Despite your aunt's constant insistence that dating apps are basically just for hooking up and your friend who's been married for 10 years still acting like they're the sleaziest thing in the world, study after study shows that dating apps aren't just about hookups. Using dating apps for casual sex may happen — and that's totally cool if that's what you're looking for — but it's certainly not the only thing people are doing on apps. Not only do 13 percent of people who meet on dating apps actually end up getting married these days, but research has found that most people on dating apps are really looking for a long-term connection. And yet, we still seem to think that in addition to any serious relationships, these apps are full of a hookup underworld where tons of people are getting laid with just a snap of their fingers. But new research from Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Department of Psychology proves that using picture-based mobile dating apps (PBMDAs) don't actually result in any more casual sex than not using the apps.
While the study of 641 college students, 19 to 29, found that dating app users weren't having any more casual sexual partners than those who didn't have the app, they did find that dating app users tended to be more open to short-term sexual relationships that don't lead to a committed relationship than non-users are. Openness to hookups is known as someone's socio-sexual orientation — but just because you're open to it or have the desire for it, that doesn't mean you're doing it.
"The most obvious surprise is that there was no effect on the number of casual sex partners of using PBMDAs when controlling for sex, age, and socio-sexual desire," professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair at NTNU's Department of Psychology tells Bustle. "On the other hand, there were very few other surprises, as most other results supported predictions. Individual differences in desire for one-night stands and hookups predict who uses the app."
The research found that dating apps are not some kind of hookup hub, but just another way to meet people — one that you may use on its own or in addition to trying to meet people in real life.
The Gender Divide
Another interesting aspect of the research was the difference in how men and women use dating apps. The women tended to spend more time on the dating apps — seemingly because they were more discerning about their choices. Men were more likely to be eager and make quicker decisions. "There are robust sex differences in sexual psychology. These follow from both fundamental understanding of evolved psychological differences, and are also documented in a large number of studies," Kennair says. "Men, in general, are a lot less discerning and swipe right much more often. Many of the differences in use of dating apps reflect how men and women act in bars or other dating arenas."
They also found that while men were more likely to be looking for short-term relationships on apps, just as other research has shown, many men were also looking for more of a long-term connection. Women were more likely to use the app to feel better about themselves — through feeling like a desirable potential partner — than men were. But that wasn't the only reason people used dating apps.
"To a large degree people use it when they are bored; there was no sex difference for that reason," Kennair says. Both men and women said they use dating apps simply out of boredom.
There's no doubt that some people find casual sex on dating apps — and even use them exclusively for that. And that's totally fine, because some people just want to find a hookup and dating apps open you up to a ton of new single people. But it's incorrect to think that dating apps are some kind of hookup paradise for everyone on there.
As the study suggests, dating apps are just another way to connect with people. And, whether you're looking for something more serious or just a fling, there's probably someone else looking for that, too.