My paternal grandfather died last summer, and while my father and his siblings were helping my grandmother sort through my grandfather’s belongings, someone happened upon an item which they knew I would appreciate.
I was perched in a large chair in my grandmother’s kitchen, chattering with my cousins, when my dad walked over and said, “This looked like a ‘you’ kind of thing.”
He handed me a folded piece of paper that had aged well. By the looks of the harsh creasing and absence of damage to any of the edges, I’m guessing ol’ Gramps kept it buried away in a book.
None of my family members present that day knew the story of the paper’s origin, and boy, do I wish I could ask Gramps for the tale. In hindsight, of all the non-me people in my family to have a sex contract, Gramps would have been my top suspect. As he used to chime, with a mischievous smirk, “A dirty mind is a constant feast.”
For those of you who may be viewing this post on a mobile device, the contract reads as follows:
“SAFETY FIRST GUARANTEE
This Certifies that I, the undersigned a female about to enjoy sexual intercourse with _________ am above the age of consent, am in my right mind and not under the influence of any drug or narcotic. Neither does he have to use force, threats or promise to influence me. I am in no fear of him whatsoever; do not expect or want to marry him; don’t know whether he is married or not and don’t care; I am not asleep nor drunk, and am entering into this relation with him because I love it and want it as much as he does, and if I receive the satisfaction I expect am willing to play an early return engagement.
Furthermore, I agree never to appear as a witness against him, or to prosecute under the Mann White – Slave Act.
Signed before going to bed this ___ day of ___ 193__.”
….then gives a slot for her name, address, and signature.
My knee-jerk reaction was of both amusement and admiration that such a contract existed — amusement because I regularly write relationship contracts at my dayjob (settlement agreements for divorces); and admiration because, when used appropriately, sex contracts can prompt fruitful discussion regarding expectations between/among sexual partners, and that’s great.
One key difference, though, is that the contracts I draft are intended to eventually become legally enforceable. In contrast, modern sex contracts are a novelty, like any other sex toys, and are not legally enforceable. This contract looks to have been written with purely legal intentions in mind, and I wonder about its enforceability.
Is it authentic? How could that be tested? My grandfather was born in the mid-30s, so he would have been a young child when this contract was written — if it was, in fact, written during the 30s. I also ponder if this is something he created as a joke during his teenage or young adult years, decades later.
Who wrote it? An attorney? A layperson? Were contracts such as these commonplace in men’s night stands (or briefcases) at the time? If so, were they a marker of socioeconomic status, intended only to protect the rich men who could afford to have them drafted, reproduced, and enforced in a court of law when needed?
Could it have been reusable? Although there is a large area designated for the female partner’s signature, and I’m relieved that it contains no designation where a party could sign on the female partner’s behalf (like a parent signing her away), there appears to be nowhere where the male partner who owned the contract would have been prompted to endorse it. What if his name could have been erased or scratched out, and another man’s name inserted? Could these contracts be used multiple times toward multiple trysts? Could men have sold or exchanged them amongst each other, like primitive trading cards?
Why would the female partner have wanted to sign it? Upon reading this contract again and again, it strikes me as a waiver intended only to protect the male partner’s interests with no benefit to the female partner. Did women ever have contracts like these to legally protect themselves against male sex partners?
How far in advance of a sexual enterprise would a contract like this have been signed? Immediately? Hours earlier? Was there any time restriction at all, even to the date the contract was signed? All it states is that it was signed “before going to bed”. What if the parties had intercourse outside of a bed? The lack of area for notarization (Were notaries a “thing” back then?) could also imply that hasty or impulsive endorsement was commonplace.
What if the signing party changed her mind? Would the drafting party have actually stopped if his partner withdrew consent? Could contracts like these have been used to assume future consent and used against women in courts of law, as though previous evidence of her wanting to engage in sex with a man “proves” that she probably wanted to do it again at later times when she did not?
What about slut shaming? Could the contract have acted as a confession that a woman did intend of having sex with a particular man without the promise of marriage? Were the executed contracts ever formally recorded or publicly displayed?
How old would the signing party have been? Depending on the state, the age of consent in the U.S. varied between 16 and 18 around that time.1, 2 However, could a contract like this have been used to shirk such laws and, in a sense, waive sexual immaturity claims?
Did the contract only apply to intercourse? Although it states “intercourse,” it fails to specify which kind of intercourse. Was vaginal assumed? What about anal? What about oral? How commonly did women testify against men for each of those acts? Could homosexual partners have used contracts like these, too?
And speaking of testifying, the contract states that the female party can’t act as a witness against the man — is that just for sexual lawsuits, or universally for any lawsuits? If she witnessed him murdering someone, would she be barred from giving case-making testimony in court?
The drafting partner clearly assumed that the intercourse would be satisfactory to the signing partner. What if it wasn’t? Would the contract have, then, been any less valid? I don’t see any reference to severability (i.e., a passage stating that if one portion of the contract is invalidated, the rest of the contract remains valid). If the male partner did not provide satisfactory sexual relations, would the female partner then have been able to testify against him in legal proceedings?
I’m still trying to figure out what was meant by, “an early return engagement,” of which the female party was only expected if the intercourse was satisfactory. On that note, “the satisfaction [she] expect[ed]” could have varied widely between partners. I’m surprised something inherently subjective was not defined objectively before holding the male party to an ambiguous, vague standard.
With whom were these contracts typically used? The contract was drafted to imply that the woman knew relatively little about the man, not even his marital status. If the parties didn’t know each other well, or, at least, if the woman was not familiar with the man, perhaps this could have been commonplace between prostitutes and their patrons? This doesn’t seem like the kind of contract that monogamous couples would have kept on hand or needed.
What was the Mann White – Slave Act? I had to look this one up. According to Wikipedia and PBS, it was enacted to criminalize trafficking female persons across state lines or into foreign territories for prostitution or other “immoral” acts, as an effort to eliminate forced sexual slavery of underage girls. However, it was also used to prosecute acts between consenting, adult parties, including extramarital and polyamorous sexual trysts.
If nothing else, I’m glad to see that consent between parties was a concern. After all, the female party had to promise that she was of legally able to consent to sexual activity, conscious, not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and not coerced. I do wonder, though, if some women did sign out of fear.
Additionally, I wonder why the male party did not also have to promise that he was of age, free of drugs or alcohol, etc. Why was that not a concern? Have we always treated sex as a reward which women gift to men, ignoring the occasions when the men want to decline?
What are your thoughts on this contract, and on sex contracts in general?
Sidenote: After I finished drafting this piece, I Googled “safety first guarantee” and ended up stumbling upon this nearly identical contract, which was allegedly used by deployed military servicemembers in the 1950s. Notice the addition of a line for a witness’s signature.