It’s a balmy night in Manhattan’s financial district, and at a sports bar called Stout, everyone is Tindering. The tables are filled with young women and men who’ve been chasing money and deals on Wall Street all day, and now they’re out looking for hookups. Everyone is drinking, peering into their screens and swiping on the faces of strangers they may have sex with later that evening. Or not. “Ew, this guy has Dad bod,” a young woman says of a potential match, swiping left. Her friends smirk, not looking up.
“Tinder sucks,” they say. But they don’t stop swiping.
At a booth in the back, three handsome twenty-something guys in button-downs are having beers. They are Dan, Alex, and Marty,* budding investment bankers at the same financial firm, which recruited Alex and Marty straight from an Ivy League campus. When asked if they’ve been arranging dates on the apps they’ve been swiping at, all say not one date, but two or three: “You can’t be stuck in one lane … There’s always something better.” “If you had a reservation somewhere and then a table at Per Se opened up, you’d want to go there,” Alex offers.
“Guys view everything as a competition,” he elaborates with his deep, reassuring voice. “Who’s slept with the best, hottest girls?” With these dating apps, he says, “you’re always sort of prowling. You could talk to two or three girls at a bar and pick the best one, or you can swipe a couple hundred people a day—the sample size is so much larger. It’s setting up two or three Tinder dates a week and, chances are, sleeping with all of them, so you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year.”
“WHEN IT’S SO EASY, WHEN IT’S SO AVAILABLE TO YOU, IT’S VERY HARD TO CONTAIN YOURSELF.”
He says that he himself has slept with five different women he met on Tinder— “Tinderellas,” the guys call them—in the last eight days. Dan and Marty, also Alex’s roommates in a shiny high-rise apartment building near Wall Street, can vouch for that. In fact, they can remember whom Alex has slept with in the past week more readily than he can.
“Taylor, Adrienne, Heather,” Marty says, counting on his fingers. “Oh, and the Russian—Ukrainian? “
“Ukrainian,” Alex confirms. “She works at—” He says the name of a high-end art auction house. Asked what these women are like, he shrugs. “I could offer a resume, but that’s about it … Works at J. Crew; senior at Parsons; junior at Pace; works in finance…”
“We don’t know what the girls are like,” Marty says.
“And they don’t know us,” says Alex.
And yet a lack of an intimate knowledge of his potential sex partners never presents him with an obstacle to physical intimacy, Alex says. Alex, his friends agree, is a Tinder King, a young man of such deft “text game”—”That’s the ability to actually convince someone to do something over text,” Marty explains—that he is able to entice young women into his bed on the basis of a few text exchanges, while letting them know up front he is not interested in having a relationship.
“How does he do it?,” Marty asks, blinking. “This guy’s got a talent.”
But Marty, who prefers Hinge to Tinder (“Hinge is my thing”), is no slouch at “racking up girls.” He says he’s slept with 30 to 40 women in the last year: “I sort of play that I could be a boyfriend kind of guy,” in order to win them over, “but then they start wanting me to care more… and I just don’t.”
“Dude, that’s not cool,” Alex chides in his warm way. “I always make a point of disclosing I’m not looking for anything serious. I just wanna hang out, be friends, see what happens… If I were ever in a court of law I could point to the transcript.” But something about the whole scenario seems to bother him, despite all his mild-mannered bravado. “I think to an extent it is, like, sinister,” he says, ” ’cause I know that the average girl will think that there’s a chance that she can turn the tables. If I were like, Hey, I just wanna bone, very few people would want to meet up with you…
“Do you think this culture is misogynistic?” he asks lightly.
“Sex Has Become So Easy”
‘I call it the Dating Apocalypse,” says a woman in New York, aged 29.
As the polar ice caps melt and the earth churns through the Sixth Extinction, another unprecedented phenomenon is taking place, in the realm of sex. Hookup culture, which has been percolating for about a hundred years, has collided with dating apps, which have acted like a wayward meteor on the now dinosaur-like rituals of courtship. “We are in uncharted territory” when it comes to Tinder et al., says Justin Garcia, a research scientist at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. “There have been two major transitions” in heterosexual mating “in the last four million years,” he says. “The first was around 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, in the agricultural revolution, when we became less migratory and more settled,” leading to the establishment of marriage as a cultural contract. “And the second major transition is with the rise of the Internet.”
