For women who are interested in men, online dating can often suck. This is a fact that's been documented extensively in articles, in blogs, and in wildly popular social media accounts. It's also one that several new dating apps have pledged to solve, including Bumble, Hinge, and Siren. For Adriana, who requested that we not use her last name, the solution was far simpler than that: just download Grindr.
Grindr bills itself as "the world's leading social app exclusively for gay, bi, and curious men." It is a geosocial networking app, or, more succinctly, a convenient way for men to find nearby men to fuck. At first blush, it seems like a terrible place for a woman to look for sex—but Adriana insists her time using Grindr has been very fulfilling.
Adriana is no stranger to online dating; according to her, she has been using OkCupid for about twelve years. In that span of time, she estimates that she's met over 300 men in person. "I noticed that every time I looked at a dude's profile, if it said he was bi it was like way more alluring than if he was just straight," she told Broadly. "'Cause I'm queer and, you know, I'm into that shit."
Eventually, Adriana downloaded Grindr after hearing that her friend—who is genderqueer, into the fetish scene, and tattooed with the phrase "NO REGRETS" under both of her butt cheeks—had had a good experience on it. She started out by messaging guys who caught her eye ("I'd be like, 'You're so hot, sorry I'm a girl.'") and then decided it was better to wait for potentially interested men to come to her. To date, she said, she's met up with three men from Grindr in person.
Read More: Moms Who Do Molly
One of the men she met on the app identifies as straight, just very enthusiastic about giving blowjobs. "He doesn't have sex with men; he doesn't kiss men; he doesn't do anything with men except exchange fucking oral, like crazy deep-throating oral," said Adriana, noting that she was confused by this designation at first. "I was like, Really? If you like a dick down your throat, you're obviously not straight." Now she sees his sexuality in a more nuanced light: "Like, yo, I realized that that was my internalized trying to classify people, and it defies classification. The dude is straight."
At one point, the straight blowjob enthusiast invited a friend over, also straight and a blowjob enthusiast. Adriana recalled their time together with glee. "I was like, 'Oh my god, I've waited for this moment my whole life.' I've always wanted to have like a two man three-way," she said. "So he brought the dude over, and I watched them give each other head. It was my first time watching a dude do anything with another dude, and it was so hot that I had to look away. It was like looking into the sun. I could not watch. It was, like, white-hot, and I had to look away. I missed the whole thing. I missed the entire show. It was like an eclipse."
Adriana got an MFA in poetry at Sarah Lawrence, which becomes quite apparent when she describes her Grindr trysts using elaborate metaphors. She and her two Grindr dates went on to have a threesome, she said, which was great because being double penetrated is "like being in a warm bed made of men, and it's also plugged into your nether regions like an electric blanket that's like electrified by you… It's like you're the outlet that provides the electricity, and they plug into you and become warm and soft, and you lay between them, and it's, like, amazing, bro!"
Read More: Why Do Teen Girls Like Gay Porn?
For the most part, Adriana said, she's had good experiences on the app—although her profile was removed once for violating the site's terms, which she assumes was because she's a woman. Now, she only refers to her gender obliquely: Her description reads, "i'm a [girl emoji] tryna get with bi guys. men who [heart emoji] [eggplant emoji] are my sh8."
She also said some men have messaged her, annoyed by her profile, but they've been mostly understanding after she explained that her intentions are true. "I'll be like, 'Uhh, listen man, gender and sexuality are super complicated. I'm not on here to find, like, a gay best friend. I'm not on here for any reason other than I like what you like.' And they'll be like, 'OK, I'm sorry.'" She also gets a lot of supportive messages: In a folder of screenshots she shared with us, there are several pictures of Grindr users messaging her, saying things like "I appreciate your lifestyle," "Don't worry about trying to label yourself as one thing or another," and "I liiiiiveeee for u !!!"
When we first spoke with Adriana, we considered her somewhat of an anomaly. There has been limited coverage of women using Grindr, but most of it focuses on clueless straight girls looking for "gay best friends." We shared some of Adriana's quotes and screenshots in our Slack chat, an internal online group chat, and one of our straight female co-workers—let's call her Liza—said she had used Grindr as well.
