Looking for Someone: What’s the best way to use apps like Tinder and Grindr?

Dear Sexpert,

There are a lot of preconceived notions about Tinder and Grindr, and similar “matchmaking” apps. With all the hype surrounding Tinder and Grindr, I’m interested in trying them out. I think I know how these apps all work, but have concerns about their impact on my sexual wellness. Do you have any tips before diving in?  

–Looking For Someone

Dear Looking For Someone,

I’m happy that you’re reaching out before testing the waters of something you’re not completely confident about. These applications are often known as “hook up apps.”  The term “hook up” is ambiguous but can refer to a sexual encounter and entail a wide range of activities. That said, the expectations of these apps might vary by each user.

Tinder, for example, is a matchmaking app that advertises “friends, dates, relationships and everything in between.” It uses your profile on Facebook and takes pictures and information to create a profile that other users can like (swipe right) or dislike (swipe left). This app pairs you up with another online profile if there is a match, allowing you or the other user to message one another. There are many other matchmaking apps (e.g., Grindr, Bumble, Tingle) that follow the same sort of logic, but have variations on the services offered. Since many of these apps are intended for “hooking up”, I’m going to address them as one group, although there may be variations among them.

Before using any of these apps, there are actions you should take in preparation to protect your health and safety. First, be clear about your intentions. While some people use these apps to find a romantic dating partner, others are just looking for sexual relationships. So, communication with potential matches is key. Be clear with your match about your intentions – what you do and do not want to do—and be respectful of their’s. You should not feel obligated to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Plus, being clear about what you want before doing anything can limit hurt feelings.

Second, focus on safety. Online profiles can be deceiving, so first and foremost, it is vital to always be cautious before meeting someone you don’t know, even if you share a mutual friend. If you choose to meet, try meeting in a public place and always have an exit plan if you feel uncomfortable. For safety purposes, it may also be a good idea to bring a friend with you, so that you’re not alone. Or you can let a friend know where you are going and who you are meeting.

Third, come prepared. If you choose to be sexually active with another app user, protect yourself from risks such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or pregnancy. Avoid making assumptions: you can’t tell whether or not someone has an STI just by looking at them. Take your sexual health into your own hands by bringing your own barriers (e.g., dental dams, internal condoms, external condoms). Using barrier methods during sexual activity can decrease your risk of contracting STIs through bodily fluids or skin-to-skin contact. If you are concerned about pregnancy, make sure you are using a form of contraception such as a condom, an IUD, pill, patch, or implant, etc.  You can get any of these contraceptive methods at McCosh Health Center. Remember, only condoms protect against both STIs and pregnancy.

In the end, it’s your choice whether or not to use these apps, but considering and addressing the above issues could help ensure your health and wellness.

~ The Sexpert