Wednesday, 5 August 2015
The Gay Candy Shop
Over the last few years, 'social' apps where people find other people for dating and casual sexual partners have boomed. We call them hook-up apps.
In the gay community, hook-up apps such as Grindr, Recon and Scruff have become common tools to find casual sexual partners. It has gone far beyond the more traditional dating websites such as Gaydar, because with apps like Grindr, you can find a sexual partner right now who is located a few feet away from you. No need to plan a meet as was the usual practice with Gaydar. With hook-up apps, it is all very fast and instant.
Social and hook-up apps can be useful and important for people who live in rural areas, where finding same-sex sexual partners or dates can be more challenging. In urban areas, it can be useful to celebrate gay sexual freedom which was banned and pathologised as a mental illness for far too long. It is also a useful way to find sexual partners that are into the same sexual practice as you are. Recon, for example, specialises in Kink.
There is also a dark side to hook-up apps. Like most things, you can make them useful but you can also misuse them. When misused, it can create some significant problems.
Here are some of the problems I often hear about in my consulting room:
1- Hook-up apps increase objectification. What is objectification? It is a process by which one de-humanises a person by only seeing a body part of that person and turn it into a sexual object for one's sexual arousal. This is an increasing problem, because frequent objectification leads people to stop being empathic. It is easy to become dismissive of people about small things such as hair style. This, in turn creates a bigger problem: the inability to relate to others. By treating sexual partners like fast food for instant gratification and discarding them after the sexual act by not talking to them or by blocking their profile, this means that you are training your brain to become intolerant of the normal ingredients of human interactions such as personality, character traits, flaws and simple communication.
2- The tyranny of body perfection. Looking at an endless series of perfectly shaped headless torsos reinforces the concept that you are only desirable if you have the perfect body. If you do not, you can feel undesirable, sometimes to the point of self-hatred and depression. The gay male scene already focuses heavily on bodily perfection. It contributes to the exclusivity of the gay scene making many gay people, young and old, feel not worthy of belonging.
3- Hook-up apps can be dangerous. If you hook-up with a stranger on Grindr, you are less likely to meet them in a bar, and more likely to arrange a casual sexual meet at their house. Also you are less likely to tell a friend where you are going. Anyone can sign up to hook-up apps including violent homophobes who want to target gay people to hurt them. This is, of course, very rare, but think about this: you are actually walking into a strangers' house at night, without telling anyone where you are going.
4- Lack of privacy. Engaging in hook-up apps in private is a myth. Each time you send a picture to someone else, that picture does not belong to you anymore. The person receiving that picture can do whatever they want with it: share it, make it public, use it as their own, etc... Often people send naked picture of themselves over apps. If you do, do not include your face. A naked picture showing your face can land on your boss' desk!
5- Obsessed with apps. Hook-up apps can result in a compulsive behaviour very quickly. Hook-up apps give you the illusion that at any second there will be someone new popping up just a few feet away from you, wanting you. A series of six-pack torsos is exciting and, over time, numbs your mind and feelings, which means that you can lose hours looking at a constant stream of profile pictures. Some people report being really surprised at spending a whole night on hook-up apps, just looking at profiles, waiting for the one exciting hook-up that never comes. Some people think: ‘last night wasn't the night, but perhaps tonight.... And then it might be Saturday night when I’ll be in Soho. Surely, there, that night, I will see the hottest guy on the planet who is going to want me. And again. And again. And again’. Some people report such a compulsion that they can't get away from hook-up apps, literally hooked to the fantasy- or false promise- that something amazing is going to happen with a beautiful dark stranger. Even when out with friends, some people report being so preoccupied by what they might be missing on hook-up apps that they find it difficult to connect with those friends. It can take over people's lives.
6- Hook-up apps, alcohol and parties is a risky threesome. When you are drunk at the end of the Saturday night, you can easily download a hook-up app that promises several 'fuck parties' or 'chill-out parties' meaning drug-fuelled parties. You are then more likely to make the wrong decisions because of your altered state of mind and end up at a stranger's house with many other drunk and drugged naked gay men, even when you don't want to be there. You are then more likely to have unprotected sex and contract HIV. Hook-up apps make the access to those private sex parties so easy!
7- Why is all the above bad? What is wrong with having lots of anonymous sex with hot guys?
Having anonymous sex with hot guys is an individual choice. I am not here to judge people's promiscuity. However, it is important to engage in these behaviours with informed choices, and be aware of what you are doing: your desires, your needs and the consequences that it has in your life.
Many of my clients come to me reporting the following problems:
'I lost myself. And I keep losing myself every weekend'
'I can't stop hooking-up with strangers nearby. It's so empty and meaningless. At the time, it is such a thrill. But as soon as I cum, I feel empty as ashamed. In fact, it makes me hate myself.'
'It seems that I can't get passed the first date. After one evening with a guy, they either lose interest pretty quickly, or I do. It's so hard to find a partner who is willing to have a second date.'
'I feel depressed because I spent the whole night on Grindr again. I never got off. I just look at all those profile pics. Before I knew it, it was 4am! I'm so exhausted. I can't concentrate at work.'
'I feel so ashamed because, once again, on Saturday night, after a few drinks, I got Grindr out, had a quickie with some bloke. Then had a line of coke. More drinks. Hooked up with another guy, he wasn't attractive. Then got more drunk. Got Grindr out again. Ended up in a sex party in someone's flat. Took more drugs, don't know what I took. And had sex until Sunday mid-day. I don't think I used a condom all the time. I can't be sure. I'm going to have to go to Dean Street Express to get checked out, again!'
'I go to the gym six times a week, got a personal trainer who pushes me, too. But I'm just not getting a good enough body, like all those guys on Grindr. Who would want someone looking like me?'
'I bought some pills online for muscle development. I hate my body.'
'I put on my profile that I'm bottom because I'm so scared not to get it up when I meet a guy off Grindr. There is no time to get to know the guy, or foreplay. There's an expectation to be hard and ready. There's less pressure being a bottom. I can't remember last time I topped. I do enjoy topping though, but I've given up on it. Too much hassle'
'I keep having sexual problems because of the high expectations of the sex meet. People come with the expectation that it has to be the best hook-up of their lives. Now, I'm always anxious when I think about sex.'
'I've stopped eating breakfast and dinner so that I can get into those skinny jeans. I only have a salad for lunch. I don't care. I need to be skinny because I'm a twink'
Shame, low self-esteem, self-hatred, guilt, anxiety, depression, sexual problems, body dismorphia and eating disorders are common problems amongst gay men.
So, hooking up on Grindr and other similar apps, and having anonymous sex is not the problem. This is not about judging sexual practice. The problem is the consequences of those behaviours. If you feel happy and relaxed and able to manage the rest of your life whilst being on Grindr and having casual sex, no problem! Fantastic!
But if you feel bad, shameful, depressed, exhausted after it and ultimately unable to maintain a relationship that lasts more than one night even when you want to, then there is a big problem.
Most of my gay male clients report problems similar to these. By losing themselves, they lose their self-esteem, their confidence, and above all, their integrity. They report feeling empty and soulless, and this is a very bad place in which to find yourself.
Just as there is a health warning message for alcohol which states 'drink responsibly', I think there should be a message on hook-up apps that should say 'Use it moderately, and make time for face-to-face friendship'.
Silva Neves © August 2015