Her reason for downloading Grindr was far less sexy than Adriana's: Her friend, who is gay, was planning on writing an anthropology dissertation on the app. One day, Liza decided to create her own Grindr account with him. According to her, she was fascinated by the "geolocation aspect" because she had studied geography in college. "[My friend and I] would just both nerd out, looking at it through anthropology and geography," Liza said. "You just forget what you are and what you're doing. It was a little bit taboo, because I was in a space I wasn't supposed to be in."
"Basically, I came for a study on the despacialization of cruising, stayed for the hot pics," she added.
Some straight girls, however, make Grindr accounts for decidedly less academic purposes. As the San Francisco Examiner reported last year, some women create Grindr accounts to "experience 'gay for play,'" catfishing men with fake shirtless photos in order to explore the "relaxed norms of queer male culture." For some women, the article states, making a fake Grindr profile is alluring for two reasons: It's taboo because it can never result in a real-life meet-up, and and most importantly, gay sex apps are much more straight-forward (no pun intended) than heterosexual dating apps.
"I was getting something from it as much as I wouldn't want to admit," Liza explained. "It's so much more satisfying for me flipping through Grindr. It's a bigger turn-on than looking at—good god—Tinder."
I'm not offended by Grindr serving as a place for all types of LGBT people to hook up—especially because I know similar hookup apps targeted toward women have been failures to launch.
Where heterosexual couples tend to use the pretense of a date even though they downloaded Tinder to hook up, Grindr lacks subtext. (Adriana called the interactions on the app "so transactional.") Men on Grindr tend to be extremely forthright: Typically, they message one another, describe what they're into—top or bottom or vers, whether they're into oral and/or rimming—and then send photos, followed by geolocations and the arranging of a hookup.
In Bushwick and other Brooklyn neighborhoods filled with liberal arts graduates indoctrinated in the cult of social constructionism, many gay men expect to find women's profiles on Grindr. A 24-year-old copyeditor—we'll call him Craig—says he regularly sees girls' profiles. The girls are as much a part of his life as gay sex apps. He casually checks his Grindr and other sex apps, like Scruff, whenever browsing his more PG aps (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat), but only hooks up with guys a few times a month. (He prefers Scruff.) Although Craig identifies as gay, he does pursue women who message him in the rare situation where he finds himself attracted to them. He believes that being surprised by Grindr girls is odd.
"I don't know if it's as cut-and-dry as 'Grindr and Scruff are gay male spaces,'" Craig explains. "Most of the girls I've chatted with on there have been bi or trans, and I'm not offended by Grindr/Scruff serving as a place for all types of LGBT people to hook up—especially because I know similar hookup apps targeted toward women have been failures to launch."
Craig's observations point to a larger phenomenon: Women turning to gay male sex culture for a form of sexual release. In the last five years, women have bought tons of gay male erotica. According to Crackdoubt, the former head of marketing for a leading publisher of LGBT romance/erotica in New Jersey, male/male (or m/m) erotica attracts readers of all ages, but women primarily write and read the content.
"Even Grandma loves the gays!" Crackdoubt said. "Many women recognize that if one naked man sounds good, two could only be better. In other words—it's hot!!"
Crackdoubt pointed to larger sociological reasons behind women's interest in gay erotica. M/M romance, she said, defies stereotypes perpetuated in heterosexual erotica and romance novels. She explained, "M/M romance is able to break down a lot of the tropes and stereotypical gender roles fed to us in the mainstream—Alpha Males, for example, or Sexy Loner Bad Guys—and explore the sexuality of male characters more thoroughly."
These more complicated motivations have coincided with teenage girls watching gay porn and running gay sex Tumblrs. And, as we've previously reported, teens said they love gay porn because, unlike much straight porn, gay sex doesn't mistreat women."I like seeing people receive pleasure," one teen said. "I don't want to think about pain, unless it's the immediately gratifying kind."
For Adriana, her time on Grindr has really shown that gender and sexuality are incredibly complex and difficult to define clearly. "Everything being a spectrum it's like, yo, where I'm at right now is like I fancy myself a gay man," she said.
Americans have perceived gay culture as for and by gay men, but recent trends show gay culture serves many groups, and the definition of gay culture and even the gay sexual identity is more complicated than previously perceived. For the most part, gay men have welcomed women's interest in watching and participating in gay sex. As Craig says, "Not all the guys who use these hookup apps are exclusively homosexual, so it's not like there isn't a place for women [on Grindr], yanno?"