Tinder, Tingle, and Blendr are just some of the dating apps generally associated with casual or "hook-up" sex, which gives them a particular niche in the online dating world. Tinder creates a user’s profile by uploading basic information such as age, gender, and interests from their Facebook account. Once active, users are presented with a sequence of photographs of other individuals seeking partners, which they can swipe to the right if they find the person attractive—or swipe left if they don’t. Users can also set personal preferences in the app, such as a potential date’s age and proximity. The app uses GPS to locate potential matches within the user’s local geographical area, promoting the idea that such apps may be used when people are traveling.
However, recent research suggests that people do not always use Tinder for hook-up sex. Further, there are differences between how men and women use the app.
Research by Sumter, Vandenbosch, and Ligtenberg (2016) collected responses from 266 current or former Tinder users between the ages of 18 and 30. The study participants indicated how often they used the app, whether they had succeeded in meeting a Tinder match offline, and how many Tinder one-night stands they’d had. Finally, respondents were asked to reveal to what extent they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about why they used Tinder, such as, "to contact a romantic partner," "to find someone to have sex with," and "to feel better about myself."
The findings suggest that young adults use Tinder for various reasons, the main ones being:
- Love and casual sex
- Validation and self-worth
- Ease of communication
Love and Casual Sex
The evolutionary perspective on gender differences in courtship behavior suggests that males display a sexual over-perception bias and females typically exhibit an under-perception bias. In other words, males and females interpret situations rather differently; in this study male Tinder users indicated that they used Tinder more for casual sex than female users.
However, the researchers found that using Tinder to find love outweighed the motivation to use it for casual sex. Nevertheless, some respondents reported that Tinder leads to casual sex, with 18 percent reporting a one-night stand as the result of a Tinder match.
Finally, the respondents reported that they used Tinder for love and sex more as their age increased. The researchers believe this can be explained by changes in what people want from their relationships as they get older. For example, older adults might start to look for physical gratification in addition to relationship commitment.
Validation and Self-Worth
It is likely that receiving the notification of a match on Tinder indicating that someone "likes" you, or finds you attractive, would enhance feelings of validation or self-worth. Indeed, participants in this study indicated that they used Tinder to receive positive feedback on their appearance and improve their self-esteem.
The need for validation of one’s physical appearance by others has been found to be more important for females than for males (Crocker et al., 2003), which is explained by differences in the relative importance of what each gender seeks in a partner. However, despite the fact that Tinder operates by presenting mostly photographs, in this study no differences were found between males and females in the use of Tinder to receive validation from others.
Sumter et al. (2016) suggest that when people give excitement as a reason for using Tinder, then this could be related to a tendency toward more risky offline behaviors such as one-night stands. In their study, they noted gender differences: Males were more likely than females to report that they used Tinder for excitement. This difference is again consistent with the evolutionary psychology explanation. Because of the risk of pregnancy, casual sex is less risky for males than females, thus accounting for the gender difference in reasons given for Tinder use.
Ease of Communication
Finally, the study found that ease of communication was not a particularly important reason for respondents' use of Tinder, although males cited this as a reason just slightly more than females. Tinder users who found it easier to communicate online compared to offline were actually less likely to connect with those they had met on Tinder on a face-to-face date.
The study noted that 23 percent of respondents used Tinder on a daily basis, with 20 percent reporting that they used the app less than once a month or only once or twice.
In terms of dates resulting from Tinder matches, 45.5 percent of respondents had gone on a face-to-face date following a match on Tinder, with 18 percent reporting a one-night stand following a match on Tinder. Although the offline dating experiences on Tinder were similar for males and females, males reported more than four times the frequency of one-night stands compared to females. Whether this reflects just a difference in reporting or an actual difference remains a matter of speculation.
Crocker, J., Luhtanen, R.K., Cooper, M.L., and Bouvrette, A., (2003). Contingencies of self-worth in college students: theory and measurement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85 (5), 894–908.
Sumter, Vandenbosch and Ligtenberg (2016). Love me Tinder: Untangling emerging adults’ motivations using the dating application Tinder. Telematics and Infomatics, 34, 67-78.