There are a lot of different dating apps for gay, bi and queer guys. Think of Grindr, Planet Romeo, Scruff, Jack’d, Hornet, Recon, Growlr, Chappy, Surge, Squirt et cetera. Dating apps have become an important part of our sex lives and social relations. They provide us with opportunities we didn’t have before, but they also have some severe drawbacks. Use of dating apps can become problematic on its own. Some people even say they’re addicted to Grindr. They uninstall to resist temptation, only to cave and redownlaod. Lost all messages, huh?
Furthermore, the combination of drugs and dating apps may carry extra risks. Especialliy stimulants like Tina, mephedrone, coke or speed can encourage obessive or compulsive use of dating apps. Below you can read more about the pros and cons of dating apps in general, how to recognise problematic use, what you can do about it, and what to expect when you use drugs and dating apps at the same time.
Dating apps in general
Gay dating apps create a virtual safe space where gay, bi and queer men can meet each other. The virtual space is also a map of real space as most use geolocation to sort other users by distance, closest first. This way they can be compared to physical places like bars, clubs and cruising sites, but then without the threat of homophobic violence by strangers on the street or spying eyes and gossiping tongues. The apps also alow a sliding scale of self-disclosure. The user decides how much they want to show of themselves and what they’d rather keep private, providing safety in anonymity to those who aren’t out of the closet. Lastly these virtual spaces can be reached anywhere, anytime, as long as you have your smartphone and an internet connection. You are no longer bound by opening hours, capacity or distance.
Sounds good right? So what’s the catch?
You often hear people complain about dating apps: racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice are openly on display. The visual nature of these apps put the focus of physical appearance over personality; muscles and masculinity as the ideal beauty standard can encourage negative body image among all users. The abundance of profiles can give you some serious FOMO (fear of missing out). The grass is always greener elsewhere, which can make you either unreasonably picky – there’s obviously plenty of fish in the sea. It can also lessen the excitement of meeting up with a particular guy, because of all the guys you didn’t meet up with. Some users feel encouraged to go for quantity over quality, with all the risks that carries for STIs.
Furthermore, flirting online is hard. You have to go without body language, intonation of inuendo. Chatting quickly falls back on simple shorthand (hey. top/bttm? hung? into? et cetera). The emphasis falls on pics; sexually explicit photo’s chosen from a preselected bunch. Less social spontaneity, more goal-oriented negotiation. Even though these apps make it easier then ever before to show your bare skin to others, it get more and more difficult to go beyond skin-deep. You won’t hear us complain about the normalisation of sending nudes, but the latter part is worrisome. Studies show that intimate self-disclosure online improves mental well-being.
Another important problem of dating apps is that they were desinged to be rewarding: notifications, taps/footprints, infinte scrolls, all are meant to grab your attention and keep you engaged. This can lead to users spending more time on the app than they would like. The time and energy spent checking your messages, swiping and scrolling is not spent on other activities that require more effort and that are less instant in their gratification.
Problematic use of dating apps
Spending a lot of time on dating apps does not necessarily mean you have a problem – and having a problem with the way you use dating apps does not necessarily mean you’re addicted. The most important aspect of addiction is continued use of a substance or behaviour despite the significant harm it causes to the user. Since the harm in using dating apps is often minimal, addiction as a term is somewhat misplaced. Therefore it makes more sense to simply talk abou problematic use. The severity of the problem is then determined by the amount of distress the user is in, rather than the amount of time spent online or the reasosn for using the app.
Problematic use of dating apps is defined in scientific research according to the following six criteria:
- Attention: dating apps are on your mind a lot
- Arousal: using dating apps temporarily improves your mood
- Tolerance: the excitement caused by dating apps fades over time, leaving you feeling unfullfilled
- Withdrawl: not using dating apps make you feel restless and uneasy
- Conflict: dating apps take up time and energy that you would rather spend on other things. You start neglecting other activities in favour of app use
- Relapse: if you try to stop using dating apps, you find yourself using again despite your own intentions
If you recognise yourself in the list above; keep reading. Below we’ll discuss what you can do to reduce your use
Tips for problematic use of dating apps
These are the four tips in a row. We’ll elaborate on each below.
- Keep track of your use
- Know what you’re looking for
- Find alternatives
- Get professional help if needed
Keep track of your use
Apps like StayFree allow you to see how much time you spend on certain apps and when. You can set yourself limits and get reminded when you go over it. This way you can gain insight into your own behaviour and maybe distinguish more and less problematic moments.
Know what you’re looking for
Research into gay men’s use of dating apps shows these six main reason for use:
- To find a sex partner for a hookup
- To find a partner for a relationship
- To socialise with peers
- To pass the time
- To get an ego-boost/validaton by online attention or “scoring” hookups
- To get tips on local (gay) culture during travel
Ask yourself: what is the main reason to use these apps? Is it usually the same or does it vary? Do you behave in line with your motivation, like not pretending to want to hook up when you’re just trying to pass the time? If you want to use the apps for sex only; are you online only when you’re available to have sex? How much effort goes into scoring one hookup and is it worth it? If you’re looking for an ego-boost, is the effort spent looking proportionate to the feeling of validation? Or is the feeling too fleeting, keeping you coming back for more?
Also, rember that your motivation to be on the app might not bet he motivation of the people you’re talking to. Stating your intentions clearly and asking others to do the same can save you time and frustration.
