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New Study Finds 4 Out Of 5 Gay Men Meet Their Long-Term Partners Online

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Across the board, so-called “hookup apps” have a certain reputation. It's right there in the name. While plenty of singles use dating apps like Tinder to find actual relationships, popular perception skews in a much more sensationalized direction.

No group falls victim to that melodramatic media coverage more than the gay community, who constantly catch flack for the use of Grindr and similar apps. The common refrain is that these applications encourage risky sexual behavior and exist only for easy, no-strings-attached gratification, but a new study may have people rethinking that narrow-minded assumption.

Garrett Prestage, associate professor of sociology at the University of New South Wales’ Kirby Institute, says 80% of gay men now find their boyfriends through apps and dating websites.

According to his research, published in AIDS and Behaviour and backed by the National Health and Medical Research Council and LaTrobe University, showed that only 14% of gay men met their partners online in 2001. Fourteen years later, things are drastically different.

Today, the numbers of gay men who meet long-term partners at bars, at sex-on-premises venues, and through friends have dropped dramatically, and the changing landscape of gay dating is forcing safer-sex campaigners to rethink their strategies and assumptions.

It's long been said that men who using dating sites or mobile apps are at a higher risk than men who do not, but Prestage casts doubt upon any studies that seem to confirm that theory. “This data show that this is faulty logic because most gay men meet partners this way… be that romantic or sexual,” he says. “If they’re comparing it with men who don’t use apps they’re comparing men who are sexually active with those who are not.”

Prestage adds that “the myth that an online hook up is only just about sex” could mean that health organisations using apps and websites for HIV prevention outreach could be falling short of their goals.

“A more sensible approach is simply to accept that men are more likely to meet via online methods these days and make sure that there are appropriate online interventions and information,” he argues.

A more effective tactic would be to target specific users based on what they're looking for, providing different messaging for men looking for relationships and men looking for casual sex. Ultimately, while apps can certainly help increase awareness around sexual health campaigns, they aren't a sufficient strategy for serious engagement.

Health organizations must adapt to the changing landscape of gay dating if they want to remain relevant and engaging.