People used to meet their partners through proximity, through family and friends, but now Internet meeting is surpassing every other form. “It’s changing so much about the way we act both romantically and sexually,” Garcia says. “It is unprecedented from an evolutionary standpoint.” As soon as people could go online they were using it as a way to find partners to date and have sex with. In the 90s it was Craigslist and AOL chat rooms, then Match.com and Kiss.com. But the lengthy, heartfelt e-mails exchanged by the main characters in You’ve Got Mail (1998) seem positively Victorian in comparison to the messages sent on the average dating app today. “I’ll get a text that says, ‘Wanna fuck?’ ” says Jennifer, 22, a senior at Indiana University Southeast, in New Albany. “They’ll tell you, ‘Come over and sit on my face,’ ” says her friend, Ashley, 19.
Mobile dating went mainstream about five years ago; by 2012 it was overtaking online dating. In February, one study reported there were nearly 100 million people—perhaps 50 million on Tinder alone—using their phones as a sort of all-day, every-day, handheld singles club, where they might find a sex partner as easily as they’d find a cheap flight to Florida. “It’s like ordering Seamless,” says Dan, the investment banker, referring to the online food-delivery service. “But you’re ordering a person.”
The comparison to online shopping seems an apt one. Dating apps are the free-market economy come to sex. The innovation of Tinder was the swipe—the flick of a finger on a picture, no more elaborate profiles necessary and no more fear of rejection; users only know whether they’ve been approved, never when they’ve been discarded. OkCupid soon adopted the function. Hinge, which allows for more information about a match’s circle of friends through Facebook, and Happn, which enables G.P.S. tracking to show whether matches have recently “crossed paths,” use it too. It’s telling that swiping has been jocularly incorporated into advertisements for various products, a nod to the notion that, online, the act of choosing consumer brands and sex partners has become interchangeable.
“It’s instant gratification,” says Jason, 26, a Brooklyn photographer, “and a validation of your own attractiveness by just, like, swiping your thumb on an app. You see some pretty girl and you swipe and it’s, like, oh, she thinks you’re attractive too, so it’s really addicting, and you just find yourself mindlessly doing it.” “Sex has become so easy,” says John, 26, a marketing executive in New York. “I can go on my phone right now and no doubt I can find someone I can have sex with this evening, probably before midnight.”
And is this “good for women”? Since the emergence of flappers and “moderns” in the 1920s, the debate about what is lost and gained for women in casual sex has been raging, and is raging still—particularly among women. Some, like Atlantic writer Hanna Rosin, see hookup culture as a boon: “The hookup culture is… bound up with everything that’s fabulous about being a young woman in 2012—the freedom, the confidence.” But others lament the way the extreme casualness of sex in the age of Tinder leaves many women feeling de-valued. “It’s rare for a woman of our generation to meet a man who treats her like a priority instead of an option,” wrote Erica Gordon on the Gen Y Web site Elite Daily, in 2014.
It is the very abundance of options provided by online dating which may be making men less inclined to treat any particular woman as a “priority,” according to David Buss, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in the evolution of human sexuality. “Apps like Tinder and OkCupid give people the impression that there are thousands or millions of potential mates out there,” Buss says. “One dimension of this is the impact it has on men’s psychology. When there is a surplus of women, or a perceived surplus of women, the whole mating system tends to shift towards short-term dating. Marriages become unstable. Divorces increase. Men don’t have to commit, so they pursue a short-term mating strategy. Men are making that shift, and women are forced to go along with it in order to mate at all.”
