While working in the community, I have often have conversations with young men. A question young men often ask refers to how they can avoid an accusation or prosecution for committing sexual assault. The conversations we have about sexual violence and consent reframe lessons the media, their role models, and friends taught them about how sex and sexuality look. As the conversation continues, many young men realize that these lessons have not served them well. For a few of them, instead of thinking about how they could move differently, they look for a quick fix to protect themselves. It is as if I am telling them that "they can not have sex anymore" or they realize they are potentially damaging the people they are intimate with. Inevitably one of the men will suggest getting their potential sexual partners to sign a contract as a means to protect themselves.
I want to examine that idea. Is using a contract in this case logically sound? Can using a contract act as a means to avoid being prosecuted for sexual assault? Does having a legal document for someone to sign on the nightstand before engaging in sex prevent the possibility of sexual violence occurring? Are the terms and conditions correctly laid out? Does the contract cover what intimacy will look like between the parties? Does it say what acts are okay, what acts are not, and the acceptable order for the acts to take place? What does satisfaction mean for both parties? Yes, satisfaction is a legal term meaning that "one party is paid what is due to them." That is not how we treat sexuality! Sexuality is not like buying a car or a house. Sexuality is not where you own something or someone as soon as you sign on the dotted line, and then you can do as you wish. More than anything, using a contract in this way ignores the fact that consent is something that can be revoked at any time. It ignores the fact that both parties have a right to make choices about their bodies and their limits and those choices can change by the moment.
Let's think about this another way. If I choose to stop eating peaches because I have changed my mind, then I have made my choice. It does not matter that I may have signed a contract to eat peaches. It does not matter that I may have enjoyed peaches last week or five minutes ago. It does not matter that I stopped eating mid peach. The problem with this line of thinking is that sometimes we treat sex like there is a point of no return. If people are truly there for the enjoyment of one another, then a "point of no return" is nonsensical. If someone was riding with me in the car and they decided that they did not want to do that anymore, then I would not state "well, you have already ridden five miles with me." These analogies sound ridiculous written out, so why do some of us apply them to sex?
A sad thing about this line of thinking is that the intention of signing a contract is about protecting one's self. It is all about that one person. It focuses on what that one person wants or desires. The other person is lost in that. There is no shared idea of what both parties want. There is no meeting of the minds. Both sides cannot figure out what works for them and what does not. Contracts are not legitimate ways to handle sexual relationships. There is no satisfaction in that. Sexuality is about connecting. No one is connecting when they are holding a fountain pen, and that sounds like a recipe for some pretty bad sex.