Last June, Reason’s Robby Soave called for an iPhone app that would clear up pesky he-said, she-said rape cases by recording “mutual consent” to engage in sexual activity before two people do the deed: “Maybe they would have to input a password and then touch phones, or something?” he proposed. Last week, his prayers were answered: The Good2Go sexual consent app isn’t as touch-and-go as the app of Soave’s dreams, but it does encourage sex partners to assess their mutual interest in sex and record their intoxication levels before getting busy.
Here’s how it works: After deciding that you would like to have sex with someone, launch the Good2Go app (free on iTunes and Google Play), hand the phone off to your potential partner, and allow him or her to navigate the process to determine if he or she is ready and willing. “Are We Good2Go?” the first screen asks, prompting the partner to answer “No, Thanks,” “Yes, but … we need to talk,” or “I’m Good2Go.” If the partner chooses door No. 1, a black screen pops up that reads “Remember! No means No! Only Yes means Yes, BUT can be changed to NO at anytime!” If he or she opts instead to have a conversation before deciding—imagine, verbally communicating with someone with whom you may imminently engage in sexual intercourse—the app pauses to allow both parties to discuss.
If the partner—let’s assume for the purposes of this blog post, partner is a she—indicates that she is “Good2Go,” she’s sent to a second screen that asks if she is “Sober,” “Mildly Intoxicated,” “Intoxicated but Good2Go,” or “Pretty Wasted.” If she chooses “Pretty Wasted,” the app informs her that she “cannot consent” and she’s instructed to return the phone back to its owner (and presumably, not have sex under any circumstances, young lady). All other choices lead to a third screen, which asks the partner if she is an existing Good2Go user or a new one. If she’s a new user, she’s prompted to enter her phone number and a password, confirm that she is 18 years old, and press submit. (Minors are out of luck—the app is only for consenting adults.) Then, she'll fill out a fourth prompt, which asks her to input a six-digit code that’s just been texted to her own cellphone to verify her identity with that app. (Previous users can just type in their phone number—which serves as their Good2Go username—and password.) Once that level is complete, she returns the phone to its owner, who can view a message explaining the terms of the partner’s consent. (For example, the “Partner is intoxicated but is Good2Go.”) Then, the instigator presses a button marked “Ok,” which reminds him again that yes can be changed to “NO at anytime!”
Then you get to have sex.
Easy, right? When I tried this process out with a partner, it took us four minutes to navigate through all the screens, mostly because he kept asking, “Why are we using an app for this?” and “Why do I have to give them my phone number?” (More on that later.) I was confused, too: As the instigator, I wasn't asked to confirm that I wanted to have sex or to state my own intoxication level for my partner's consideration. (A promotional video modeling the process begins by announcing how “simple” it is, then snaps out instructions for three minutes, but questions remain.) Perhaps the process is deliberately time-consuming: The app provides the “opportunity for two people to pause and reflect on what they really want to do, rather than entering an encounter that might lead to something one or both will later regret,” the app’s FAQ reads. Or maybe I’m just old: At 29, I find it much easier to just talk about sex than to use an app for that.
Lee Ann Allman, a creator of the app, says she was inspired to make it after talking with her college-aged kids about sexual assault on campuses across the country. They “are very aware of what's happening, and they’re worried about it, but they’re confused about what to do. They don’t know how they should be approaching somebody they’re interested in,” she told me. Meanwhile, “kids are so used to having technology that helps them with issues in their lives” that Allman believes the app will help facilitate necessary conversations, encourage them to consider their level of intoxication, and remind young people that consent to sex should be affirmatively given and can be revoked at any time.
“Good2Go” is obviously a euphemism for sexual activity, but it’s not clear what that means exactly—is it making out, oral sex, vaginal intercourse, or anal sex, and with protection or not? (I guess you could always pause, grab phones, and start the process over to consent to another specific sexual activity—but at some point, you'd actually have to verbally explain what you're agreeing to be Good2Go4.) The message that people need to consent to sex, and that they can withdraw consent, and they probably shouldn’t be totally wasted while they do it is one that college campuses are already administering to their students upon orientation. It may not always be getting though, but it’s not clear how the app (which is now being promoted through campus ambassadors) advances the cause.
In fact, Good2Go could contribute a dangerous new element to those he-said she-said rape cases. What Good2Go doesn’t tell users is that it keeps a private record of every “I’m Good2Go” agreement logged in its system, tied to both users’ personal phone numbers and Good2Go accounts. (Records of interactions where users say “No” or just want to talk are not logged in this way.) Allman says that regular users aren’t permitted access to those records, but a government official with a subpoena could. “It wouldn’t be released except under legal circumstances,” Allman told me. “But it does create a data point that there was an occasion where one party asked the other for affirmative consent, that could be useful in the future … there are cases, of course, as we know, where the accused is an innocent party, so in that case, it could be beneficial to him.”
That record may help the falsely accused, but it's unlikely to aid a real victim. Good2Go may remind its users that consent can be revoked at any time, but there are still judges and juries that will take evidence that a person said “yes” to sex at one point, and conclude that they were asking for whatever happened later that night (or the next). Compared to that scenario, talking about sex doesn’t seem so scary.