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Use the link below to share a full-text version of this article with your friends and colleagues. Learn more. These apps allow users to create profiles to present themselves and interact with each other to reach multiple goals, such as casual sex, dating, or networking. Attending to the dynamics between communication technologies and society, this article reviews gay dating app studies that highlight the communicative practices and social relations mediated by dating apps.

We suggest that future research should pay more attention to the technical development of dating devices and the transformation of gay men's social relations. Unlike traditional dating sites, dating apps seem to reduce the time for getting a match; unlike Facebook, dating apps bring strangers together. The academic world has expressed interest in the increasing prevalence of dating apps. Dating apps designed for gay men, or more broadly, men who have sex with men MSM , such as Grindr, Scruff, and Jack'd, have become an object of study for social science researchers.

To study these apps and their uses, researchers have adopted distinct approaches. Accordingly, literature on gay dating apps is generated in different disciplines, namely, sociology and psychology, and in different fields, such as communication studies, gender studies, and HIV prevention studies.

The mediation of gay men's lives: A review on gay dating app studies

Specifically focused on the dynamics between communication technologies and society, this article reviews studies that highlight communicative practices and social relations mediated by dating apps, rather than the correlation between dating app use and sexual risk practices that concerns HIV prevention researchers. Nevertheless, even within our narrowed scope, these studies draw on various theories, which makes it hard to tell a coherent story.

Except for this strand, however, other literatures on gay dating apps do not form a direct dialogue. Given the novelty of this field and the current lack of an overview, in this paper, we provide a thematic review of gay dating app studies. To critically assess existing literature, we use the mediation framework proposed by Lievrouw This framework helps in understanding how communication technologies and society mutually shape each other.

Lievrouw frames communication technologies as infrastructures. She argues that these infrastructures consist of three components, namely, a artifacts , devices or objects with certain technological and material features, used by people to communicate with each other; 2 practices , how people engage in communication with devices; and 3 social arrangements , social relations, institutions, and structures that not only organize and govern but also form and develop around communication technologies and practices.

These three components are in a constant state of flux. She identifies three corresponding modes of change, which are respectively called reconfiguration of artifacts, remediation of practices, and reformation of social arrangements. By borrowing from this mediation framework, we look at how dating app studies have enriched our knowledge of the dynamic interactions and articulations among artifacts, practices, and social arrangements.

In the case of gay dating apps, we see dating apps as technical products representing artifacts. The ways gay men use dating apps can be defined as practices , and finally, the social relations among gay men can be viewed as social arrangements. In this review, we categorize the literature by examining the components and processes researchers have emphasized. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that some studies examine multiple components and processes e. This figure serves to structure the remainder of this review. For example, in the first section, we zoom in on the micro level of people's practices.

We look at studies highlighting how gay men's use of dating apps is afforded by technique and design features of the dating devices under existing but changing social arrangements. These studies demonstrate multiple goals of gay dating app users, some of which are even not intended by dating app designers Shield, , and the ways users present themselves in profiles and interact with others through private chat to achieve certain goals Birnholtz et al.

In the second section of the review, we zoom out to explore a macro landscape of existing social arrangements, and how these arrangements respond to dating apps and gay men's online dating practices.

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Finally, in the discussion, we make several suggestions for future research. These suggestions include focusing on the naissance and evolvement of gay dating apps and looking into the meaning of sex and emergence of new social relations.


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Many gay dating app researchers are interested in how dating apps, playing on the existing social norms within certain cultural contexts, shape gay men's online dating practices. They examine how people actually use dating apps and what the technology affords.

The design of gay dating apps allows users to express various expectations and engage in a variety of practices. Dating app profiles have checkboxes that allow people to communicate multiple goals.

Given the variety of users' backgrounds, practices which are not specifically intended by designers are also afforded by dating apps and carried out by users. Shield argues that immigrants to Copenhagen use dating app profiles to develop social networks to adapt to local life, and chats on dating apps are a useful way to initially engage with local gay residents. Many dating apps allow users to browse profiles in foreign countries, and some potential immigrants take advantage of this feature before they actually move to their destination.

After learning local information about a host country through dating app profiles, including the subcultures of that host country, they reevaluate their decision to move. Stempfhuber and Liegl note that the use of dating apps transforms travelers' experiences. Dating apps do so by helping travelers to observe and make sense of the strange surroundings by browsing local users' profiles. Travelers are thus able to orient themselves in unfamiliar local contexts.

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Researchers deliberately situate their examination of gay men's practices in a sociotechnical context, paying careful attention to the technical attributes of dating apps. Inevitably, comparisons are made in different ways. On the one hand, practices on dating apps are compared to those in real life or to an era when dating apps had not yet been invented.


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Hooking up on dating apps, which is different from cruising in a physical space, provides gay men with greater control in releasing or gathering information, such as HIV status Race, a. On the other hand, the understanding of these technical attributes does not start from scratch, and the design and functionalities of dating apps are often compared to those of online gay venues accessed with computers, including chat rooms or dating sites. Studies therefore highlight the new affordances of dating apps.


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Blackwell et al. Gay dating app users experience tension. On the other hand, they do not want to reveal too much identifying information. Users develop a set of strategies to signal their intentions and make themselves attractive. In virtual space on dating apps where identification cues are limited, users find their own way to reinsert identification information to gain social attraction.

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For instance, Grindr shows only distance information for nearby users and erases location details. Thus, in their profiles, some users input the name of socially defined spaces that they identify with, such as neighborhoods, city names, or institutions. They associate themselves with these landmarks to make themselves more socially attractive Birnholtz et al.

At the same time, users need to manage the possibility of exposing identifying information. There are several possible cases. First, some users are reluctant to reveal their gay identity to others.

To hide their identity, users may use profile pictures that do not reveal their face Blackwell et al. For instance, in the United States, older users and those who share race are less likely to disclose their faces. Compared to Americans, gay dating app users in China are less likely to show their faces or mention their goals, and more Chinese users mention seeking relationships than American users Chan, However, photos and profiles are not always reliable indicators of others' intentions. Users' actual behaviors do not always match what they say in their profiles, and users do not always update their profiles after their intentions change Blackwell et al.

In private interaction, users may provide more personal information about themselves. In private chat on dating apps, users are still trying to positively present themselves and signal their intentions while discerning others' intentions.

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They delineate three stages of the interactions facilitated by dating apps. First, profile functions as an initial negotiation. Given that goals can vary with time, stating a specific goal in one's profile makes it difficult to withdraw this information later, and retaining some ambiguity means leaving room to maneuver in the interaction. Users may negotiate their goals in the chat, and the timing of another user's reply, whether it is immediate or delayed, may change the flow of the chat and alter previous expectations.

In a more specific case, Licoppe et al.

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