Tinder toxic for young women: The swipe-right app’s promise of sexual liberation is working for men
The sexual revolution was supposed to set us free — no more shame, no more coercion, no more female subservience. We were told that a new culture of no-strings-attached sex would give women the opportunity to revel in their sexual autonomy.
I used to believe that liberal narrative. As a younger woman, I looked at the hard-won achievements of the feminists who came before me, and assumed that this history was simple: a woman’s lot was better than ever before, and it would only continue to improve. Now we had the Pill and equal opportunities in the workplace, nothing would stand in our way.
However, I no longer believe that. The feminist achievements of our foremothers are immensely valuable and should never be rolled back. But the digital age has brought with it a host of new problems for young women, and we are now discovering that our supposed freedom has come with terrible costs. A failure to balance sexual freedom against other virtues like respect, restraint and chivalry means we now find ourselves in thrall to the very worst of male sexuality.
But the digital age has brought with it a host of new problems for young women, and we are now discovering that our supposed freedom has come with terrible costs
And I would argue that Tinder, the dating app now marking its tenth anniversary, is to blame.
Make no mistake, Tinder has led to a radical and unwelcome change in our sexual culture — a change which I believe is toxic for women. For younger women in particular, today’s sexual culture is destructive, divorcing love and commitment from sex and favouring one-night stands.
Dating apps such as Tinder turn people into products in a sexual marketplace that encourages users to browse the available merchandise and select their preferred options from the comfort of their homes, with very little effort and no intimacy whatsoever.
One male user described the voracious appetite that the apps encourage: ‘You’re always prowling. In a bar you might have two or three girls to choose from but online you can swipe a couple of hundred a day and set up two or three Tinder dates a week and, chances are, sleep with all of them. You could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year.’
Another user compares Tinder to an online food delivery service — ‘but you’re ordering a person’.
He saw no harm in scrolling through would-be sexual partners in the same way as we scroll through other kinds of consumables.
In reality, once you permit the idea that people can be products, everything is corroded.
A failure to balance sexual freedom against other virtues like respect, restraint and chivalry means we now find ourselves in thrall to the very worst of male sexuality
No wonder when I texted a panel of female friends to ask them how they felt about Tinder, the negative response was resounding.
‘I have experience in spades,’ replied Stella, a 28-year-old lobbyist. ‘A decade of suffering.’
‘I am not a fan,’ echoed a second friend, a 26-year-old writer. ‘The options are very, very poor,’ concluded a third friend, aged 33.
These are beautiful, confident women with no shortage of men to choose from. And yet they hate Tinder, and they are not alone.
Tinder is estimated to be worth $42 billion. And yet, according to one recent survey, it also causes its users more misery than almost any other app.
It permits the idea that people can be products
There is a vast and depressing lacuna between what it offers and what it actually delivers.
In the decade since Tinder arrived on the scene, the dating landscape has changed almost beyond recognition. At the age of 30, I’m just about old enough to remember when meeting up with a stranger from the internet was regarded as dangerous and creepy.
But there’s no denying that dating apps offer an unprecedented degree of choice, and sometimes ‘swiping right’ — that is, accepting a match — can lead to a happily ever after.
In fact, several of my friends are now in relationships with people they met online, and some of them have even married.
But there’s a dark side to the Tinder revolution. The turn towards a colder, more anonymous, and fiercely competitive dating culture has left almost everyone worse off — women most of all.
Dating apps such as Tinder turn people into products in a sexual marketplace that encourages users to browse the available merchandise and select their preferred options from the comfort of their homes, with very little effort and no intimacy whatsoever
I argue in my book, The Case Against The Sexual Revolution, that, for many women — perhaps a sizeable majority — the sexual freedom offered by the social transformation of the 1960s has spectacularly backfired.
Nowhere is this more obvious than on the likes of Tinder, which supposedly offers choice, freedom and fun, but in fact makes most users utterly miserable.
To understand why, we have to take a close look at the way these apps work. Their success (and their special peril) relies on their ability to offer a huge pool of potential matches within a local area, particularly in large cities containing thousands of singletons.
With so much choice available, and with so much emphasis on photos and superficial descriptions of potential matches, using Tinder feels very similar to using a shopping app. You can swipe through a seemingly endless line-up of ‘products’ until you find a perfect match — or several.
‘It’s like a shop window where everything is on offer,’ explains James Bloodworth, an author who is currently working on a book about masculinity and the internet.
The super-fast swiping between profile pictures means that Tinder users have only a moment or two to make an impression on a potential date and, in that ruthless environment, the ‘Love Island look’ is now particularly prized in both sexes. Think plasticky pouts on women and burly muscles on men.