Now hold on there a minute. “Short-term mating strategies” seem to work for plenty of women too; some don’t want to be in committed relationships, either, particularly those in their 20s who are focusing on their education and launching careers. Alex the Wall Streeter is overly optimistic when he assumes that every woman he sleeps with would “turn the tables” and date him seriously if she could. And yet, his assumption may be a sign of the more “sinister” thing he references, the big fish swimming underneath the ice: “For young women the problem in navigating sexuality and relationships is still gender inequality,” says Elizabeth Armstrong, a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan who specializes in sexuality and gender. “Young women complain that young men still have the power to decide when something is going to be serious and when something is not— they can go, ‘She’s girlfriend material, she’s hookup material.’… There is still a pervasive double standard. We need to puzzle out why women have made more strides in the public arena than in the private arena.”
“Hit It and Quit It”
‘The men in this town have a serious case of pussy affluenza,” says Amy Watanabe, 28, the fetching, tattooed owner of Sake Bar Satsko, a lively izakaya in New York’s East Village. “We’ve seen them come in with more than one Tinder date in one night.”
(The data underpinning a widely cited study claiming millennials have fewer sex partners than previous generations proves to be open to interpretation, incidentally. The study, published in May in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, became a talking point for its surprising conclusion that millennials are having sex with fewer people than Gen X-ers and baby-boomers at the same age. When I asked Jean Twenge and Ryne Sherman, two of the study’s authors, about their methodology, they said their analysis was based partly on projections derived from a statistical model, not entirely from direct side-by-side comparisons of numbers of sex partners reported by respondents. “All data and all studies are open to interpretation—that’s just the nature of research,” Twenge said.)
On a steamy night at Satsko, everyone is Tindering. Or OkCupiding, or Happning, or Hinging. The tables are filled with young women and men drinking sake and beer and intermittently checking their phones and swiping. “Agh, look at this,” says Kelly, 26, who’s sitting at a table with friends, holding up a message she received from a guy on OkCupid. “I want to have you on all fours,” it says, going on to propose a graphic sexual scene. “I’ve never met this person,” says Kelly.
“IT’S LIKE ORDERING SEAMLESS,” SAYS A TWENTY-SOMETHING MANHATTAN INVESTMENT BANKER. “BUT YOU’RE ORDERING A PERSON.”
At a table in the front, six young women have met up for an after-work drink. They’re seniors from Boston College, all in New York for summer internships, ranging from work in a medical-research lab to a luxury department store. They’re attractive and fashionable, with bright eyes highlighted with dark eyeliner wings. None of them are in relationships, they say. I ask them how they’re finding New York dating.
“New York guys, from our experience, they’re not really looking for girlfriends,” says the blonde named Reese. “They’re just looking for hit-it-and-quit-it on Tinder.”
“People send really creepy shit on it,” says Jane, the serious one.
“They start out with ‘Send me nudes,’ ” says Reese. “Or they say something like ‘I’m looking for something quick within the next 10 or 20 minutes—are you available?’ ‘O.K., you’re a mile away, tell me your location.’ It’s straight efficiency.”
“I think that iPhones and dating apps have really changed the way that dating happens for our generation,” says Stephanie, the one with an arm full of bracelets.
“There is no dating. There’s no relationships,” says Amanda, the tall elegant one. “They’re rare. You can have a fling that could last like seven, eight months and you could never actually call someone your ‘boyfriend.’ [Hooking up] is a lot easier. No one gets hurt—well, not on the surface.”
They give a wary laugh.
They tell me how, at their school, an adjunct instructor in philosophy, Kerry Cronin, teaches a freshman class in which an optional assignment is going out on an actual date. “And meet them sober and not when you’re both, like, blackout drunk,” says Jane. “Like, get to know someone before you start something with them. And I know that’s scary.”
They say they think their own anxiety about intimacy comes from having “grown up on social media,” so “we don’t know how to talk to each other face-to-face.” “You form your first impression based off Facebook rather than forming a connection with someone, so you’re, like, forming your connection with their profile,” says Stephanie, smiling grimly at the absurdity of it.
When it comes to hooking up, they say, it’s not as simple as just having sex. “It’s such a game, and you have to always be doing everything right, and if not, you risk losing whoever you’re hooking up with,” says Fallon, the soft-spoken one. By “doing everything right” she means “not texting back too soon; never double texting; liking the right amount of his stuff,” on social media.
