There’s a new Android and iOS app called Good2Go that aims to tackle the hot-button issue of informed consent for sex. Created by Lee Ann Allman’s company, Sandton Technologies, the app’s mission is to prevent or reduce “sexual assault,” “miscommunication,” and “regretted activities.”
The creators say it does this by leading you through a series of steps that gauge whether the person you want to sleep with is in the right state of mind and over 18.
It’s a laudable goal but overlooks a few key facts about consent that may hurt the cause rather than help it.
This is how it’s supposed to go: You sign up for the app with your name and phone number, find a partner and — when you have decided you want to do the deed — open the app and hand her your phone, which asks if she’s down. The person you want to sleep with will have the opportunity to choose from three options: No, Thanks, Yes, but … we need to talk, and I’m Good2Go. Romantic!
If your partner does indeed choose the third option, then a new set of questions will pop up, asking her to rank her level of sobriety. (For this article, we assume that in most cases, men will be asking women for their consent.) The choices range from Sober to Pretty Wasted. And if she chooses the latter, the app warns that she “cannot consent,” denying permission for the whole act.
It goes without saying that barely anyone will use this tool, because there is probably no better way to kill the mood than opening up an app on your phone and shoving it in the face of the person you want to have an intimate human experience with. But the fact that this app exists proves something much more important: that people out there very wrongly think that sexual consent can be granted by something as simple as pressing a button on a phone.
Allman, a mother of college-age kids, said she created Good2Go to help protect them.
“[They] are very aware of what’s happening, and they’re worried about it, but they’re confused about what to do,” she told Slate’s Amanda Hess. “They don’t know how they should be approaching somebody they’re interested in.” She’d learned from raising them that “kids are so used to having technology that helps them with issues in their lives.”
She is not alone in this thinking. Allman’s app fulfills the hopes of Reason writer Robert Soave, who called for such an invention last June. Not to mention those of parent and CNN contributor Roxanne Jones, who say she advises her sons to “never have sex with a girl unless she’s sent you a text that proves the sexual relationship is consensual beforehand.” But their logic is flawed for one essential reason: It assumes that something as simple as a digital “yes” or “no” is enough to cover the vast and complicated grounds of what consent entails.
You don’t need a developmental psychologist to tell you that communicating important information by text message often leaves out important social cues like body language or eye contact. But here’s one anyway: “The complexity and messiness of human communication gets shortchanged,” MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle told TIME in 2012. “Those things are what lead to better relationships.”
Or as psychologist Karla Klein Murdock put it in a study she published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, “The use of ‘textese,’ the abbreviated vocabulary often used in text messages, may not effectively capture nuances that would facilitate successful communication about sensitive topics.”
I would file a discussion about sex under the category of sensitive topics. And I’d also say that what a person consents to is an incredibly specific thing. Good2Go doesn’t detail what exactly a person is consenting to — whether it be oral sex, sexual intercourse, or another sexual act.
Let’s take one of the most publicized cases of sexual assault in the country right now as an example. Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia University junior is carrying around her dorm-room mattress on campus until the school’s administration expels her alleged rapist. She claims that she and a male student agreed to consensual sex, but it quickly turned to rape when he suddenly pushed her legs against her chest, choked her, slapped her, and anally penetrated her as she fought to escape and repeated the word “no.”
In Allman’s perfect world, the two may have selected Good2Go’s Yes, but … we need to talk option and then gone over the ground rules. But say they did that and she was still attacked? Would the app’s record of consent — which can easily be pulled by authorities — have helped or hurt Sulkowicz’s case against her rapist?
No matter how altruistic its intentions, Good2Go seems as though it could be another way for attackers to take advantage of the ambiguity that comes with consent.