The rise of dating apps generates a number of issues regarding cultures of health and wellbeing, including risks of sexual assault and STI transmission. News reports of sexual privacy breaches (in the form of image-based abuse, or large scale data leaks), along with harassment, sexual assault and murder have heightened tensions around the use of dating apps. Despite this, little evidence exists regarding the role apps currently play in users’ everyday negotiations of consent, condom use, contraception, personal safety, and other aspects of sexual health and wellbeing.
This project responds to the need to provide more detailed firsthand accounts to better understand the way health, wellbeing and safety are experienced through dating apps. The report outlines key findings of a two-year ARC Linkage partnership between Swinburne University of Technology, ACON Health, Family Planning NSW and the University of Sydney.
- A wide range of dating and hook-up apps are used, but the most popular among our respondents are Tinder (LGBTQ+ women, straight women and men), Grindr (LGBTQ+men), OK Cupid (non-binary participants), and Bumble (straight women).
- Responses to most survey questions vary greatly among participants depending on gender, sexuality and cultural diversity. Overall, apps are more commonly used to ‘relieve boredom’ and for ‘chat’ than seeking sex or long-term relationships.
- Of all respondents, 44% reported experiencing discrimination when using apps. LGBTQ+ users were most likely to report experiencing harassment through app use (63.4% versus 43.4% non-LGBTQ+). Harassment is most likely to occur through chat and when sharing photos.
- Participants described both the beneficial and detrimental impact of app use on mental health. App use improved social connection, friendships and intimate relationships, but were also at times a source of frustration, rejection and exclusion.
- Safe sex and sexual health were discussed holistically by participants in relation to sexual negotiation, sexual consent, and the use of contraceptives. There were marked differences, with LGBTQ+ users 1.8 times more likely than non-LGBTQ+ to discuss safe sex with other users within apps. Female participants (of all sexualities) were 3.6 times more likely to want to see app-based information about sexual consent than male participants.
- While dating and hook-up apps may be seen as a ‘novel’ technology within some health promotion and sexual health education settings, they are viewed as ‘ordinary’ technologies by their users. Dating and hook-up apps can also be understood as specific environments with distinct cultural norms. App users have much to offer to both researchers and health professionals, in terms of sharing both their expertise and experiences – including established strategies for negotiating safety and risk when dating and hooking up.