After you spent some time figuring out what it is you’re looking for and if you notice that you’re not finding it online, it’s time to find alternatives. Recent research shows the main predictors of problematic dating app use are:
- A neglected and unfulfilling social life in person
- Using apps for validation / to get an ego-boost
- Spendig a lot of time online (more than 3 hours a day)
- Preexisting mental health issues like depression or anxiety
This leads to the conclusion that if you want to reduce your use of apps, you will also have to work on strengthening your offline social life, find other ways to feel validated, and work on your mental health in general.
Strengthening your social life and finding alternate sources of validation can be tackled together by joining groups centered around hobbies such as sports, games, reading, watching TV and movies et cetera. These can be groups of gay/bi/queer men, but getting together and having fun with other friends or family or volunteering for a cause you believe in work just as well.
Working on your mental health starts by talking to people about what’s going on inside your mind. Open up to friends and family. Look for online resources or self-help groups. Maybe talk to a therapist. If you’re considering the latter, talk to your GP; they can refer you to a healthcare professional that suits your needs.
Get professional help if needed
If you find the tips above are not sufficient to get you to stop using dating apps in a way that’s causing you distress, you can get help at addiction treatment centers, like Jellinek. You can also send us an email with your name and phone number, so we can call you and discuss your situation, your needs and available options for support.
Dating apps and drugs
Unfortunately there is nog research yet into the combination of using drugs and using dating apps, but you can imagine the interaction. Below is our educated guess:
Uppers (e.g. Tina, coke, speed, mephedrone)
The biggest risk we see is in combining uppers and dating apps. Uppers work directly on your brain’s reward center; they keep you awake, focus your attention, and make you hungry for input. Uppers can intensify the rewarding aspects of all kinds of stimuli, so it increases your susceptibility to notifications, infinite scrolls et cetera. Uppers make you more single-minded and less patient (hey. pics? into now?) and less empathetic. This can combine to make your use of dating apps more obsessive, compulsive and generally problematic.
Maybe you recognise this image: a chill-out or a chemsex party where everyone is on their phone, high and horny, searching for more guys to invite, rather than engaging with the men already present. Or perhaps you’ve seen or been a guy, doing a line in anticipation of hooking up – to get int he mood – only to spend the next hours fruitlessly scrolling through the endless grids, chatting with multiple people at once, negotiating on autopilot without really engaging in conversation, looking fort he hottest, sexiest guy only to feel vaguely dissatisfied with whatever happens in the end.
The purpose of uppers is to keep you in this state of arousal. Enough is enough is not a sentiment that enters your mind anymore. The search for gratification is amplified, while the actual ability to feel fulfilled is reduced. Furthermore it is shown that uppers – especially coke – make yo less socially sensitive. You are more involved with yourself rather than others, making online interaction more superficial, predictable and less personal. Not the ideal mode if you’re looking for meaningful connection.
Downers (e.g. alcohol or GHB/GBL)
Alcohol and GHB and such cause a feeling of disinhibition. Things you’d think twice about when sober, you do without thinking when high. This is true offline and on. You can agree more easily with the suggestions of others, and lose sight of the consequences of your actions. This can lead to unpleasant experiences like hookups you regret, situations where you felt unsafe, or behaviour online you later feel ashamed about.
Trippers (e.g. magic mushrooms or LSD)
Hallucinogens and smartphones generally don’t mix. The screen is too bright, apps are no longer intuitive to use, but become strange and confusing. We don’t forsee much risk with this combination, beacuse most likely you’ll put the phone down and stare at your hands in amazement for 10 minutes before being distracted by a piece of cloth or the thought that people are like donuts, but more complex.
Tips on drugs and dating apps
The best tip we can give you is to make clear agreements with yourself and others beforehand about how long you want to use apps or how many people you want to invite to the party, and then help each other follow through. For example: you agree to put away your phones at 2:00 or once we’ve reached a total of 5 guys. It’s good practice not to use drugs if you’re alone and online; friends, lovers and sex partners can help you keep both your use of drugs and apps in check. Of course it is important you feel safe and secure to talk to others about the difficulties you experience with drugs, sex and dating apps. When someone confides in you and asks for help; don’t judge or make a big deal, just offer your support.
You can choose to seperate use of drugs and apps entirely: only start using drugs once you’ve finished your business online. Remember uppers keep you artificially aroused and downers impair your ability to assess risk. Best to explore the virtual playground while sober, to avoid the pittfalls mentioned above. You can also ask a friend to keep an eye in you and check in on you once in a while if you are already on drugs and wish to arrange a date online.
What works for one does not necessarily work for another to keep your use of dating apps within the limits you are comfortable with. If you want to talk about how your drug use influences your use of dating apps and vice versa; send us an email. We are happy to listen and think along.
- Use of ‘gay datingapps’ and its relationship with individual well-being and sense of community in men who have sex with men. (Zervoulis et al. 2020)
- Problematic versus Non-problematic Location-based DatingApp Use: Exploring the Psychosocial Impact of Grindr Use Patterns Among Gay and Bisexual Men (Altan 2019)
- The personality, motivational, and need-based background of problematic Tinder use (Orosz et al. 2018)
- Breaking boundaries: the uses & gratifications of grindr (Van der Wiele en Tong 2014)
- Gay and Bisexual men’s use of the Internet: Research from the 1990s through 2013 (Grov et al. 2014)