Love me Tinder: how technology is changing sex

Sex apps accommodate all tastes and predilections and are the new frontier for the (mostly) young. But what is this casual hook-up culture doing to sex?

Researchers have begun to speak of this moment as the second greatest shift in human sexual habits. Illustration: Jacquie Boyd/Ikon via Getty Images

Researchers have begun to speak of this moment as the second greatest shift in human sexual habits. Illustration: Jacquie Boyd/Ikon via Getty Images

 

One lets you turn your phone into a vibrator that can be controlled remotely. Another records decibel levels during sex. Another still allows you to compare your performance with others. Sex apps accommodate all tastes and predilections; they are the new frontier for a generation of users who have grown accustomed to associating sex with technology.

People are still discussing Vanity Fair’s article on the effect of dating apps on dating culture among American youth. In the article, Tinder and the Dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse”, young men and women who use Tinder and other dating apps are interviewed in New York bars and on college campuses. Young men say such things as, “When it’s so easy, when it’s so available to you and you can meet somebody and f*** them in 20 minutes, it’s very hard to contain yourself”, a phenomenon for which a female interviewee later coins the phrase “pussy affluenza”.

The most important question posed by the Vanity Fair article remains for the moment unanswered and perhaps unanswerable: what happens after you’ve come of age in the age of Tinder?

Yahoo Travel rates Ireland 14th in its “20 best countries to Tinder”, between Italy and Norway. Tinder functions differently in Ireland than it does elsewhere. An Ipsos MRBI study conducted at the beginning of 2015 revealed that use is split evenly along gender lines, and that the average age is under 25. This suggests that use of technology as a means to date or hook up belongs to very young generations, as does use of Grindr, the hook-up app for gay and bisexual men that remains one of the most widely used apps in the country.

The fact that users of dating apps are so young means that the relationship between sex and technology is likely to grow with them, perhaps faster than them. In evolutionary terms, this is uncharted territory.

The idea that we’re experiencing an evolutionary unknown in sex is echoed by Justin Garcia of Indiana’s Kinsey Institute for Sex, Gender and Reproduction, who says that researchers have begun to speak of this moment as the second greatest shift in human sexual habits, second only to the establishment of marriage. The emergence of socialised monogamy brought about the first major shift in habits. The internet has brought on the second.

Over Skype, Garcia sounds less like the harbinger of sexual doom, and more like a fascinated watcher of “technology’s destiny to change our sexual lives for better or for worse” who also happens to be an expert in romantic and sexual relations.

 

A positive thing

Garcia believes the current shift in sexual practices offers scientists an exciting opportunity to “to start asking new questions”. When asked about sex apps as a follow-on to hook-up apps, he sees it as a positive thing. “A lot of these apps are expanding people’s sexuality,” he says. “The internet allows subgroups of people who might not be able to have relations – because of preferences, religion, habits – to engage in these sorts of relationships.”

The question is whether the rise of sex apps such as Nipple and Spreadsheets, and the likes of virtual reality porn, are exacerbating what some argue is a casual-obsessional relationship to sex brought about by hook-up culture. Tinder, which had 50 million users worldwide in 2014, has created a culture where the overabundance and infinite possibility of partners – what Garcia calls “cognitive overload” – has exterminated the desire for intimacy and caused a crisis in dating and monogamy among younger generations.

If sex apps were to become very widely used, they could shape and inform our future sexual habits. Nipple, an app that allows you to upload information about your sexual encounters in order to compare yourself with others, and where “top users” are listed every day, is a case in point. The phenomenon of sharing-and-comparing is an internet trope, as is the competitiveness inherent in hook-up culture and across dating apps.

Garcia, for one, is reluctant to blame technology for the more sinister aspects of some of these apps. “There’s always been a desire to compare as a social primate: we want to know what others are doing and we want to know how we stand compared to them.”

Garcia believes that what should be hotly debated are not the apps themselves, but what preceded them: “Based on the research that we’ve done on sexual hook-up cultures and sexual-romantic relationships, I tend to think that a lot of the technologies that are used for casual sexual relationships are more a symptom of larger cultural shifts than they are causal.”

According to Jennifer, a 32-year-old professional working in Silicon Docks, technology and sex are going to turn out good and bad in equal measure. “The thing about tech in sex is that it increases ease, accountability, access and diversity, but what you lose is authenticity and the contact you might otherwise have.”

So what happens when you come of age in the Tinder era? Where will relationships go from here? “It’s hard to know,” says Garcia. “I think we don’t know the consequences yet.”

 

 

HOW WAS IT FOR YOU? MOST POPULAR SEX APPS

  • Spreadsheets: This is the number one app in the world, or so it claims. Spreadsheets is a sex app that allows you to record all the tiniest details of sex by (as it suggests) “tossing it in the sheets”. Its blurb reads “Data. In bed” a turn-on to a select few who are really into data, while its other tag-line is the risqué “cheaper than a condom and more fun”. It records “decibel levels” and amount of “thrusts per minute”.
  • Nipple: This app allows you to upload everything about your sex life – from types of encounters (oral sex, masturbation) to descriptions of your partners (options include “Asian”, “chubby” and “tattoo”), and even length of intercourse and type of protection used. In the meantime, it posts helpful statistics about sex in the US such as “3.5 billion people had oral sex today”.
  • Disckreet: Marketing itself as an the “anti-revenge porn app”, Disckreet allows users to upload their sex videos, belfies (bottom selfies) and naked pics in a shareable but totally safe manner. In order to access the uploaded files, both people appearing in the image need to insert a password.
  • Sexy Vibes: A strange mixture based on virtual reality porn, 3D sex toys and Skype, this app allows you to turn your phone into a vibrator. It’s main perk is that it can be controlled remotely, thereby making it an ideal tool for long-distance relationships. You’ll think twice before asking someone if you can borrow their phone.
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