“And it reaches a point,” says Jane, “where, if you receive a text message” from a guy, “you forward the message to, like, seven different people: ‘What do I say back? Oh my God, he just texted me!’ It becomes a surprise. ‘He texted me!’ Which is really sad.”
“It is sad,” Amanda says. “That one A.M. text becomes ‘Oh my God, he texted me!’ No, he texted you at one A.M.—it’s meaningless.”
They laugh ruefully.
“If he texts you before midnight he actually likes you as a person. If it’s after midnight, it’s just for your body,” says Amanda. It’s not, she says, that women don’t want to have sex. “Who doesn’t want to have sex? But it feels bad when they’re like, ‘See ya.’”
“It seems like the girls don’t have any control over the situation, and it should not be like that at all,” Fallon says.
“It’s a contest to see who cares less, and guys win a lot at caring less,” Amanda says.
“Sex should stem from emotional intimacy, and it’s the opposite with us right now, and I think it really is kind of destroying females’ self-images,” says Fallon.
“It’s body first, personality second,” says Stephanie.
“Honestly, I feel like the body doesn’t even matter to them as long as you’re willing,” says Reese. “It’s that bad.”
“But if you say any of this out loud, it’s like you’re weak, you’re not independent, you somehow missed the whole memo about third-wave feminism,” says Amanda.
‘Hi,” says Amy, the Satsko owner, reading a message she received on OkCupid from a random man. “‘I’m looking for a cute girl like you that has a bit of a kinky side, so I’m curious if you fantasize about rough sex. Do you think you would like to get choke-fucked, tied up, slapped, throat-fucked and cummed on? I think we could have a wild afternoon together but I am happy just to share brunch with you.’” She drops her iPhone on the bar in mock horror.
On another busy night at the same bar, at the same table in the front, three good-looking guys are having beers. They are John, Nick, and Brian, 26, 25, and 25; John is the marketing executive mentioned above,
Nick works in the fitness industry, and Brian is an educator. When asked about their experience with dating apps, their assessment is quite different from the interns from Boston College. “Works for me,” Nick says.
“I hooked up with three girls, thanks to the Internet, off of Tinder, in the course of four nights, and I spent a total of $80 on all three girls,” Nick relays proudly. He goes on to describe each date, one of which he says began with the young woman asking him on Tinder to “‘come over and smoke [weed] and watch a movie.’ I know what that means,” he says, grinning.
“We talk for a total of maybe 10 to 15 minutes,” he says. “We hook up. Afterwards she goes, ‘Oh my God, I swear I wasn’t gonna have sex with you.’ And I was like, Well you did a pretty shitty job of that one.”
“They all say that,” the guys say, chuckling. Nick, with his lumbersexual beard and hipster clothes, as if plucked from the ward robe closet of Girls, is, physically speaking, a modern male ideal. That he fulfills none of the requirements identified by evolutionary psychologists as what women supposedly look for in mates—he’s neither rich nor tall; he also lives with his mom—doesn’t seem to have any effect on his ability to get rampantly laid. In his iPhone, he has a list of more than 40 girls he has “had relations with, rated by [one to five] stars. . . . It empowers them,” he jokes. “It’s a mix of how good they are in bed and how attractive they are.”
“I’m on Tinder, Happn, Hinge, OkCupid,” Nick says. “It’s just a numbers game. Before, I could go out to a bar and talk to one girl, but now I can sit home on Tinder and talk to 15 girls—”
“Without spending any money,” John chimes in.
Neither Nick nor John has had a girlfriend in the last few years; Brian had one until recently but confesses, “I cheated…. She found out by looking at my phonerookie mistake, not deleting everything.” Some guys, they say, in order to hide their multiple sex partners from each other, will assign them fake names in their phones, such as “Crazy Mike.”
“When it’s so easy, when it’s so available to you,” Brian says intensely, “and you can meet somebody and fuck them in 20 minutes, it’s very hard to contain yourself.”