That’s why nowadays it’s not only women who are seeking out lip fillers, so-called ‘baby Botox’, and other cosmetic procedures that can offer that perfect selfie for Tinder. Men, too, are getting in on the action, with jaw fillers increasingly popular. It’s all about attracting attention in a split second.
Tinder has led to a radical and unwelcome change in our sexual culture — a change which I believe is toxic for women
Bloodworth tells me that this ‘shopping’ mentality encourages dating app users to think in a short-termist way. ‘When the first difficult challenge comes up, as it will in any relationship, it’s easy to just walk out the door and think: ‘Well, I can meet someone else on Tinder.’ It’s now easier to just give up.’
As one male Tinder user crowed this week: ‘I’ve been on 20 first dates this year.’ I found myself asking: ‘What about any second dates?’
Not only does it foster an inability to commit, but apps like Tinder encourage some seriously toxic behaviour, too.
Cheaters can easily seek out a new partner
The anonymity factor makes cheating much more convenient than it once was. Some surveys suggest that 42 per cent of people on Tinder are already in committed relationships, with married men particularly likely to go behind their wives’ backs on dating apps.
With a huge pool of strangers to choose from online, would-be cheaters can easily seek out a new partner who has no connection to them whatsoever, meaning that they’re unlikely to get caught.
Psychologist Rob Henderson explains that Tinder users have been found to score higher than average in the Dark Triad traits — narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. This is probably because the app provides the perfect environment for unfaithful partners to pursue affairs.
No wonder when I texted a panel of female friends to ask them how they felt about Tinder, the negative response was resounding
In other words, there really are more bad characters on Tinder than elsewhere.
What’s more, the different ways that men and women behave on dating apps produce some perverse outcomes. In fact, it’s this factor, more than any other, that is driving the trend for a more masculine and ruthless style of dating.
It’s all a result of what social scientists term ‘hypergamy’: the desire (sometimes unconscious) to seek out a partner who is of higher social status. Women are much more likely than men to prioritise hypergamy in dating. And when you have a huge pool of partners to choose from, the results can be extreme. What this all means, in practice, is that women on apps like Tinder find themselves competing for the richest, tallest, best-looking men, while the less attractive men are ignored.
The top 10 per cent of men on Tinder, ranked in terms of looks, are attracting almost 60 per cent of the likes from women. Meanwhile, less attractive men are getting very little attention at all.
Henderson describes how this plays out among his male friends: ‘I have a friend from college. A good-looking guy. He showed me how many women he has matched with: more than 21,000. Tinder actually identified him as a valuable user early on, and gave him free perks and upgrades.
‘I have another friend. Doesn’t have the best pictures on his profile. But not a bad-looking guy. Over roughly the same period of time as my other friend, he has matched with seven women.’
The men who can attract hundreds or even thousands of women are the only people who have really benefited from the Tinder revolution. With so many options available to them, they’re like brattish children set loose in a sweet shop.
It’s no surprise that this minority of men now feel empowered to behave badly.
The super-fast swiping between profile pictures means that Tinder users have only a moment or two to make an impression on a potential date and, in that ruthless environment, the ‘Love Island look’ is now particularly prized in both sexes
All of the women I spoke to had nasty stories to share, from men who would send them explicit images, to others who would start a conversation with a shocking sexual suggestion.
The culture encourages everything from the boorish — treating women like trophies, for example — to the downright criminal. In Devon and Cornwall alone, there have been more than 100 reported crimes including rapes, stalking and violence linked to Tinder.
I’ve witnessed the reality of male violence
And the problem is that these men have all the power. Women are vying with each other for the attention of the most attractive minority of men, which means that the pressure is on to give these men what they want. If you’re not prepared, for instance, to sleep with a man on a first date, he can easily find a new woman who will. And a culture of casual sex is a disaster for women — not only because it leaves them feeling disrespected and used, but also because it can lead to dangerous situations.
The truth is that men and women are not the same. Not only are men much more likely to be interested in one-night stands, women are also at a physical disadvantage whenever they go home with a man they’ve just met.
The top 10 per cent of men on Tinder, ranked in terms of looks, are attracting almost 60 per cent of the likes from women
We’re smaller and weaker than men, which means that we’re always more vulnerable.
As a younger woman, I conformed to liberal feminist ideas that saw nothing wrong with hook-up culture. Women were just expressing the same casual and adventurous approach to sex as men did. I let go of these beliefs after working at a rape crisis centre, where I witnessed the reality of male violence up close.
The sad truth is that going home with strangers is now considered normal in a culture that’s orientated towards the desires of wealthy and attractive men. These girls were just behaving as the new culture encourages them to behave.
And Tinder is responsible for that culture, since it encourages a world of meaningless, anonymous, and potentially dangerous flings.
For all but a handful of users, Tinder’s tenth anniversary is no cause for celebration.