Downloading Grindr or Tinder onto your smartphone can be one of the loudest wake up calls you could ever receive. You might ask yourself: Is this what I’ve been missing these last couple of years? Just a click and you could be in some stranger’s bed. You scroll through page upon page of disembodied muscular torsos, selfies, and bios, and for some reason may not feel the disgust you expected. The excitement of meeting someone new online, with the possibility of ending up in bed with them, has a certain appeal.
Trying out Tinder after Grindr (a similar app that caters to a wider variety of sexual orientations) felt like going to watch Frozen after just having sat through The Wolf of Wall Street. After hours of obsessively scrolling through hundreds of profiles on both apps, you’ll realize that this is the perfect tool for our generation. It is fast, quick, superficial, and easy. And it’s all fun and games until you realize what you’re doing, which is passively judging people from behind the comfort of a smartphone screen.
These seem like pretty useful apps, to find “new friends or [meet] someone special,” as CEO of Tinder, Sean Rad, states. Of course they can only be useful if you fit into the relatively narrow group the apps are directed at, as Tinder and Grindr reinforce the normative social construct of beauty.
Unlike Tinder, Grindr allows you to message anyone in your area, without the indication of mutual interest. As you can’t just swipe people you’re not interested in to the left, many biographies include the statement of “no *insert any race but white*.” Even though users might argue that their personal attraction is inherent, the biographies display an obvious pattern of white people as desirable, while people of colour exist as fetishes. This is based on the system of oppression that we can encounter every day in media, advertisements, our school system, and our workplaces, that establish whiteness as superior; however, racism is not the only issue. Fatphobia and fat shaming are still deemed acceptable in many parts of our society, and these new quick fix apps are no exception. Grindr bios are often littered with “no fatties, seeking athletic men, built,” et cetera.
Most newspaper articles a person would come across in a simple Google search for the keyword “Grindr” are assertions that the app helps spread STIs and HIV faster than if the app never existed. [For example, Grindr has been blamed for a syphilis outbreak in New Zealand and New York City, and spreading HIV]. Grindr’s website has a health page about how and when to get tested, and how to stay safe when partaking in consensual sex. In reality, STIs and HIV could be transmitted in a number of ways, and placing the blame of these apps is somewhat scapegoating and misinformed.
A joint study conducted by professors at University of Southern California and UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs concluded that, out of all respondents, 23.2 per cent of Grindr users had engaged in anal sex without a condom, and 74.4 per cent had engaged in oral sex without a condom. But the same study concluded that most participants had gone to the internet in order to seek safe-sex information. Moreover, a study conducted by Hunter College’s Center for HIV Educational Studies and Training found that at least 10 per cent of people on Grindr had never gotten tested for HIV.
While a seemingly insignificant number, this is actually a staggering number of sexually active respondents. The same respondents claimed that, even though they had never been tested, their HIV status was negative. This, according to Jon Rendina, one of the conductors of the study, “may mean that men are sharing potentially inaccurate HIV status information with their partners on Grindr.”
The fact is some people don’t need Grindr or Tinder (et cetera) to hook up with someone, and if you’re sexually active (regardless of where you met your sexual partner) you are at risk for contracting an STI. But is more transparency about sexual history the only answer? Hula, another dating app, allows people to share their STI results up front for everyone to see. That may be a good solution, but the only way to be completely transparent is to be honest and forthcoming enough with your sexual partner in order to disclose any information that may be compromising to the other person’s health before engaging in anything.
Nevertheless, Tinder and Grindr offer an easy solution that does not require hours of dressing up and standing around waiting for the right person and the right moment. Tinder especially empowers individuals who identify as female, as it opens up the possibility of a casual one night stand, without the presence of an environment prone to unwanted approaches and potential groping. You can just comfortably sit on your couch or in the library, swipe the picture of your object of desire to the right, and hope for them to do the same. Then you get a match and can start a conversation. As neither interest nor dismissal will be known, unless the sympathy is mutual, Tinder offers a medium for people who might have a strong fear of rejection, or experience the latter regularly due to a lack of social skills.
What matters is exercising vigilance. Be careful who you talk to, be suspicious of odd behaviour, and always practice safe, consensual, sex. Then maybe you’ll make the most of what these apps have to offer and prove all our parents wrong: maybe taking candy from strangers isn’t that bad after all.