Simon returns home to his flat following a night of drinks with friends. Before turning in for bed he checks in with his iPhone. Minutes later his shoes are back on and he is out the door. The streets of Wollongong may be empty, but Grindr is full, and ‘Wanting Wood’ is only 700 metres away.
Grindr is the latest trend in social networking, designed specifically for gay and bisexual men. It is a GPS-based mobile dating service made for the Apple iPhone that makes finding Mr Right, or Mr Tonight, just a button press away. Unlike previous networking sites, Grindr is meant to be mobile. It uses global positioning technology to instantly identify gay men in your area, and tells you how far away they are in metres.
22-year-old Simon says Grindr is essentially a hook-up site designed for the purpose of meeting men to have sex. It is a modern take on the websites he grew up using, such as Gaydar or Manhunt. Previously, casual rendezvous had to be arranged in advance from behind a computer, but with Grindr all the hard work is done for you. “You know as soon as you turn it on that the person you’re talking to is a kilometre or two away, sometimes less. It cuts out all the crap because you know that they’re close and that you could potentially have sex with them right away.”
Having grown up feeling isolated in a country town, Simon has used the internet to meet men since he was 16, and isn’t surprised by the success of Grindr. Since its inception last year, it already boasts more than 500,000 users worldwide on the free version alone, with thousands more joining each week. “Sex in the gay world is such a big thing that it’s little wonder Grindr has taken off like it has. Men are just very sexual, so if you make sex accessible it’s going to be a big hit,” he says.
“It cuts out all the crap because you know that they’re close and that you could potentially have sex with them right away.”
Simon offers me a tour of Grindr. Within 10 minutes of scanning a grid of bare torsos and heavy innuendo he strikes up a conversation with ‘Adam4Adam’, 1400 metres away. “The five questions you always get asked are ‘how tall are you, what’s your weight, what’s your build, how big is your cock and are you top or bottom?’ so right from the start the undertone is very sexual.” He sends a picture to his new friend and waits for one to be sent back. “All I have to do now is send him a map of my location and we could meet up right away… if I wanted to.”
One of the many features of Grindr is the ‘Favourites’ application. “Basically you just put a star on the profiles of all the guys you’ve slept with, and then you can chat with them regardless of how far away you are.” Simon counts 10 stars, give or take a few he’s deleted, but reminds me he has only been using Grindr for a month.
It was a broken heart that led Simon to Grindr, and he hasn’t looked back. “When you go through a break up you get lonely and you try to fill that void. Even if it is just for 30 minutes and you’re having sex with someone you don’t know. I started to use Grindr to find a distraction, but I continue to use Grindr because it’s a really great way to hook up.”
Daniel Chamberlain contributes to SX News, the highest circulating publication in Sydney catering to a queer demographic. He says that the success of Grindr comes down to clever marketing and an appeal to a target audience of horny men with money and time on their hands. “Generally I think gay men have an obsession with being a part of the most up-to-date and cutting edge trends. Grindr is the new Manhunt, the same way Gaga is the new Madonna. Society evolves and gays like to be the first group to take ownership of the new change.” As for social networking, homosexuals have a significant online presence, and embraced the internet years before their heterosexual counterparts. “I think for a certain section of the community it is due to a lack of acceptance in their daily lives. Whereas online they can present an openly sexual persona,” says Daniel.
Dr Guy Davidson, who lectures on queer theory at the University of Wollongong, agrees that Grindr is an extension of pre-existing networking tools that have helped gay men communicate with each other for years. “There is a long history of gay men finding sexual and long-term partners through classified advertisements, and you can see how social networking is an example of that more indirect communication.”
Grindr is not without its dangers…the GPS element of the application rings danger bells to anyone who has ever sat through a stalker movie.
He adds that part of the attractiveness of these tools is the convenience, and the ease with which you can reject and discard those connections that you make. “Within metropolitan and urban gay cultures there is what is disparagingly referred to as a culture of promiscuity, so that’s that casual sexual connection, and the internet is something that enhances that and makes it easily available,” he says. “We can see Grindr as an extension of that, so it enhances something that’s already there.”
Grindr is not without its dangers. Simon bluntly claims that Grindr makes it so easy to have sex that he is sure that it will increase the circulation of sexually transmitted infections. “I do worry about it because I could literally get on Grindr now and have sex in 10 minutes. I’ve had sex with one guy in the morning and with another guy at night. I’m safe, but still, it’s so bad!”
But there’s more. Recently a case surfaced in Canada where a man was charged with the sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy he’d met using Grindr. And the GPS element of the application rings danger bells to anyone who has ever sat through a stalker movie.
Daniel admits that there are risks, but they are varied and differ according to the context of the situation. “I don’t think there is any easy solution for this, I mean it’s not like they can slap a warning label on these programs saying ‘caution: may cause sex addiction, antisocial behavior, and pedophiles’, can they?”
One thing is for sure, that with Grindr you have to take the good with the bad, and the ugly. Simon proves that Grindr has the potential to alter the hook-up habits of a generation of gay men, and soon the heterosexual world will have its turn. Grindr creator Joel Simkahi has announced a straight version is in the works, and should be available on your iPhone sometime this year.
Tamara Gasser is a second year Bachelor of Journalism student