The problem with dating app discourse.
thought digest, 08.23.22
Happy Tuesday, friends!
Here’s a single thought—though one I think is worth calling out—and a couple of things I’ve been up to…
The problem with dating app discourse is that available data is often bad, and everyone has an angle. Statistics are frequently opportunistically framed, making the real state of online dating difficult to parse. For example, take this oft-cited Statista data set that claims 75.8% of monthly active Tinder users are male. Then look carefully at the “special properties” section: the polled people were Android users. Well, most Android users are male (with the exact gravity of this gap varying from survey to survey).
That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s completely misleading, but you have to ask yourself why somebody would use a filter like that. This study, cited by TIME, is a little better—but the numbers are still padded, tacking on so-called friendship apps and data from Muslim countries, where due to religious restrictions, women are going to have less access to dating and hookup apps. A more honest data set probably doesn’t have a good headline in it.
We can reason anecdotally, though, something I’m not opposed to. Stories from friends, personal experience, which think pieces resonate and generate the most clicks, the preponderance of subcultures that form around romantic resentment, and what goes viral on social media…
This paints a different picture of how people feel about dating. Armed with that knowledge, it’s much easier to say that there is a palpable frustration. We can then pair this with other, more robust data: all age groups are having less sex, people are increasingly unpartnered, reports of loneliness are on the rise, and specific obstacles reported by men, like the increased focus on sexual harassment muddying the social etiquette waters and the shared feeling that they don’t receive enough in-app attention.
But still, it’s worth remembering how storytelling, something I consider statistics to be a vital piece of, warps our perception.
I was on SavageLove. You can hear me about halfway through, behind the paywall. My parents said I sounded okay, but I’m not so sure. We talked about online trads, retvrn to barbiturates, and where gay people fit in among sexual counterrevolutionaries. My best guess was as a counterculture (“lifelong bachelors” with a big wink at the audience) or reimagined as something more heteronormative, maybe minus the surrogacy.
Ever since I wrote “The Coming Wave,” I’ve been invited to have a number of conversations about sexual conservatism. But like everything, I myself don’t take strong positions. Some things resonate, and you wouldn’t be wrong if you said I had right-wing intuitions, but I prefer to have conversations about conversations.
I know that there are several subcultures that are built around a new sexual conservatism, sometimes in surprising ways. I know that the media loves the idea of a backlash, and after the 2010s and #MeToo, we’re due for a refresh on how we talk about sex. I also know that there’s a nascent feminist movement of women who are reimagining sexuality in a post-third wave world. I count many of those women as my friends, and I think they have intelligent and convincing things to say. As for me? I have some garden variety criticisms of kink, and some criticisms of porn, but really, I’m more interested in looking at trends and forecasting how they might continue.
Me around the web:
JT LeRoy Never Existed, But He Lives: I spoke with Laura Albert about the experience of projecting a piece of your soul through an avatar. Her story has been absolutely mangled, from the way it’s been framed as a hoax or fraud, to the way JT has been cast as “tragedy porn,” when really, the world of JT LeRoy was so full of joy and dream-like color. She was a woman before her time—JT LeRoy was, in so many ways, a vision of what was to come in the Digital Age.