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back to ba(sex): online surveys and consent

Image: Tom Morris

Image: Tom Morris


Join Lip’s Sarah Iuliano for her new fortnightly column on all things, sex, sexuality, sexual health, and more!

From texting to sexting, the advent of digital media has allowed relationships to blossom and wilt. It has also brought the couples’ survey into the 21st Century. I speak not of the ‘Are you and your partner compatible?’ quiz. Well, perhaps I am, slightly. The web is opening up the possibility to negotiate consent with surveys so as potential lovers can share ideas about what has their blessing in the boudoir.

Where people are already having sex, whatever that is, a distinct ‘yes’ can be hard to decipher due to the premise of spontaneity being a turn-on. This is particularly the case in relationships adhering to the conventions of Western romantic love. So you can imagine my surprise when a friend suggested I check out survey site, Mojo Upgrade, designed for couples.

Apparently just one of many sexy-time surveys, Mojo Upgrade proclaims itself to be a sex-life spicer-upper to avoid awkwardness. From a feminist perspective, it is a consent negotiation tool to avoid sexual assault. It discusses a number of activities, from the vanilla to the kinky. While some questions asked of individuals seem to indicate the site is aimed at cis-gendered, straight, monogamous couples, generally speaking, it is adaptable to a number of genders, sexual orientations and lifestyles. Anyone can wear stockings and heels if they want, gosh!

There are a number of levels consent explored by the survey: you can be uninterested, say yes, ‘we already do that’, or there’s an ‘if my partner is interested’ in between, for further negotiation between the parties. The survey results only show matches for sexual activity preferences or where there is slight interest, which is a benefit for those fearing ridicule. However, this means that a ‘no’ to certain behaviours is only implied by its exclusion from the list of compatible interests. This could further be an issue if one partner is prudish about no longer doing something that is a regular in their lover’s repertoire.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to talk to a number of sexologists and grass-roots level consent workshop organisers who all acknowledged that consent wasn’t something openly talked about in relationships as a symptom of sexual taboo.

‘Consent probably isn’t explored as much as it should be,’ Sydney-based sexologist Giverny Lewis told me.  ‘It’s certainly addressed in a lot of media articles, mainly when there’s been a sexual assault… but there doesn’t seem to be any real conversation going on about “well, if that’s not consent, then what is consent?”’

Consent is not openly discussed in sex education past no meaning no, and beyond Australia’s major cities, consent workshops are few and far between. In spite of Mojo Upgrade’s flaws, anything that gets lovers talking about what they’re comfortable with and uncomfortable with in the bedroom and beyond is good.

Combine consent survey sites with dating apps such as Tinder, which operate in a similar way, and you’ve got a new system of negotiation which provides a non-threatening environment. As such, these surveys tackle issues hampering sex-positivity while also operating in line with the idea of future spontaneity for people who like living in the moment. The question is: how do we get more couples, lovers and fuck-buddies thinking about the benefits of these sites?

Sarah will be back in a fortnight with Back to Ba(Sex): Lip’s guide to sex, sexuality and sexual health. Stay tuned, Lipsters!

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