Photographee.eu/Shutterstock
Source: Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

Arguably, the advent of location based mobile dating apps such as Tinder has taken online dating to another level.  In addition to the speed with which such apps can be assessed compared to computer based dating sites, one of the major features of location based apps is that they allow users to connect with others based on their geographical location making it possible to find a date in the local vicinity.  Such quick and easy access to potential dates has left apps such as Tinder with the reputation of facilitating casual sex or hook-ups.  According to Jochen Peter and Patti Valkenburg casual sex or hook-ups are associated with sexual permissiveness and such behaviour is evident online as well as offline in other words, sexually permissive people who look explicitly for sex offline also seek this online (Peter & Valkenburg, 2007).  Therefore, are mobile dating app users different to users of mainstream online dating sites, and specifically are they more sexually promiscuous?

Research by Karoline Gatter and Kathleen Hodkinson (2016) aimed to investigate whether differences existed between Tinder users and Online Dating Site users.  In their study they employed 75 participants who were asked whether they used Tinder, and whether they used dating sites.  They ended up with three groups of people, who were Tinder users, online dating site users and a group who used neither.  Those who used Tinder and dating sites were excluded.    

Participants completed a sexual permissiveness scale (Hendrick, Hendrick &  Reich, 2006) which included items such as:

  • I do not need to be committed to a person to have sex with him/her.
  • The best sex is with no strings attached.
  • One-night stands are sometimes very enjoyable.

Their participants were also asked to complete a sociability scale (Cheek and Buss, 1981), which measured the extent to which they preferred to be in a social environment and interact with people rather than being alone and also a self-esteem scale (Rosenberg, 1965).  Self-esteem being a self-judgement of one’s worth.

Sexual Permissiveness

In comparing the three groups Tinder users, online dating site users and the group who used neither, on measures of sociability, sexual permissiveness and self-esteem, the researchers found the following. 

For sexual permissiveness, the group who did not use online dating or Tinder were lowest in sexual permissiveness.  This was followed by the online dating group, with the Tinder group having the highest sexual permissiveness scores.  However, the researchers explain that this could be due to the age differences between the groups, with Tinder users being significantly younger than Dating Site and non users.  After controlling for age differences between the groups, no differences in sexual permissiveness remained.   Duggan and Smith (2014) report that dating apps are used mostly by adults in their mid twenties to mid thirties, but almost not at all by those in their mid forties and above.  On the other hand online dating is used by people in their mid twenties up to their mid forties.

For the measures of sociability which is the extent to which people like being in a social environment, and self-esteem which is a measure of a person’s self worth, there was little difference between each of the three groups. 

When examining the gender differences, Gatter and Hodkinson (2016) did find males to be far more sexually permissive compared to females, and males were more likely than females to use both types of dating to find casual sex partners, which is consistent with males generally displaying a sexual over perception bias.

Why People Use Online Dating

The reasons people give for using a particular type of dating platform might also reveal something about the type of person they are.   Gatter and Hodkinson therefore asked their participants to rate on a scale of 1 to 4, (1 – strongly contributed, 4 – did not contribute) the extent to which a given reason influenced their decision to use either Tinder or an online dating site.  The reasons were:

  • To find a romantic relationship
  • To find casual sex partners
  • To make new friends
  • To keep in contact with existing friends
  • Just for fun

In terms of how strongly the five reasons outlined above contributed to participants’ decisions to use Tinder or Online Dating sites the research found ‘To find casual sex partners’ affected participants’ reasons for using Tinder over Online Dating sites, although the difference was not large and not statistically significant. 

The other reasons ‘to find a romantic relationship’, ‘just for fun’, and ’to make new friends’ all affected reasons for using online dating over Tinder, and ‘to keep in contact with existing friends’ was a much stronger reason given for using online dating as opposed to Tinder.  In fact this was a very unimportant reason participants gave for using Tinder. 

When the researchers looked at gender differences in participants’ motivations for using online dating overall, the reason ‘to find sexual partners’ was cited far more by males than by females.  Furthermore, males were far more likely to use either type of dating to find casual sex partners compared to females. 

Overall then Tinder users report higher levels of sexual permissiveness than non Tinder users, although this is mainly accounted for by the fact that Tinder users are younger.  Furthermore, when people were asked their reasons for using Tinder, those reasons more strongly associated with sexual permissiveness were cited by Tinder users more often than by users of mainstream dating sites.  Overall therefore, the evidence does seem to suggest then that Tinder users are more sexually promiscuous.

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References

Cheek, J. M., & Buss, A. H. (1981). Shyness and sociability. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41, 330–339.

Duggan, M., & Smith, A. (2014, January). ‘Social media update 2013’. Retrieved from http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Social-Media-Update.aspx

Gatter K., & Hodkinson, K. (2016). ‘On the difference between Tinder versus online dating agencies: Questioning a myth.  An exploratory study’. Cogent Psychology, 3.

Hendrick, C., Hendrick, S. S., & Reich, D. A. (2006). ‘The brief sexual attitudes scale’. Journal of Sex Research, 43, 76–86.

Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2007). ‘Who looks for casual dates on the internet? A test of the compensation and the recreation hypotheses’. New Media & Society, 9, 455–474.

Rosenberg, M. (1965). ‘Society and the adolescent self-image’. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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