The latest chapter in the #MeToo saga features a new trend of recording proof of consent before sexual encounters. Following the recent flood of sexual assault and harassment lawsuits, more men are going to great lengths to protect their careers and reputations.
A recent piece published by The Evening Standard features the testimony of a woman who says her male partner asked if he could film her offering verbal consent to have sex with him. The author describes a sexual fling that quickly turned into an interrogation when the man she had been sleeping with “suddenly and without warning” asked her if she would allow him to record her giving consent to have sex with him.
“Could you really quickly just say that you want to have sex with me?” he asked her, pointing his phone in her direction.
When he saw that the woman was clearly thrown off, he repeated himself.
“Could you just say that you consent to having sex with me?” he tried again.
The author goes on to describe a similar situation in which a “friend of a friend” was asked “to state her full name, that she was there of her own accord and that she consented” before having sex with a “minor celebrity” in his hotel room.
While not exactly romantic, the seemingly bizarre request serves a practical purpose: In the event that a person accuses their partner of sexual misconduct, the accused party has physical evidence of consent. A Sun UK article described these “worrying videos” as “an insurance policy if someone is accused of assault or rape afterwards.”
Much of the commentary surrounding these reports points to the potential failures of consent videos and the paranoia they seem to convey. Natalie Gil at Refinery 29 summarizes some of the main concerns:
“Consent videos bring up a lot of questions: are they necessary? Who do they benefit? And would they even be considered evidence to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the accuser consented if they were presented to the police, lawyers and a jury?”
Several lawyers and anti-sexual exploitation organizations have also weighed in, proposing a wide variety of alternative communication strategies and procedures to establish consent in a less abrupt way.
In all of the conversations surrounding this new trend, however, what’s painfully clear is that the #MeToo era has ushered in a confusing brand of sexual morality.
While some may argue that the growing openness about the topic of sexual assault has provided much-needed catharsis and healing, another perhaps-unintended consequence has been the difficulty of reconciling our sexually relativistic culture with a zero-tolerance approach to sexual misconduct. Instead of recognizing that there is something deeply broken in a society that treats human beings like objects of pleasure and mocks covenantal sexual fidelity, the impulse so far has been to replace trust and romance with suspicion and litigation.
If this new “consent video” trend teaches us anything, it’s that there are no perfect solutions to ignoring the true meaning of sex. Casual, non-marital sex — whether consensual or not — does great harm to the human person. Until we come to terms with this truth, our relationships and our culture will continue to suffer.