When seeking casual sex, why go to a bar to get rejected when you can use an app to get rejected from the comfort of your own home? A study just published in Personality and Individual Differences suggests that people on Tinder and other such picture-based dating apps are not really doing much better at getting casual sex than those who don’t use the apps. In other words, swiping left and right doesn’t mean that you are “hooking up” left and right.
For the study, a research team from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Ernst Olav Botnen, Mons Bendixen, Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, and Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair) surveyed 641 students (ages 19 to 29) on their use of picture-based dating apps such as Tinder, their “sociosexual orientation,” and their number of casual partners. One in 5 of the respondents turned out to be current users of such dating apps. The picture-based dating app users did report being less restricted in their sociosexuality. Less restricted in sociosexuality is a scientific way of saying “more willing to engage in sexual activity outside of a committed relationship” or “more open to hook-ups” or “ring? What ring?” Next time your significant other accuses you of cheating, try saying that you were “not cheating but rather experienced a momentary relaxation of your sociosexuality.”
The study also showed that willing doesn’t necessarily mean more able. While some apps deliver exactly what you ask for like a picture of a cat, the picture-based dating app users did not tend to have more casual sex partners than those who didn’t use the apps. In other words, many Tinder users were a bit like a 7-Eleven in the middle of nowhere at 4 am. They may have been open but no one was visiting.
But not everyone is trying to use Tinder and similar apps as a vending machine for casual sex. The study did find that Tinder tended to be first and foremost a diversion for both men and women, something to use when they were bored and had nothing else to do. Moreover, in a finding that may shock many men in the dating world, women were more likely to use the apps to simply confirm that they are attractive rather than actually trying to find a partner, short or long-term. In a press release, Bendixen explained, “Women use dating apps to feel better about themselves more than men do.”
Meanwhile, men are more likely to use Tinder and similar apps to find either short-term (in some cases short term may mean minutes) or longer-term partners. Bendixen indicated that “Men more often start conversations and contact matches, and they’re more willing to meet partners through dating apps in private settings.” Again, willing does not necessarily mean able. Other studies, such as one from Jessica Strübel, PhD, and Trent Petrie, PhD, at the University of North Texas that was published in the journal Body Image, have suggested that dating apps and websites can actually erode self-esteem. Who thought that having strangers judge you simply based on your photos could affect your self-esteem? Thus, if you are a man and just want to feel better about yourself, you may consider something besides a dating site or app, such as hitting your head repeatedly with a toilet seat.
Of course, this study had its limitations. It’s only from one set of students at one University in one country. Plus, who knows how accurately and honestly the students answered the surveys?
Nonetheless, the study does provide further evidence that dating apps and websites may not be providing what many people think that they are providing. Apps and websites are transforming many other everyday activities. For example, now you can order 5,000 rolls of toilet paper without worrying about how to squeeze them in your shopping cart or others judging you. But the jury is still out on whether online channels are making dating better, the same, or worse. Dating apps and sites, especially picture-based ones like Tinder, may be placing too much emphasis on superficial things such as appearance that have little to do with the ability to maintain a relationship. It may serve as an artificial crutch so that people don’t take the effort to really get to know each other and find someone who is truly compatible. After all, at least when you meet someone in a Happy Hour, you can tell if the person is carrying a machete.