As all the stores you’ve ever shopped at celebrate Cyber Monday, Cyber Week, Cyber everything, we decided to tackle the topic Intimacy-Advisor-style and talk about Cyber Sex! When it comes to tech that makes digital sex possible, we’ve come a long way, baby! However, with new power comes new responsibilities, and that includes obtaining enthusiastic consent for any and all sex acts, even if they’re only over the internet.
These are no longer the days of your parents’ steamy, muffled phone sex encounters, rotary phone lines tugged secretly into their closets. Today, those long-distance hook-ups are more likely to happen via Zoom or other video calling platforms, on laptops, cell phones, messaging apps, or online dating websites. What hasn’t changed after all this time is the need to confirm consent.
In an article entitled “Practicing Digital Consent,” the National Sexual Violence Resource Center details what constitutes online consent in the current and ever-evolving era of digital sex, along with ways they suggest to create respectful online spaces with consent.
The ways people can connect online have multiplied greatly. New technologies have been developed and older ones have evolved rapidly ever since the coining of the term “cybersex” in the early 1990s. From sexting & video chatting to fan cam sites to teledildonics, all this new tech is a dream come true for long-distance daters, horny singles looking for digital hookups, or fetishists looking to ‘play’ with others within their niche interest. Without the need for awkward text-based “cybering” or calling expensive 900 lines and relying purely on your imagination, digital technology has made online erotic communication easier than ever. However, even if you aren’t talking face-to-face with the other person, you still need to give and receive consent at some point during the interaction.
The NSVRC’s website advises that people also should always consider how their actions may make the person participating on the other side of the cybersphere feel and ask questions if you don’t know.
“Unlike in-person interactions, digital conversations can have less clear cues like body language, eye contact, posture, or tone of voice that can indicate how someone is really feeling,” the article informs. “So when we communicate online, it’s important to develop new ways to recognize others’ boundaries and give them the space to recognize our boundaries as well. If we shift from making assumptions to clearly communicating our boundaries and asking questions when we’re not sure, we can create a pathway to more respectful online spaces.”
Behaving respectfully enables us to demonstrate respect for ourselves and others, the article continues. Consent also gives everyone “a framework for how to communicate boundaries and understand how our choices impact others.”
The article goes on to provide the following detailed and thorough guidelines for practicing digital consent:
- Asking permission before sending explicit messages or texts.
- Respecting the decisions of others once you ask. It’s never okay to coerce or pressure someone to send photos or record sexual acts. If someone says no after you ask for digital consent, respect their choice and move on.
- Understanding that everyone has boundaries around meeting up in real life. If you’ve met online or on an app, make sure you both agree on the next steps and feel safe and comfortable with meeting up in person. Regardless of what others expect, everyone has the right to decide what is best for them and to act on those values.
- Asking each time. Getting digital consent is important every time. Even if your partner agreed to something sexual before, they are not obligated to agree to do it again.
- Respecting the devices and accounts of others. It’s never okay to try to unlock someone else’s phone without permission or look through their inbox or texts. Similarly, when sharing a device with someone, log out of accounts that you do not have permission to use and do not look at private account information.
- Asking permission before posting a photo of someone else on social media and before reposting, resharing, or sending someone else’s photo or personal information.
- Checking if it’s okay before sharing information outside of your one-on-one chat.
- Agreeing on a platform and giving options when communicating — for instance, giving the option to leave your webcam off during a video call.
- Making your availability for activities like video calls clear and conducting them within the agreed-upon time frame. Let a friend or colleague know you would like to video call specifically rather than assuming.
On the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) website, they feature clear descriptions of what enthusiastic consent looks like, what works and what doesn’t, and what consent DOES NOT look like. They also include one exceedingly important message about consent that everyone needs to know and understand, even for digital or online sexual activities:
You can change your mind at any time.
“You can withdraw consent at any point if you feel uncomfortable,” the RAINN site reminds. “One way to do this is to clearly communicate to your partner that you are no longer comfortable with this activity and wish to stop. Withdrawing consent can sometimes be challenging or difficult to do verbally, so non-verbal cues can also be used to convey this. The best way to ensure that all parties are comfortable with any sexual activity is to talk about it, check in periodically, and make sure everyone involved consents before escalating or changing activities.”
Of course, disengaging digitally is a little simpler because you can always exit the Zoom room or shut down your laptop or cell phone. Again, though, this is a case where respect for the other person comes into play. They should never be pressured to do anything that they are uncomfortable with or do not consent to do.
Over the years, some have suggested having people sign a legal contract confirming consent. However, that is probably not a realistic expectation. One new way for the future, though, might be in the form employing technology to provide a consent app.
A Dutch company recently announced a new such app: LegalFling. According to an article on Global Women Connected’s website, LegalFling hopes their app will streamline the act of seeking consent:
“They aim to record sexual consent in a legally binding agreement called a Live Contract,” the site says. “The app is created using blockchain technology, which means any transactions are stored and timestamped in the blockchain (a blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography).”
LegalFling is not the first consent app. Two others, SaSie and We-Consent, are already in use. Just a few years ago, Sweden planned to implement a new law that requires explicit consent before sexual contact. According to Global Women Connected, more countries are following their example. Pretty soon a definitive indication of consent might be as close as one of the technological tools you use to enjoy digital sexual encounters.