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Using Hook-Up Apps in 2017: Emotional Health

Apicha Community Health Center Apr 28, 2017  

"Using Hook-up Apps in 2017" is a series addressing issues of safety, racism, and emotional health. Apicha CHC recognizes that there is a lot that comes with pursuing sexual and romantic relationships using technology. We hope that this series will raise awareness about these issues and offer some tools and resources to prevent or deal with issues that may arise.


Illustration by Paul Tuller

In this blog, we're going to talk about the ways that hook-up apps impact our emotional health. From seeking validation to facing discrimination, these apps can impact us in many different ways and have real consequences in our daily lives. It's important to be aware of this issue and confront it in our personal lives and in our communities, so that we can strive to be healthy individuals and healthy communities. Emotional health directly impacts our physical and mental well-being, and we need to be willing to have these conversations openly and honestly.  

When the Advocate reported that worldwide, a person on Grindr can often spend up to two hours per day chatting, scrolling and searching, we have one of those "surprised, but not to surprised" moments. And then we read that the average Tinder user spends about 90 minutes per day, according to the Huffington Post. That's a lot of time and energy, undoubtedly having an impact on our emotional health!  


With technology serving as a primary mode for meeting people, it's important to look at the impact these apps having on our individual and collective self-esteem. In many ways, these digital platforms rely on superficiality and can often be a de-humanizing experience. When you are not face to face with someone, it is that much easier to be outwardly cruel, mean, judgmental or dismissive.

In our blog post addressing racism on dating apps, we talk a lot about how people can tear apart and be cruel to people based on their racial or ethnic backgrounds, and that extends to people's physical appearance or presentation. Where phrases like, "no fatties,"  "no sissies," "no Asians," and "no Blacks" are a far too often encounter for many users. Tyler Curry for HIVEqual doesn't sugar coat it: 

While at a work meeting or getting a coffee, a person can practically annihilate a person’s self esteem. This, because vulgarity, rudeness and all-out prejudice thinly veiled under the pretense of “honesty,” has sadly become the status quo. A user often forgets that there is a person behind the torso picture. This casual daily phenomenon has led many people to be saddened by the state of gay culture and the humanity of the modern gay man.

On Reddit there are a plethora of threads floating around with people expressing how challenging these apps can be on one's mental and emotional health, especially when it comes to self-esteem. 


Hook-up apps obviously have the potential to be a constant source of validation and approval. Can we agree that these platforms definitely have the potential to put self-love to the test? 

If we consider the amount of time people spend on these apps and the nature of how they function (swipe swipe swipe and more swipe!) then we can acknowledge that their is a system of instant gratification at play here. One that definitely preys on a search for validation. And, of course, it's okay, and very human, to want validation and people look for it in many places, but it can easily become unhealthy. 




Mic calls it the "validation vortex" and points out that hook-up apps are an immediate ego boost, where people are often searching for approval, acceptance and adoration. points out that this can uniquely apply to his own experience as a gay man searching for validation,  largely because growing up in a heteronormative society never offered that to him.

DiDomizio also reminds us that this does not just begin with hook-up app culture, but shines light on a larger dependence on social media and digital technologies. The validation people seek is an extension of a culture that is more frequently measuring social capital by how many Instagram followers you have or how many people like your photos. 

Having strong self-esteem while trying to find validation with these hook-up apps can be really tricky to navigate. 

Loneliness & Isolation 

Have you ever been in a room of people and still felt lonely or isolated? It is not surprising that loneliness and isolation can be one of the consequences of depending on hook-up apps for validation and connection. When the Advocate spoke with Steven Cole, a professor of medicine and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA's School of Medicine, he described this notion as,

“Using hookup apps excessively could contribute to social isolation by substituting momentary, relatively anonymous, and shallow relationships for deeper, more sustaining intimacy...They’re like ‘empty calorie’ socialization — fun snacks but ultimately not deeply nutritious for our sense of belongingness and deep connection. They don’t cause literal isolation but instead promote brief relationships that may sometimes come to substitute for or even displace a deeper sense of connection to others.”

 That's not to say that you cannot, or will never, build meaningful relationships with people you meet on these apps, but it does point out the importance of balance. If we think it about the fact that a person on Grindr can often spend up to two hours per day chatting, scrolling and searching then we need to think about what are the consequences of depending on these applications.

Many people writing about this issue talk about the ways these apps have impacted their social life, their feelings of depression and loneliness; we can't ignore the fact that this reliance on technology for validation and connection can often be a distraction or can end up negatively impacting our emotional health. It's something to be mindful of. 

What Can We Do 

Just know that if you've had any of these experience, or if you feel addicted to hook-up apps, you are not alone. As you can see, there are a lot of people writing about these issues, sharing personal experiences and acknowledging the many different things that arise from using these apps. Click on the links throughout the article to read more about these issues and how people are dealing with them. 

Mental Health Counselor Nick Fager started "Grindr'ed Down," a therapy group for gay men based in NYC to help them find intimacy and connection beyond apps, as well as address and work through a lot of the feelings and issues that surface while using apps. As one of  Fager's friend put it, “We all have 1,000 friends that we kiss on the cheek and greet around town; 1,000 more that we chat or sleep with on Grindr; 3,000 Facebook friends we don’t even know; and thousands of Instagram followers who like our selfies. But we’re lucky if we have three friends we can call when something real is happening, and beyond lucky to have one guy to call our own” (Out Magazine). Fager works at the Kull Initiative for Psychotherapy (KIP) in Manhattan and continues to run the Grindr'ed Down group sessions, where he uses various activities to help group members tackle these issues head on and empower them to build meaningful, fulfilling and strong connections with people. 

Talking with your mental health provider about these issues is also important. Remember, there are a lot of resources floating around whether they come in the form of one on one counseling, support groups or reading about other people's experiences with these issues. You are not alone

Read more about the intersection between gay sex and primary care here



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