Grindr goes mainstream – but what will it take to make it in the straight market?

katebaxter Columns & Opinion Leave a Comment

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Grindr – the hook-up app currently being used by over 700,000 gay, straight and curious men – is sure getting some airtime. Shortly after Steven Fry explained the concept to Jeremy Clarkson and the viewers of Top Gear, The Guardian’s Polly Vernon asks whether the app constitutes ‘a new sexual revolution‘. With an app for straight men and women on the way, could Grindr really be the app to change the way the world’s relationships work?

To give you a bit of background, Grindr is a free app which uses GPS to locate men in your area, providing users with a grid showing (often shirtless) images of nearby guys who are keen to chat. The immediacy is absolutely incredible – I had a cheeky play on a friend’s phone, and could see that a chap called Danny, who had eye-watering abs, was a mere 177 metres away. Trent, a rockabilly-type with cheekbones to die for, was just as close and online at that very moment. And there were plenty more guys to meet. The idea is that, were I a gay guy looking for fun or company, I could chat to them straight away, and maybe arrange to meet up.

Natually, sex is the most significant part of Grindr’s appeal. In a matter of minutes you can not only find someone you’re physically attracted to, but walk around the corner and meet them in person. It’s not about dating, which is time consuming and occasionally laborious. This is fun-on-demand, with no effort, and no strings.

And that’s why it will be interesting to see whether Grindr can make it in the straight market. Because – rightly or wrongly – the way men and women operate when it comes to sex and relationships is (and perhaps always will be) poles apart. In his interview with The Guardian, the founder of Grindr confesses that he doesn’t know ‘how to think like a woman’. And women looking purely for sex are still rarer than you might imagine. Sure, Samantha Jones might have been the pin-up for a sexually-liberated generation of noughties women – but let’s not imagine that Sex and the City is about anything other than its main characters finding fulfilling long-term relationships (cue actual cheering and weeping in the cinema when the independent-minded Carrie finally gets her proposal).

And why is this? For a start, it’s instilled in us by society – unfortunately, the old double standards still exist. Men, straight or gay, who are looking solely for sex are normal, fun-loving and virile. Women looking solely for sex (so the thinking still unfortunately goes) must be easy, desperate or both. In this way, the Grindr model doesn’t work so easily in the heterosexual model – with two gay men, the power balance is much more equal than in a male-female connection, in which a set of preconceptions and presumptions will inevitably arise. It’s certainly telling that, in Vernon’s interview, men admit that they ‘would think less of women’ who put themselves out there on a Grindr-style app.

I think Grindr is a great idea. But only on a level playing field. And sadly, when it comes to sexual liberation, men and women aren’t there yet. An app focused on dating – in which you could see at a glance whether that cute guy in the coffee shop is single and looking for love – seems like a fantastic app. Perhaps, as a friend of mine suggested, you put women in the driving seat by creating an app in which they can see the men but the men can’t see them. But women would still be in the exposed position of making the first move (and let’s face it, a system like that is just too open to abuse by men wanting to take the mickey out their mates…). And anyway, is it even safe for women to approach men in the street based on their profile on an app?? Again, the power balance between two gay men is arguably more equal here – but for women, who are constantly warned about connections they make on social networking and dating websites, they could even be putting themselves in danger.

What’s more, we just have to be careful that our real life connections, being so easy to establish, don’t become just as easy to drop. After all, connections without any effort can easily be connections without meaning.

By katebaxter | July 5th, 2010