Being able to have sex at the touch of a button may sound nice, but it also can set up a pattern of addiction. In a lot of ways, that’s what dating apps, or rather dating apps that are primarily used for hookups, do. There used to be a time where, if you were hoping for a casual encounter, you might go to the bar. Some time later, others, often primarily gay men, turned to Craigslist Personals, which allowed gay men to connect privately, particularly if they were in a place where they had not or could not be openly gay.
Craigslist has long since banned Personals, but, by the time they did ban it, another way to have a gay hookup was already a staple in the gay community: Grindr. On paper, Grindr is a lot like Craigslist Personals in terms of the fact that it helps the gay community connect privately, without the feeling of exposure. It allows gay men to meet each other in a way that they might not have been able to in real life.
But Grindr, and similar apps, have a darker side. Although there are terrible stories of people using apps to prey on unsuspecting men, putting them in physical danger, there are also emotional dangers. Gay dating apps, like Grindr, may be doing more harm to the gay community than we know.
What’s the Real Price of Gay Hookup Culture?
Patterns of Grindr use can demonstrate addictive tendencies
To start with, Grindr can make someone associate pleasure with the app, making them eager to return to it. Although this could be said of many different apps that are primarily associated with hookups, the use of Grindr is meant to result in a gay hookup, which is usually meant to result in an orgasm at some point. Orgasms trigger pleasure areas of the brain, while also turning off areas involved with self-control. When a neutral activity like swiping through Grindr is associated with a pleasurable activity like an orgasm, there are links that form in one’s mind, associating Grindr with pleasurable.
Moreover, swiping doesn’t always result in a hookup, which is why the app uses variable ratio reinforcement. One day you hookup, the next day you’re just swiping through all day because you know it can result in a hookup. This principle is the same reason why someone would win $5 on a slot machine and then lose $500 because they keep playing, knowing a payout could happen.
Gay hookup culture may be preventing men from entering long term relationships
As John Pachankis, an LGBTQ mental health expert, puts it, gay culture can be “status-focused, competitivity, hierarchical, and exclusionary”. These traits become amplified when gay men are put into a group that “both socializes and sexualizes together”.
When it comes to many gay dating apps, there’s a sex first mentality. Just because apps are often simply used for gay hookups doesn’t mean that there aren’t men on there looking for a long-term partner. But what it does mean is that it is increasingly difficult to find a long-term partner through the app. At the same time, increasing the use of dating apps can result in difficulty finding dates in real life.
It’s always much easier to talk over an app because we don’t have to face rejection that way, or at least not while looking the other person in the eyes. But this creates a vicious circle. One goes on the app to find a partner, they stay on the app because it’s now hard to date in real life, they continue to hunt for the partner while exposed to multiple hookups instead. The over-sexualization present on Grindr, and similar apps, can change one’s mindset altogether on whether or not they can or should find a long-term partner.
Moreover, a study was conducted in 2019 that found that men who used the dating app only for hookups had, overall, higher levels of self-esteem and life satisfaction than those who attempted to use the app to try to find a long-term relationship. This information tells us that perhaps dating apps aren’t the problem, but how they are used can be.
Common body image issues in the gay community can be worse on dating apps
In 2015, a survey was conducted that concluded that 90 percent of gay men’s ideal partner is “tall, young, white, muscular, and masculine”. But the vast majority of people in any community don’t fall under all of these categories.
When one is spending time on apps like Grindr, they would find that most of the members of the app also don’t fall into all of these categories. Swiping through it can result in comparisons to others and feeling rejection when you’re not getting messages back. Most gay men would say that they’re already aware of the body image pressures that are on them. That pressure gets amplified when they’re seeing first hand that they’re rejected by many members of their community, all in one tiny little app.
Along with the issue of body image comes fetishization. Although there are some who are rejected outright on the app based on things like body shape or ethnicity, there are others who are fetishized for aspects of their appearance or heritage. This problem goes back to apps oversexualizing gay men, but it also speaks to the issue of making men hyper-aware of the “categories” they may fall into.
There’s little wrong with having a hookup, whether you’re gay or straight. Hookup culture itself isn’t a damaging problem. If someone wants to hook up, it’s their right and they have the autonomy to make that choice. But they should be aware of just how they’re meeting their hookups. Because some dating apps may be perpetuating harmful stereotypes and leading those who use it to a feeling of isolation and insecurity.
Always be respectful and treat others as you yourself would like to be treated, online and in real life.