion surrounding consent.

“It would be very awkward within the context of an intimate encounter to be like, ‘Wait a second, I’m changing my mind on the app and also with you,’” Drouin told the Times. She’s not the only one who’s wary. In an article for Gizmodo, reporter Melanie Ehrenkranz called LegalFling a “deeply flawed representation of sexual consent,” one that simplifies consent in a “one-time checklist.”

According to Planned Parenthood, consent is technically defined as “actively agreeing to be sexual with someone.” In order for something to qualify as consent, the organization says that it must be “freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic, and specific.” Although LegalFling incorporates some of these aspects into its app, it’s tough to be enthusiastic with a single swipe. It’s also difficult to prove that it’s a response that was freely given, with the option that it may be reversed.

So while the the app has potential, it may need to rethink some things before hitting the mainstream. If not, it may turn out to be a weapon used against individuals, instigating the nightmare it was designed to prevent.

Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for nonstop inspiration delivered fresh to your feed, every day.