Grindr’s Hookup Culture Brings More Pain Than Pleasure

Raymond Tran

Let’s be honest. If you’re queer, you’ve probably heard of Grindr one way or another. However, for those unfamiliar with the app, it’s quite simple. Essentially, it’s an app mainly used by queer men to hookup with other queer men. While it can be used for other purposes, the connotation around the app is centered around sex and sexual interactions between men. 

On the outside, Grindr may seem to exist for some quick fun, but if we take a deeper look into the dynamics, interactions, and normalized behaviors on the app, there lies a plethora of damaging, dangerous, and outright illegal issues that need to be addressed. Whether it’s teenagers being groomed by other men or individuals using the app to feed into their unhealthy coping mechanisms, the culture on Grindr, as well as gay hookup culture in general, needs serious change. 

Hookup culture isn’t inherently detrimental. However, it is the type of culture created and perpetuated that makes it extremely damaging, especially to younger users. Unfortunately, grooming on the app is not an uncommon occurrence. While there’s technically nothing illegal about a large age gap, it begs the question: why are older men messaging barely legal teenagers? Just the very thought of someone 30 years old or older sexually pursuing an 18-year-old should be disturbing. 

Even Troye Sivan opened up on his uncomfortable experience on Grindr to The New Yorker, “One of its tracks [on Sivan’s second album], ‘Seventeen,’ is based on an experience common to young gay men but rarely talked about. When Sivan first joined the hookup app Grindr, he had an encounter with a man who was in his thirties. Years later, Sivan was scrolling through old text messages and found a selfie he had sent the guy, in which Sivan thought he looked shockingly young.”

There have also been many accounts of teenagers downloading the app when they’re still underage and engaging in sex with individuals substantially older than them. More often than not, older individuals who find out their real age continue to pursue them. If you ask anyone who has been on the app for any period of time, they will tell you that older men constantly message younger users in an uncomfortably predatory manner.

Navigating one’s sexuality can be confusing. It can be tempting to download an app and be instantly connected with people who all have something in common. However, Grindr is not the place for innocent exploration, no matter how normalized the app is within the community.

Additionally, many queer men use the app and the opportunity for the momentary pleasure it provides, as an incredibly unhealthy way of coping. This often results in a codependent cycle with Grindr, and hookup culture in general. 

According to Jack Turban, a gay psychiatrist, “Grindr, intentionally or not, also leverages a psychological concept called variable ratio reinforcement, in which rewards for clicking come at unpredictable intervals. You may find a hookup immediately, or you may be on your phone for hours before you find one.” 

Turban also makes the comparison to an interaction with a slot machine, enabling addictive behavior. “Because gamblers never know when the next payout will come, they can’t stop pulling the handle. They hold out hope that the next pull will give them the pleasurable sound of coins clanking against a metal bin, and they end up pulling for hours.” 

As a result, men start to see each other as objects instead of human beings, which also results in the prejudices and racism within the gay dating community. In fact, the unhealthy use of gay dating apps may keep gay men from finding lasting long-term relationships.

In a world where heteronormality exists, it can be easy to turn to unhealthy ways of coping from repressed sexuality and other related traumas. However, using our trauma as an excuse for dangerous and irresponsible behavior has been too normalized within our community. 

I’m not going to kid myself and pretend that I can change an entire culture or enact change to Grindr’s safety procedures. But if you’re reading this, and you’re thinking about joining or are already on the app, I urge you to be safe, be responsible, and don’t pretend that a momentary interaction with a man can mend whatever hurt you’ve experienced in the past. 

At the end of the day, using Grindr and hookups as a temporary solution to deeper-rooted issues will only cause more issues. There is a reason that when the Center for Humane Technology did a study, they found that 77 percent of users regretted using Grindr.

Be safe. Be smart. But we’ve seemed to have forgotten these simple elements when engaging in hookup culture. Let’s get one thing straight, I’m not saying queer men can’t or shouldn’t partake in hookups or one-night stands, I’m simply advocating for the practice of safe, consensual, responsible sex. 

Sexual liberation does not equate to sexual irresponsibility. 

Art by Ava Bayley for the UCSD Guardian.