Here’s how Tinder is turning you gay

By Jack Flanagan on November 7th, 2013

No. Don’t be silly. And don’t even think about calling that click-bait because the idea that an app could make you gay? That’s ridiculous. But Tinder – and similar “dating apps”, when dating is a cheap bottle of wine and stumbling into not-your-bedroom – are certainly making you act more like a gay man.

Tinder has come out of nowhere to dominate the digital dating scene. It’s success is a mix of rapid and geo-relevant date-finding. The app allows anyone – in a club, bar, restaurant, the streets or in their home – to find someone nearby who’s single. If you both swipe right – basically, giving the thumbs up to their picture and brief profile – you can begin chatting. This sounds almost exactly like the gay world’s pioneering hook-up app: Grindr.

Grindr has been bringing together millions of gay men for about four years now. It’s the notorious poster boy for a sexual minority which has struggled through, and still struggles through, sex-related catastrophes. And is often blamed for making gay men their own worst enemy. Plenty have a bad word to say about it, yet most have it sitting active on their phone.

The app attracts a hypocrisy that other naughty hobbies such as binge-drinking, illegal drug use and theft don’t. While some own their vices, Grindr-users can’t quite, yet. This is the hush-hush aspect of Grindr. The more more audible aspect of the app is it’s success: it is wildly popular, and currently present in every country there is, bar two: the Pacific islands of Naura and Tuvalu.

The app’s success was guaranteed by the social history of the gay man – which, since the rights movement, has been predominately one of having as much sex as possible, wherever and whenever possible. Once smartphones started catching on, the idea of having an app to facilitate this really couldn’t have failed.

Now that we know this works for gay men, the question is: what about straights? Straight men are more-or-less a sure-thing – there being no evidence that their libidos differ from gay men – but would the girls appreciate it?

Never mind whether or not girls are actually interested in casual sex – although a contested issue, it seems that as long as we’re not accusing them of being frigid, they aren’t – but there is still a huge stigma attached to a woman who’d be interested in “that sort of thing”.

So wouldn’t you expect it to be somewhat forbidding for a developer looking to break into heterosexual hook-ups?

Along comes new app Pure, hoping to give us the answer to that question. Pure’s mission is to give us a new way to experience romance and sex, outside of the boundaries set by tradition (I think).

Pure works by letting the user post a picture of themselves plus a blurb about what they’re looking for, “fun”, “dates”. If someone’s interested, they can chat over the app and meet up to satisfy each other. Each post lasts only an hour before it’s taken down, and you’d have to post again if you unsatisfied.

This comes at a time when traditional modes of romance are under-fire as restrictive and outdated – and perhaps nothing catalyses social change like sex. All this is to say that, in short, what Pure and other similar apps are doing is chasing after the lifestyle that gay men have been living for the past few decades: quick, spontaneous fun.

The app attracts a hypocrisy that other “naughty” hobbies such as binge-drinking, illegal drug use and theft don’t

It isn’t the first time. Disco? Free-love? Fabulous women as somehow icon-worthy? Even non-monogamy, which is just now entering into the heterosexual vocabulary, has for a long-time been the reserve of minority sexualities. Casual sex emerged from the bubbling ether of the Gay Rights movement, without any real understanding of where it came from or why – some called it the right of the liberated, so said YOLO. Sure, it was happening underground before, but now men in NYC were converting abattoirs into BDSM dungeons.

It didn’t do them any favours. Casual sex has traditionally been feared as disrupting the nuclear family, allowing men to abandon their wives for a harem or making the baby Jesus cry. Whether or not it does is hard to tell: gay men until very recently weren’t allowed families and apparently make Jesus cry regardless of what they do.

But reports of non-monogamous couples that do have outside sex are generally positive if both people agree to it and get to know as much about their partner’s “hobbies” as they want to know.

What Pure and other similar apps are doing is chasing after the lifestyle that gay men have been living for the past few decades: quick, spontaneous fun

But the dynamics of a male-male couple are very different from male-female. Not just the typical emotional problems that might arise from a high rotation of sex partners – which no-one really understands – but the physiological (there’s no risk of accidental pregnancy for two men).

The tricky issues that causal sex raises are still prominent issues for gay men – as is evident in the secretive nature of Grindr – and this is likely to replicated if the hobby ever catches on in the straight world. Not just replicated, but schismatic: the gay “community’”- anyway, a loose confederation – can understand the issues being death with. But men and women are likely to have very different problems with casual sex, and very different ways of dealing with them.

It’d be wrong to criticise Grindr or Pure or Tinder or whatever for people who develop unhealthy sex habits. The problem lies with the people who indulge in these technologies to their own detriment.

Gay men are dealing with that issue, for those of them it affects. Now that the same technology is in the hands of straight people, it’ll be interesting to see what happens. Will it be adopted happily? Not happily? Will it end up in the bin of disregarded apps? Who knows, but I think we all have an inkling of the answer.

More on digital dating

App review: Tinder
Is Tinder morally wrong? We asked some Mormons
Meet the woman outsourcing her love life
Meet Carrot, the most sexist dating app in history
Why dating sites are desperate to keep you single
You have to pay to filter out fat people on OkCupid