Online Dating: Are straight and gay dating apps really that different?

Gay and straight dating are not two things that typically go hand in hand, and the same can be said when it comes to the world of dating apps. But in what ways are the apps that typically target different sexualities different?

Charly Lester, dating expert and former employee of online dating site Gaydar, believes that “the main difference between the gay and straight apps is that most of the gay apps started quite unashamedly as hook up apps” and people “using the apps openly state their intention” from the very beginning.

“By contrast, with the straight apps/more generic apps, the focus is on ‘dating’, even on apps which people are using for hook ups. There are specifically casual apps, and there is an increasing number of those kinds of apps, but there is quite a defined divide in the industry.”

Dating apps have become increasingly popular over the last decade since the launch of the hugely popular Grindr in 2009, which is predominantly for gay men, and Tinder in 2012 – an app for both gay and straight users, although it is predominantly seen as the main dating app for straight daters to use.

Although there are dozens of dating apps out there, Grindr and Tinder are arguably the biggest. By the end of 2017, Grindr had over 27 million users worldwide, and within two years of its release, Tinder was registering over one billion ‘swipes’ a day. But, what is it that makes them different?

Lou, a 22-year-old bisexual male that prefers to remain anonymous beyond his first name, has used both Tinder and Grindr and sees the “main difference” as “the way people act” on the apps. Lou believes that Tinder is “quite light-hearted” and thinks users are just there to “get some matches even if you don’t talk to them”. By contrast, he sees Grindr as “much more serious” as “people know what they want and they’re on there to get it”.

“A lot of the conversation is very specific and sex-focused, there isn’t a lot of room for chatting and many Grindr users see that as ‘wasting their time’.”

Lou goes on to discuss the similarities between gay and straight dating apps, as he believes there are some. He claims: “Both are very much based on appearance – you look good, are conventionally attractive, people will swipe, tap [and] chat with you.” Lou also believes that “it’s all about the way you sell yourself – people on Tinder seem to appreciate funny captions, cute pictures that show your personality, given that allowing more than one photo allows for this. This isn’t so much the case with Grindr, as it’s definitely more about who you are – top, bottom, which tribes etc., so you sell yourself in a different way”.

According to Lou, a lot of gay dating app users don’t see obtaining a relationship on them as possible. He believes: “People don’t look for relationships, so they look for sex – people see that and in turn do the same.”

The question that therefore must be asked is whether or not gay and straight apps are different because of their design and what they promote, or because of the way users approach them. A poll ran on Twitter gave insight into whether or not people think gay and straight apps are predominantly used for different reasons by users.

Grindr has features that can be seen as promoting hooking up over going on dates, such as its utilisation of a phone’s geolocation features which shows a user the nearest people to them in the form of a grid. The app also allows people to display their favoured sex position in their profile, alongside their HIV status and body descriptions – none of which are features of Tinder.

Ray, a 21-year-old lesbian that would like to remain anonymous beyond her first name, has also used apps to meet and talk to people. Ray has used the lesbian side of Tinder and HER, an app for lesbian, bisexual and bicurious women. She believes that how these apps are used is “down to the user” but that “most females seemed to be on the app for an emotional relationship, although they weren’t opposed to a purely sexual one when the opportunity presented itself”.

Ray then spoke about how her use of dating apps depends on what she is looking for at the time: “I’ve managed to meet people for sex when I wanted but I’ve also met two of my partners on Tinder in the past.”

This raises the question about whether or not there is a difference in the way that lesbians and gay men use dating apps, as opposed to there simply being a difference between the way gay and straight users do.

What is clear is that there is an underlying difference between what straight and gay dating apps are predominantly used for. But, it is apparent that how these apps are used is entirely down to the person using them, regardless of the apps design or what it may promote.

If you want more on this topic, listen to the How Different Are Gay and Straight Dating Apps podcast below hosted by Conor Clark, featuring Amelia Green and Catriona Beck:

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