As a gay man, it’s kind of expected for you to be part of the hook up culture that exists in a digitally-accessible world. While that may be the stereotype, most gay people I know have (or have had) apps such as Grindr, Tinder, Scruff and Hornet on their phones. Grindr is something I have downloaded and check maybe once or twice a day. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone give raving and positive reviews of the app. Responses I’ve received include “It’s just full of people who want to get dick pics”, “I’m not into NSA (no strings attached fun), I just want to see what gay guys are near me” and “I know it’s stupid on Grindr, but I want more than fun.” If very few of us have good things to say about these gay dating apps, then why do we invest so much time into them?
I first downloaded Grindr at the age of 15, soon before I was 16 (which is too young, I know) when I was starting sixth-form in south Wales. My reasoning was because I didn’t know any other gay people in my small seaside town and wanted to be a part of the community that I’d built up in my head (I will discuss issues of LGBT education more broadly in a separate blog post). Don’t get me wrong, I talked to some really interesting people who just fancied a chat. Plus, at 15, I was far too naïve to work out if those guys wanted more than just a chat. I think some, like me, found it quite lonely being gay in a quiet town with a majority older population.
I would be lying if I said that my motives weren’t a little tilted towards the side of sexual exploration too. My sexual desires were never discussed in school. Or with anyone really. In 2016, the Terrance Higgins Trust reported that “95 per cent had not learned about LGBT sex and relationships.” All I had to go off was the internet. When most young people, like me, join Grindr for the first time, there’s a great sense that you’re invincible. This isn’t just a feeling that young people have in this kind of context either. Schools are a place where the most popular people get all the attention and everyone wants to be popular. Gay apps can provide a platform for young people to get a great deal of attention. All of this isn’t too risky, but my issue is that sex education doesn’t prepare anyone – gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc – for sexual encounters online.
I’m sure we all saw a video about the online risks of social media like Facebook and Twitter because they claim that’s where the paedophiles will come and find you, right? While that might be one risk of the Internet age, dating apps can be far worse. All you have to do is log on to Tinder and find that every other profile that claims to be 18 or 19 will be followed with “Actually 17, that’s just my age on Facebook.” However, there are proportionally more apps aimed at gay men than there are for straight men, lesbians and transgender people, so the risks are higher without the proper education.
I’m sure this is making me sound like we should be so scared of apps like Grindr and Scruff and that the people on them are out to get young guys. This is not the case! My argument is that they can be used for their intended purpose with the correct education. I still have Grindr on my phone and have gotten dates from it, friends that I still talk to and obviously hook ups too. We have an education system that is already very conservative in what it teaches and its methods. Young men who go onto this without the proper preparation are bombarded with hyper-sexualised content. LGBT sex education isn’t even a thing for the majority of schools, so it can be pretty terrifying. But it doesn’t have to be.
So what can we do to prevents any issues?
- Adapt sex education to fit in with the digital age. The curriculum is based upon very tradition reasons for intercourse. While this is still a valid and will forever be a relevant part of sex education, it’s not representative of today’s society to be the primary focus. Not only is sex education based on reproduction, but it simply ignores the fact that so many of us have used mobile phones apps like Tinder and Grindr to talk to and meet people. Even if people don’t have them during school, they might download them soon after. Grindr has been around since 2009 – that’s eight years ago. The curriculum needs to be updated to suit the world we live in.
- Ask students what they would like to learn about. Young men and women won’t necessarily say they want to learn about this kind of thing in front of their friends, but to ask them if they have ever used them, or would use them, would be a good start. Let’s even ask pupils if they’ve heard of them even! If they’ve heard of them, then it’s likely they will eventually try them.
- Explain the risks. Hook up and dating apps are fine. Seriously, they are not harmful or scary or dangerous if people know what to look out for and protect themselves online. Schools are starting to make more of an effort to highlight the dangers of popular social media, but there needs to be more. At 15, I had no confidence when I first downloaded it. I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect casual racism. Nor did I expect people looking for drugs. The majority of people who use these apps are 100% harmless but as with everything, there are risks. Until these risks are identified and explained to unknowing people, these risks can be greater.
Sex is great. The Internet is great. Sex education could be great too. This is why we should be working towards updating the curriculum to accommodate new types of sexual encounters and relationships.
Side note: PinkNews published a great piece on ways to stay safe on Grindr and other dating apps. I’ve put the link in the references section. 🙂