6AM on Sunday morning is the Grindr witching hour. “Hey…” ChillTop messages. His dating app profile describes himself as “easy going” with a “fit and lean body”. I don’t respond. “Hi there, how are you?” he continues unperturbed. Again, no response from me. “Looking for a long hnh [high and horny] session?”
This roughly translates to “do you want to come to my flat and spend the next 24-48 hours fucking a conveyor belt of men under the ultra-heady influence of the chemsex holy trinity of drugs (G, mephedrone and crystal meth)?” I’m not looking for that particular blend of hedonism right now – I want to fuck someone, but I don’t fancy spending the next week questioning my life decisions on a comedown so severe that it makes my mind crumple in on itself like an accordion bellow.
Before I hit the block button, ChillTop sends me a few more messages and then two dick pics: a full nude and one of his penis sticking out of a pair of jeans. It’s a lot to send to someone in an hour with no response at all, but welcome to Grindr. The pixellated torsos on this hook-up app offer a bounteous menagerie of potential partners. Like every other dating app, some of them vary in terms of desperation and weirdness – but there’s also a lot of horny diamonds in the rough.
If you’ve only ever used the “straighter” apps like Tinder or Hinge, downloading and logging into Grindr for the first time can be daunting and overwhelming – it’s like starting high school, except everyone is divided into different cliques (bears, twinks, otters, etc) and you don’t know if you fit into any of them. So for any newcomers – whether you’re gay, bicurious, bisexual, pansexual, newly out or just new to the app – here’s a no bullshit guide on how to use Grindr.
Know what you want from Grindr and communicate accordingly
Grindr is the digital equivalent of cruising in a darkroom or a sauna. If you ranked dating apps in order of sheer horniness, there’s little doubt it would come at the top. Probably like 70 percent of the people on it are DTF straight away, which means you need to work out exactly what you want and communicate it clearly.
“Use the app sensibly,” says Joe Beavan, a 25-year-old Master’s student in Swansea who first used the app when he was 17. “That means knowing why you want to use it and having that in your bio. Respect yourself, don’t do anything you don’t want to do and know what you’re there for.”
“If you’re horny, it’s so easy to talk to people and get that quick fix,” he adds. “It's just so accessible, like straight away – it's a very weird thing.” But Beavan also refutes the suggestion it’s all about sex, having used the app to find queer platonic friends in his hometown. “I met my best friend in 2017 on the app,” he says.
Helpfully, there are options to disclose you’re seeking a connection right now on your profile, as well as your condom preference and your HIV status. You can also flag if you consent to receiving nudes, but using this function is about as useful as a crocheted condom – you’ll still be dodging dick pics no matter what. If receiving unsolicited dick pics is going to have a negative effect on you in some way, I say this with the utmost kindness: Please don’t use Grindr.
Formulate a gameplan when using Grindr
Make no mistake, Grindr is more about hooking up than dating. It’s basically a 24/7 merry-go-round of sex in your immediate locale and uses geolocation to provide an approximate location of the closest users to serve up on the “Nearby” grid. There’s also a “Fresh” grid that serves you up people who are the closest and who have been online in the past hour, created their profile in the past 72 hours or have uploaded a new photo in the past 24 hours.
If you’re looking to hook up, you’re in the right place – fill your boots. If you’re looking to date, however, you’re going to have to work for it by wading through hordes of people who just want to fuck. Explicitly stating that you want more than just sex on your profile to make this process easier.
“When it comes to messaging someone for the first time, how I approach it would depend on their profile,” Beavan explains. “Take every profile as it comes. If they’ve got a bio and there’s something to respond to in it, then yeah you can start a good conversation. But it depends what you’re looking for, if it’s just a quick hook-up, it can just be a ‘hey’. If I’m looking for a proper conversation, I have to take what I can relate to from their profile to start it.”
If you do want to date, it’s difficult not to look at the dazzling array of dick pics and reconsider if you’re on the right app. Queer dating coach Brain Murphy says it’s a case of having a good gameplan and being open and honest about what you want. “There’s nothing wrong with using it strictly as a hookup app,” he tells me. “But if you want more connection, it’s going to be harder if you’re messaging people with no face pictures or shirtless torsos in their profiles. You should have a face picture, pictures of you doing activities – a more robust profile, something to work with.”
Use your Grindr messages wisely
As well as signalling your desires with a carefully constructed profile, the style of your DMs can help when it comes to finding people with the same goals. “I remind my clients that questions are not just about getting information,” Murphy says. “They're also about establishing rapport and about establishing trust.”
It's “definitely about the profile, but it's also about how you conduct yourself in the messages”, he adds. So how should you write the messages? “If you are just looking for a hookup, then you can ask more direct questions and give short answers,” he says. “But you're trying to get to know someone, like giving more than just one or two word answers will give them something to respond back to. Pepper in what you've been doing with your day, your interests, that sort of thing. That will allow an opportunity for a connection and also indicate a different type of attention.”
Murphy says that Grindr is primarily a hookup app, but he does know “a lot of folks” who have met their boyfriends there and some have also gone on to get married. “There is not one cultural standard for Grindr, people use it in so many different ways,” he says. “A lot of it depends on what you put into it – if you’ve no profile picture or a topless one, you’re going to get a hookup app; if there are pictures of you doing things, a more descriptive profile and you exchange message in a good way, that lends itself to the dating side of things.”
You can also optimise your login times depending on your aims. “Being mindful of the time of day that you're on Grindr is important,” Murphy advises. “It’s a generalisation, but at 4AM you’re less likely to find more of a connection.”
Watch out for your own safety on Grindr
As with any dating or hookup app, you have to keep your wits about you. Sexual predators have been reported to use dating apps like Hinge, Tinder and Grindr to target victims. John, a queer man in his 30s – who wished to remain anonymous due to fears for his safety – told VICE that he was spiked with G in lube after meeting up with a Grindr hook-up. “People using Grindr for the first time have to be clued up about red flags – it's a self-defence thing,” he says. “You have to be aware that you can be spiked anally while being fingered or rimmed – use your lube rather than their lube. Bring your own drinks.”
“Anyone can potentially be a victim, however experienced, savvy or safe an app user you are. It is not your fault,” says GALOP, an LGBT+ anti-abuse charity. “But that doesn’t mean we have to be passive in the face of abuse committed via apps.” They advise basic precautions like meeting someone in public for a chat before heading to their place – or if you do head straight there, “take a photo on your phone of the street (preferably the street name) and then the door you enter”.
A spokesperson for Grindr pointed VICE towards their Holistic Security Guide and Safety Tips and said: “Grindr takes the privacy and safety of our users extremely seriously [..] We encourage users to be careful when interacting with people they do not know. We encourage our users to report improper or illegal behaviour either within the app or directly via email to email@example.com, and to report criminal allegations to local authorities and, in these cases, we work with law enforcement as appropriate."
It’s important to be clued up about the risks, but also to be realistic: for the minority of offenders lurking in the underbelly of the app, there are also hordes of trustworthy people who probably share the same desires and kinks as you. So go forth and have a good time firing up that horny grid – you’ll be translating those pixelated torsos into IRL blow jobs in no time.