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What Really Motivates Tinder Use for Casual Sex?

A study of the roles of gender, sociosexuality, and sexual disgust sensitivity.

Key points

  • Sexual disgust sensitivity and sociosexuality were related to the use of Tinder for casual sex.
  • Men overall were more likely to use Tinder for casual sex.
  • Women low on disgust sensitivity were more likely to engage in casual sex and use Tinder.
Woman leaving.
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Tinder and various other dating apps have been in existence for some time, and there is good evidence that such apps have proved effective in helping people find a long-term partner. For example, nearly 30 percent of Americans have reported using dating apps, with 12 percent reporting being in a committed relationship or married to someone they met through online dating (Pew Internet Research, 2020). In addition to this, many people have reported using dating apps for other purposes such as ease of communication with potential partners, their own self-worth and validation, and casual sex. Yet, casual sex obviously exposes people to risks such as contracting sexually transmitted infections, producing offspring with partners who may ultimately be incompatible, or unplanned pregnancy.

The relative risks of unplanned pregnancy are far higher for women compared with men, because of the relative nonvoluntary time investment in children by men and women. Because this time investment is smaller for men compared with women, we would expect that men should be more likely than women to report using Tinder for casual sex.

However, in addition to gender differences, two other factors may influence a person’s motivation to use Tinder for casual sex. First, it may be predicted by a person’s level of sociosexuality. Someone defined as possessing unconfined sociosexuality would generally report having a lower need for emotional closeness and commitment prior to engaging in sexual behaviour, which may influence their behaviour on Tinder. Second, using Tinder for casual sex may also depend on our disgust response, which works to guard against us risking having sex with biologically incompatible partners. Consequently, a person’s disgust response may also influence their likelihood of using Tinder to find casual sex.

The extent to which each of these factors predicted the use of Tinder for casual sex was investigated by Baris Sevi and colleagues (Sevi, Aral & Eskenazi, 2018). Their study employed 163 Tinder users from the United States, with 143 of these reporting being heterosexual and the remaining participants being lesbian, gay, or failing to report their sexuality.

In their study, they asked people to complete a measure of disgust; more specifically, the researchers measured pathogen disgust (disgust to situations such as stepping in dog poo), sexual disgust (disgust response to things such as hearing strangers having sex), and moral disgust (such as disgust to shoplifting from a local store).

Sociosexuality was assessed in three ways using the Sociosexual Orientation Inventory (Penke & Asendorpf, 2008).

  • Behavior (“With how many different partners have you had sexual intercourse on one and only one occasion?”)
  • Attitude (“Sex without love is OK.”)
  • Desire (“How often do you have sexual arousal with someone with whom you do not have a committed romantic relationship?”)

This inventory differentiated between those with a more open take on sociosexuality and those with a more careful approach.

Finally, Tinder use was assessed with the Tinder Motives scale (Sumter, Vandenbosch, & Ligtenberg, 2017), which assessed the extent to which people used Tinder for casual sex.

Sexual Disgust Sensitivity and Sociosexuality

Overall, the findings from this research showed that sexual disgust sensitivity and sociosexuality were related to the use of Tinder for casual sex. More specifically, those participants who reported higher levels of sexual disgust sensitivity said that they were less likely to use Tinder for casual sex, whereas those who reported higher levels of sociosexuality said that they were more likely to use Tinder for casual sex.

As predicted, the researchers found that men overall were more likely to use Tinder for casual sex. Men also scored higher on sociosexuality compared with women and scored lower overall on levels of sexual disgust sensitivity compared with women.

However, when they looked at the relationships among sociosexuality, disgust, and gender, they found different things for men and women. For men, they found that low levels of sexual disgust sensitivity and high levels of sociosexuality motivated the use of Tinder for casual sex. However, for women, they found that low sexual disgust was not linked directly to using Tinder for casual sex. Rather, for women, sexual disgust predicted levels of sociosexuality, which in turn was related to use of Tinder for casual sex. The researchers postulate that this may be partly explained by gender differences in risk-taking behaviour.


Around half of women in America report that using dating apps or dating sites is an unsafe way to meet someone, which is perhaps explained to a large extent by the above findings.

Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, parental investment theory explains that because women invest more in offspring compared to men, they are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviour such as casual sex, compared with men. Certainly, the above findings suggest it is possible that only women who are low on disgust sensitivity are likely to engage in casual sex and perhaps advertise themselves on Tinder or indeed any other dating app.


Penke, L., & Asendorpf, J. B. (2008). Beyond global sociosexual orientations: A more differentiated look at sociosexuality and its effects on courtship and romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 1113-1135.

Pew Internet Research, (2020). Three-in-ten Americans have used a dating site or app; 12% have married or been in a committed relationship with someone they met through online dating…

Sevi, B., Aral, T., & Eskenazi, T. (2018). Exploring the hook-up app: Low sexual disgust and high sociosexuality predict motivation to use Tinder for casual sex. Personality and Individual Differences, 133, 17–20.

Sumter, S. R., Vandenbosch, L., & Ligtenberg, L. (2017). Love me Tinder: Untangling emerging adults' motivations for using the dating application Tinder. Telematics and Informatics, 34(1), 67–78.

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