Over the past several months, increased attention to sexual assault has resulted in a variety of proposed solutions. On Sunday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the first affirmative consent bill in the U.S. It applies to all colleges that receive state funding, and says, in the simplest terms, that “yes means yes”—students can’t assume that absence of a “no” means sex is consensual. Meanwhile, several colleges have attempted to make consent "sexy" and "fun" with cringeworthy suggestions, like these lines provided by the University of Wyoming: “I’ve got the ship. You’ve got the harbor. Can I dock for the night?” and “Baby, you want to make a bunk bed: me on top, you on bottom?”
Good2Go, a smartphone app launched last week, provides a different, technological solution. Here's how it works, according to their site: "Before asking a girl to come back to his room, a guy would launch the app, which asks the question “Are you Good2Go?” and hand his phone to the girl. She may indicate yes or no, but if she is interested and says yes, she will be asked about her level of sobriety." The options are: “sober,” “mildly intoxicated,” “intoxicated but Good2Go,” or “pretty wasted.” If the woman—or man, depending on who initiates the process—selects anything but the latter option, the app sends a text to the person's phone to confirm their identity.
The app has been criticized for making consent too tedious—here’s video evidence of the lengthy process—but Good2Go’s major flaw is quite simple: It appeals to the wrong audience. If you’re comfortable downloading an app and enduring the three-minute virtual process to obtain consent, you’re probably not among the population who feels uncomfortable having a simple conversation about sex. You’re also probably not “pretty wasted” (and if you are, you may not admit to it).
“Safe sex requires real communication, not an electronic form,” says Joan Meier, a clinical law professor at George Washington University and the legal director of the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project. “If you can’t have a real conversation, I’m worried right off the bat.”
The app attempts to address issues of withdrawing consent, and the effects of intoxication on consent. If the potential partner selects “yes” at the beginning, a prompt reads: “Yes means yes, but can be changed to no at any time!” But situations where consent is often misunderstood or disregarded—one or both parties being intoxicated, “implied” consent within relationships—will not be addressed with this or any app. And Good2Go surely won’t sway people like Rush Limbaugh who think the normal, conversational process for obtaining consent is a mood-killer.
Good2Go could also cause more problems than it solves. As Amanda Hess pointed out at Slate, the app could aid those accused of sexual assault, rather than victims, by creating what appears to be a record of consent.
Good2Go’s FAQ page dismisses implications that it could be “legally binding” or “some sort of contract,” saying the app merely “facilitates communication, reduces misunderstandings, and indicates a level of sobriety.” Meier is not convinced: “In court, it could be powerful evidence of consent.” She said Good2Go could simply turn into “more ammunition” for the accused in sexual assault cases. “I think [consent via the app] would be taken seriously, because it’s very hard to reach a sexual assault conviction as it is.”
Despite the app’s reminder that "yes" can be changed to "no," Meier says, “I think there’s a strong presumption that there’s no rape once she says ‘yes.’ Judges and juries are very skeptical of women who accuse someone of rape after the fact”—that is, women who withdraw consent during a sexual encounter.
Good2Go could do a lot more to prevent misunderstandings by being even more direct, but instead the app is ambiguous about what kind of hookup, exactly, its users are consenting to—making out, oral sex, intercourse—and whether they’re using protection.
“Good to go? I don’t even like the phrase,” Meier says. “What does that mean? It doesn’t tell you anything that you need to know.”