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Does Tinder lead to more casual sex?

6 January 2017 - Do people have more casual sex because of Tinder? Doctoral student Elisabeth Timmermans set out to find the answer: “One in two users already met one of their Tinder matches in real life. In a third of these cases, this led to sex.”

6 January 2017 - Do people have more casual sex because of Tinder? Doctoral student Elisabeth Timmermans set out to find the answer: “One in two users already met one of their Tinder matches in real life. In a third of these cases, this led to sex.”
Does Tinder lead to more casual sex?

"Looks like she forgot to mention something on Tinder..." | © Joris Snaet

One-night stands, friends with benefits, or fuck buddies? During a research stay in Indiana, communication scientist Elisabeth Timmermans became acquainted with the American hookup culture. “In 2000, researchers started to acknowledge this phenomenon within academia.  So far, studies have concluded that the hookup culture is most prominent on university campuses, including the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where I spent nine months. It’s a relatively new form of short relationships, with a strong sexual focus.”

Timmermans wanted to find out whether a similar evolution is taking place in Belgium, and which part is played by Tinder, the dating app that has already brought about 10 billion matches worldwide. This is how it works: you swipe pictures of potential partners to the left when you’re not interested, and to the right when the profile appeals to you. If someone you selected, selects you too, it’s a match, and you can get into contact.

Timmermans asked approximately 3,000 Tinder users about their motives and experiences. “I found my respondents through social media and traditional media. Collecting a random sample of Tinder users was not possible, because Tinder doesn’t release any data.”

Love, lust and other stories

Elisabeth Timmermans
© KU Leuven – RS

“Tinder has the reputation of being a tool to have flings. But my research shows that it doesn’t always come to that,” says Elisabeth Timmermans. “Half of my respondents have already met at least one of their Tinder matches in real life. 27% of them indicate that they’ve had at least one serious relationship with a Tinder match. 31% have had a casual sexual relationship, meaning that the partners did not have serious intentions, but, for instance, call each other when they’re in the mood. 23% have had a one-night stand. The latter two numbers overlap, meaning that someone who’s had a one-night stand can also be involved in a casual sexual relationship. A closer analysis revealed that 43% of the people who met another Tinder user in real life have already had a sexual interaction through the app.”

Timmermans believes the relatively high number of one-night stands may be due to the fact that Tinder matches feel more confident when they meet each other for the first time than they would have felt during a blind date or another first date. “They already know that the other person is interested too, so the date is more likely to lead to sex, even though it may not be the start of a relationship. This also applies to people who are abroad, because of the holiday atmosphere, or because they know that the distance will exclude anything serious.”

43% of the people who met another Tinder user in real life have already had a sexual interaction through the app.  

The study revealed no less than thirteen different motives to join Tinder. “These are not always mutually exclusive,” says Elisabeth Timmermans. “People usually have more than one reason to create a profile. Most respondents have high scores for amusement and curiosity. Only a few respondents indicated that they were looking for a one-night stand.”

Finding a partner turns out to rank fourth. “Although Tinder mostly targets heterosexuals, homosexuals – both men and women – also use Tinder to find a partner. As a matter of fact, Tinder was inspired by Grindr, an app for gay men. Some homosexual men in my sample reported that they prefer Tinder when they’re looking for a relationship, because Grindr is sometimes focused too strongly on sexual interactions.”

Tinder types

Elisabeth Timmermans also examined the link between someone’s personality and whether or not they use Tinder. “The main difficulty was finding enough singles who had never used Tinder. But eventually, I managed to find about a hundred. Together with Elien De Caluwé (UGent), I then examined which motives are linked to the big five personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness (self-discipline), extraversion, agreeableness (altruism), and neuroticism (negative emotionality).

© Elisabeth Timmermans

“Singles on Tinder tend to be more extraverted and more open to new experiences than singles who have not yet used the app. The latter group has a significantly higher score for conscientiousness. Conscientious and introverted people are also less inclined to use Tinder for distraction or amusement. Instead, they tend to use it to find a steady relationship or to improve their flirting skills. The opposite is true for people with high scores for extraversion and low scores for conscientiousness. Respondents with high scores for agreeableness – altruism –  report less often that their motive is sexual. And people with high scores for neuroticism are mostly on Tinder to see whether they are still attractive, or because they’re trying to get over their ex.”

“Tinder mostly attracts people between the ages of 18 and 29. Therefore, the age category 30-49 was represented to a slightly lesser degree in our sample, and there is a sharp decline in the age groups above this one – even though our sample also included a 69-year-old user,” says Elisabeth Timmermans. “The older they are, the more people use Tinder to find a serious relationship, but also the more Tinder is used abroad – just think of business trips and holidays for singles.”

“My sample included about as many male as female Tinder users, but their motives are very different. Men tend to be on Tinder for casual sex, or they are more willing to admit that this is their motive. Women are more likely to be looking for an ego boost. Men use Tinder more often during (business) trips and report that they want to practice their social skills. Women are more commonly motivated by curiosity or report that their profile was created by friends to help them cope with a break-up.”

Also worth noting: 12% of the respondents in a relationship report that they’re on Tinder. “Presumably the fear of being alone plays a major role in this. These Tinder users are afraid to end their relationship before they have a back-up plan.”

No longer a taboo

Admitting that you have a Tinder profile used to be not done, but this has completely changed, says Elisabeth Timmermans. “When I go out, I often get enthusiastic reactions and stories when I bring up my research topic. For young adults, it has become acceptable to say that they met their partner on Tinder, although admitting that you’re on Tinder to find a boyfriend or girlfriend is still a little taboo – although less so for older Tinder users. Therefore, people often pretend that they have a Tinder profile because they’re curious or just for fun, while they’re secretly hoping that something will come out of it after all.”

For young people, it has become acceptable to say that they met their partner on Tinder.

Elisabeth Timmermans also created a Tinder profile for herself – all in the name of science, of course. “In my profile, I am open about being a researcher. Still, I received quite a few sexual proposals, which confirms the experiences of other women. This is remarkable when you consider that sex is a less frequent motive. But you never know the context of the question: are you dealing with a group of men who are having a bit of fun? Or is it a traveller who’s spending a night in Leuven and looking for company? It would be great to have the possibility to indicate whether you’re looking for a fling or a serious relationship. Perhaps I should email this suggestion to Tinder” (laughs).

Ine Van Houdenhove for Campuskrant. Translated with minor adaptations by Katrien Bollen.

Take the International Tinder Quiz to find out which Tinder type you are.