Let’s set the scene: after dinner in the city, I’m back at my boyfriend’s apartment and we’re getting it on. Once we reach that pivotal moment of shouting out obscenities and awkward open mouth breathing on each other’s face, we lay on our backs exhausted. In my mind, the only other thing that could make this night even better is a Crumb’s red velvet cupcake. Unfortunately, my boyfriend had other plans.
“What do you think about us using Grindr to find a third to help us spice things up? I have it and there are a ton of guys who seem interested,” he tells me. Wait, what? My boyfriend wants to use Grindr to find someone for a threesome? My boyfriend wants a threesome? My boyfriend is already using Grindr? My boyfriend…isn’t satisfied with me sexually?
As I lay in uncomfortable silence, I tried to figure out just what in the hell Grindr really was. Sure, I had read about it before but I had never actually used it. We all know how vastly different those experiences can be: reading about versus doing.
After shutting down my boyfriend’s idea, we broke up but while reflecting on our relationship, I decided to dig a bit deeper into this Grindr concept. Being a bit of laggard when it comes to technology, I had yet to purchase a smart phone during this initial conversation. Within hours of me purchasing an iPhone, I downloaded Grindr to see what the fuss was all about.
If you’re still wondering what Grindr is, get out from under that unfashionable proverbial rock. Grindr is the premiere app for finding some ass on the fly by activating your smartphone’s location-based services that then creates a map of men closest to you who are or currently active on Grindr. This sexy app has even hit the mainstream with the refined Barney’s CO-OP acknowledging what Grindr is in their Spring 2012 Men’s collections video and Interview Magazine doing a Grindr themed editorial in their September 2012 issue.
As entertaining as that twink’s explanation of what Grindr is, I wanted more concrete information so I spoke to the company’s press team. According to them, the inspiration for their widely popular app came after realizing that they were missing out on connecting with people around them. They wanted to be able to connect with others in real-time which is where they got the idea to utilize the GPS technology smartphones give their users to help facilitate these connections.
And do connections get made. There were just over 3 million worldwide users when I first spoke with Grindr and now there are close to 5 million in almost 200 countries. This relatively simplistic phone app has become one of the largest “destinations” for gay men. The way Grindr spread in popularity so quickly, it makes guys hooking up in the bathroom at The Cock bar in the East Village look like prudish.
That’s what Grindr is for, right? Hooking up? It would seem this is the case as when you boot up the app, you see an assortment of thumbnail photographs (mostly of torsos or other acceptable body parts) that come attached to profile names like “TongueACTION” or “Looking 4 Now.” More often than not, conversations aren’t actually real exchanges of dialogue but surface chatting to get that almighty X-rated pic, time and location. Men asking for a cock shot on Grindr is like trying to start a slightly dying 1995 Grand Prix in the dead of winter: if the engine doesn’t turn over the first time, wait five seconds and try again.
I spoke with a handful of men and women, both gay and straight, about what they perceived Grindr to be all about. I wasn’t too surprised when they all responded that they presumed it to be primarily for finding sex.
Michael*, a heterosexual 24-year-old Special Projects Assistant in Boston, is fully aware of the app thanks to his gay friends. He says they tend to use the app as a punch line and isn’t sure if his friends have ever actually used it in any other capacity. One friend of his did confess to a disastrous encounter with Grindr that left him feeling like a prostitute. Michael and I even chatted about Blender, the “straight version” of Grindr, but he still wasn’t sold.
“I’m more of a slow climb type of guy – get to know someone, talk to her for a summer, date her in college then several years later move to Boston and marry her,” he says.
Ryan is a gay man working in broadcasting in a very rural part of Kansas. He uses Grindr and downloaded the app with the intention of meeting other gay men in the area for friendships but wasn’t opposed to hooking up. Since he lives in a city with less than 50,000 residents, Ryan says that he thinks most of the men are using it to hook up.
Being the founder and creative director for Designer’s Against AIDS (DAA), Ninette Murk deals with sex all of the time. Murk, who is based in Belgium, thought that Grindr looked pretty efficient if its users are just looking for sex and that there is nothing wrong with that. “As long as people don’t hurt others they can do whatever they please. If you’re old enough to have sex, you’re old enough to have safe sex if not for yourself but out of respect for your partner,” Murk says.
However, this is not the same picture painted for me by Grindr’s press team. They refuted that Grindr was originally targeted towards gay men because of the highly sexual and promiscuous image the gay community has.
“We did a survey of Grindr users and discovered that 67% of Grindr users said they used the app to make friends and 62% use Grindr for chatting. 38% of Grindr users said they have dated someone they met on Grindr,” they said. They also enlightened me to the fact that their app is being used as “a powerful tool” to mobilize the gay community on LGBT causes, has launched Grindr for Equality, a social movement to raise awareness on LGBT issue and uses its broadcast messaging platform to participate in events including the overturning of Proposition 8 and marriage equality in New York.
With attempts to bring positive attention to the gay community, one has to wonder why Grindr still has such a sleazy image? Would this change if they stopped pussyfooting around the fact that their app is widely used for casual sex? Can’t they just treat this as a “Let’s talk about it so it becomes a non-issue” so we can all move on and focus on the good they are trying to do? Maybe not. I don’t have to tell you how much sex is thrown in our faces on a day-to-day basis. At this point in today’s society, sex in every form of advertising is so common that we’ve grown partially immune to it.
Still, the topic of sex can be a very touchy subject. Matthew J. Dempsey, a licensed medical health counselor based in Chelsea, notes how the United States has puritanical roots that defines sex as “appropriate and okay within a really narrow scope.” That means two people of the opposite sex in a marriage getting it in with the purpose of procreating.
If you stray from this original idea of what sex was meant for, there’s a chance you might feel ashamed or guilty. Dempsey thinks that this may actually be the case with Grindr as their app is fueled by hookups. To seem more pure or acceptable, Grindr tries to overcompensate with their community initiatives. This is a very typical behavior in general: attitude versus behavior. “We might be dirty in this way, but look at all of the good we’re doing,” Dempsey says as an example of how the Grindr team might operate.
So is Grindr just plain sleazy or saint worthy? It’s a combination of both if actually look at it past its skanky surface. It’s an app that elevates your chance of rolling around in someone’s sheets during your lunch break and tries to raise awareness on a number of hot topics. Yes, this app takes away the “special” element so many like to apply to sex, but adults should feel free to get their rocks off even if not in a committed relationship. Neither Murk nor Dempsey see anything wrong with obtaining sex from Grindr.
Then again, you could open Grindr and have three or four different automated messages thrown your way. They might be about discounts for services in your area, events taking place soon or prompting to you make sure you stay safe and get tested. Sure, you could very easily just click out of these messages without actually reading or inspecting them but they do exist and some of those offers are actually pretty interesting. Maybe if Grindr readjusted their app to include a section where users could easily find these news messages, it might make them seem more dedicated to raising awareness.
What do you think? Have you ever used Grindr? If so, what was the reason you downloaded the app? Tweet me (@ThatFashionDude) because I want to know!
* All names have been changed. I’ve always wanted to write that!