Nick Cannon’s “Consent App” Gets Consent Completely Wrong

by Sarah C. Epstein


“VladTV,” an online news site, released a YouTube video on Tuesday of Nick Cannon discussing his new app. The app, pronounced “consent” but spelled “CNCNT,”  an acronym for “consensual, and contractual, and tested” is meant, and Cannon explains, to aid in garnering consent from both parties before sex. Cannon initially states that the app is to protect women, but, as the video continues, it becomes clear that the app will effectively protect sexual assaulters.

Although the app is still in production, Cannon gave a cursory run down of the app, which essentially looks like a contract where both parties push a button indicating that they understand the other person’s sexual history, STI status, and level of intoxication. By pushing the button, both parties consent to whatever happens next. “It’s protecting yourself the same way that you put on a condom” says Cannon. “Imma push this button on my phone, you push the button on your phone and *snaps* it’s consensual.” The whole thing is problematic to say the least.

When you start, the app has you fill out a survey about your sexual history, and stores it “like a carfax for your sexual life.” However, it is private, for your eyes only. The contract that your partner signs says only that you have clearly communicated to them your sexual history.

The same survey would ask what types of sex (oral, vaginal, anal) each person is willing to engage in. Cannon hopes that through this survey the app will help people to engage in “uncomfortable” conversations that people “don’t have in the heat of the moment.” Through the survey, they can answer the questions, but without having to talk about it, and perhaps even before any action has started.

The whole format goes against positive, consensual sex. Having a conversation with your partner about what types of sex you like and what you are willing and not willing to do with them builds the foundation for a consensual sexual interaction. Answering a survey question on a screen without having a conversation before, during, and after sex leaves a lot of room for error: You can speculate about what you want to do before you do it, but once it starts, you might change your mind. Furthermore, the app does not forbid against sexual coercion or pressure one partner may feel, causing them to sign the app to consent to things they may not actually want to do. Worse, in court, it’s now their word against a contract.

The whole idea of the app itself, a contract signed and dated well before the act occurs, aimed at avoiding any he-said, she-said in sexual assault cases, is founded on an underlying distrust of survivor stories, and a fundamental misconception about consent itself.

Consent is, in its essence, revocable, not a binding contract: it can be retracted at any time and is fluid, subject to change based on each party’s shifting desires. The whole concept of avoiding conversation doesn’t allow for partners to build trust, and would leave even more room for miscommunication.

It is also troubling that although the app is meant to be helpful by eliminating dispute around consent, it actually relies on the logic that the person bringing an allegation is falsely reporting. This logic fuels victim-blaming. Proving that consent was revoked, that a certain sexual act was not agreed upon, or that consent was given only under coercion, may be  harder to prove once a contract is involved. Instead of choosing to change the culture around how we treat the legitimacy of survivor stories, how to have important conversations about sex with our partners, and how people should seek consent (enthusiastically, continuously, honestly, and without pressure), Cannon is implying that we should continue as we have been doing, only now with contracts that would further protect perpetrators.

This app, in essence, would 1) only further the misconception that many people falsely report sexual assault 2) concretize the false belief that once given, consent cannot be taken away, and 3) would only suppress the voices of those who are already stifled. Coming only one day before the Times article naming the “Silence Breakers” as the Person Of The Year, Cannon’s answer to the issue of sexual assault is completely terrible. Where #metoo uses technology as a platform to shift the national consciousness, asking us not to discount victims testimonies as illegitimate, the CNCNT app asks us to further curtail their voices, keeping us rutted in a rape culture rife with victim-blaming.


Photo at Top: via

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