by Chantelle Butt, a PhD Researcher at Bournemouth University

Dating apps are becoming increasingly popular and have promoted a new way of socialising, making friends and meeting potential dating, sexual and romantic partners (Castro & Barrada 2020; Holloway et al, 2015). A dating app is an application that allows people to create a profile and communicate with other users. Dating apps use global positioning system (GPS) technology to enable users to locate and network with other nearby users. Users can exchange messages and pictures with the possibility of meeting in person (Beymer et al, 2014). Dating apps can be used by anyone over the age of 17, however, most dating apps target heterosexual users e.g., Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, OkCupid (Virginmedia, 14th October 2020), with the remainder targeting gay and bisexuals individuals e.g., Grinder, Adam4Adam, Jack’d and Scruff (Badal, Stryker, DeLuca & Purcell 2018). Research has shown dating apps are used for a variety of reasons and motivations.

Tinder is predominantly used for entertainment when bored, to socialise and have fun, to meet people and to find a relationship or explore sexual experiences (Griffin et al. 2018; Timmermans & De Caluwé 2017). Grindr is used to have one off sexual encounter with strangers and for casual sex (Licoppe, 2020). Or could be used for socialising distracting yourself and to find companionship or relationships (Clemens, Atkin & Krishnan 2015). Bumble was developed to ensure women initiate the conversation rather than men to shift traditional gender roles yet there is little literature highlighting its motivations (Bivens & Hoque, 2018). Research exploring the motivations for other dating apps (e.g., Bumble, OkCupid) is greatly needed because these findings are most relatable to Tinder or Grindr and therefore, might not be generalised across all dating apps.

Although these findings might suggest dating apps are used for far more than ''hooking up'' as originally believed (Gatter & Hodkinson 2016; Stein, 2013). Dating apps have been used for sexual experiences e.g., causal sex. Out of a 401 sample, Chan (2017) found 78.55% of gay men met at least one user for casual sex. Macapagal et al. (2018) showed 75.5% of users engaged in oral sex and 62.1% engaged in anal sex. Timmermans and Courtois (2018) found nearly half their heterosexual participants had met their match in person with one third having had a casual sexual encounter. Sumter et al. (2017) showed 17% of heterosexual participants reported having had a one-night stand with a Tinder match.

While acknowledging that dating apps can be used for seeking out casual sexual partners, what is worrying is that research shows people who use dating apps are more likely to engage in riskier behaviours than non-users. For example, people who use dating apps are less likely to use a condom during sexual intercourse, have a greater risk of catching sexually transmitted diseases or HIV (Boonchutima & Kongchan (2017), have multiple sexual partners within a shorter period e.g., 5 plus (Shapiro et al 2017) and often consume alcohol and drugs prior to the sexual encounter (Choi et al. 2016) than non-users. Alcohol and substances can affect a person's thought process, behaviour and mood. For example, a person might not be able to think clearly and might react differently when engaging in sexual behaviours (Lorenz & Ullman, 2016). Sawyer et al, (2018) found users who used substances or consumed alcohol had higher rates of sex and/or unprotected sex. Hart et al, (2016) showed 25% of users reported high rates of drug use, having sex without a condom, and catching STIs.

As well, research has revealed that dating app users report lower levels of sexual consent (Shapiro et al, 2017) and higher levels of sexual coercion (Lauckner et al, 2019), feeling pressured to engage in sexual activities (Chan, 2018) and sexual violence including sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape. These behaviours can happen regardless of which app someone is on. Albury et al, (2019) has revealed some interesting findings on this. Feelings of pressure were reported by both males and females and often occurred because individuals felt uncomfortable to say no and/or felt unsafe. Harassment was experienced mostly by women and typically involved unwanted and overt sexual tones, messages or images. Even though female users wanted to see more sexual consent information than male users, in general, both users felt negotiating consent online would ruin the moment and is awkward. Moreover, the National Crime Agency (2016) found that 85% of women and 15% of men were victims of sexual violence. 72% of victims would meet in the perpetrator in one of their homes within a few days of initial contact. Many perpetrators used coercion and persuasion on a dating app to get the victim to meet. Interestingly though, 54% of dating app conversations involved a sexual nature prior to meeting. With 23% of users meeting within one week of communicating and 57% meeting one week after. Similarly, Hahn et al. (2018) argued users who communicate less prior to meeting are often more impulsive and engage in more sexual behaviours.

Even though some literature has highlighted the motivations of using some dating apps and the associated risks, there is insufficient research on communicating consent and sexual behaviours online and how communication is transferred into a face to face experience or interaction. Learning about why people use different dating apps and whether and how people communicate consent and different sexual behaviours provides the first step in being able to combat the risk associated with dating apps including sexual violence (Sumter et al, 2017). Therefore, due to the gaps in literature, my research aims to explore:

  1. What reasons do people think their peers (female and male) would give for using a dating app?
  2. Why do people use different dating apps for different purposes?
  3. How do people communicate various sexual activities in person and on a dating app?
  4. How does obtaining consent and giving consent transfers into a face to face interaction (offline situation) because of using a dating app?

Online event

If you find this topic interesting, please come to our free event on 2nd March at 6pm. We have arranged a workshop/table talk event on Sex Consent and the Law - In the Pandemic Era. In this event, our panel and attendees will engage in discussion around sex and consent. The focus on the event will be around ways in which we’ve seen sexual offences, exploitation, and issues of consent transform over the past year because of social distancing and lockdowns.

You can sign up your interest here:

Researchers contact details: [email protected]



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Chan, L.S. (2018). Liberating or disciplining? A technofeminist analysis of the use of dating apps among women in urban China. Communication, Culture & Critique, 11, 298–314

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