“I’ve gotten numbers on Tinder just by sending emojis,” says John. “Without actually having a conversation—having a conversation via emojis.”
He holds up his phone, with its cracked screen, to show a Tinder conversation between him and a young woman who provided her number after he offered a series of emojis, including the ones for pizza and beer.
“Now is that the kind of woman I potentially want to marry?” he asks, smiling. “Probably not.”
“I HAD SEX WITH A GUY AND HE IGNORED ME AS I GOT DRESSED AND I SAW HE WAS BACK ON TINDER.”
I ask if they’re aware of the double standard that’s often applied to women when it comes to sex. “The double standard is real,” Nick says. “If I’m a guy and I’m going out and fucking a different girl every night, my friends are gonna give me high-fives and we’re gonna crack a beer and talk about it. Girls do the same, but they get judged. I don’t want it to be like that, but sometimes the world is the way it is and I can’t change it, so I just embrace it.”
They all say they don’t want to be in relationships. “I don’t want one,” says Nick. “I don’t want to have to deal with all that—stuff.”
“You can’t be selfish in a relationship,” Brian says. “It feels good just to do what I want.”
I ask them if it ever feels like they lack a deeper connection with someone.
There’s a small silence. After a moment, John says, “I think at some points it does.”
“But that’s assuming that that’s something that I want, which I don’t,” Nick says, a trifle annoyed. “Does that mean that my life is lacking something? I’m perfectly happy. I have a good time. I go to work—I’m busy. And when I’m not, I go out with my friends.”
“Or you meet someone on Tinder,” offers John.
“Exactly,” Nick says. “Tinder is fast and easy, boom-boom-boom, swipe.”
A “fuckboy” is a young man who sleeps with women without any intention of having a relationship with them or perhaps even walking them to the door post-sex. He’s a womanizer, an especially callous one, as well as kind of a loser. The word has been around for at least a decade with different meanings; it’s only in about the last year that it has become so frequently used by women and girls to refer to their hookups.
“What percentage of boys now do you think are fuckboys?,” I asked some young women from New Albany, Indiana.
“One hundred percent,” said Meredith, 20, a sophomore at Bellarmine University in Louisville.
“No, like 90 percent,” said Ashley (the same as mentioned earlier). “I’m hoping to find the 10 percent somewhere. But every boy I’ve ever met is a fuckboy.”
Men in the age of dating apps can be very cavalier, women say. One would think that having access to these nifty machines (their phones) that can summon up an abundance of no-strings-attached sex would make them feel happy, even grateful, and so inspired to be polite. But, based on interviews with more than 50 young women in New York, Indiana, and Delaware, aged 19 to 29, the opposite seems to be the case. ‘”He drove me home in the morning.’ That’s a big deal,” said Rebecca, 21, a senior at the University of Delaware. ” ‘He kissed me good-bye.’ That shouldn’t be a big deal, but boys pull back from that because—”
“They don’t wanna give you the wrong idea,” said her classmate Kayla, 20.
“But a lot of us girls aren’t gonna take the wrong idea,” said Rebecca, piqued. “Sometimes we just want to get it in”—have sex— “too. We don’t want to marry you. You’re either polite or you’re fucking rude.”
Hearing story after story about the ill-mannered behavior of young women’s sex partners (“I had sex with a guy and he ignored me as I got dressed and I saw he was back on Tinder”), I wondered if there could be a parallel to Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth (1991). Wolf posited that, as women achieved more social and political power, there was more pressure on them to be “beautiful” as a means of undermining their empowerment. Is it possible that now the potentially de-stabilizing trend women are having to contend with is the lack of respect they encounter from the men with whom they have sex? Could the ready availability of sex provided by dating apps actually be making men respect women less? “Too easy,” “Too easy,” “Too easy,” I heard again and again from young men when asked if there was anything about dating apps they didn’t like.
“Online dating apps are truly evolutionarily novel environments,” says David Buss. “But we come to those environments with the same evolved psychologies.” And women may be further along than men in terms of evolving away from sexist attitudes about sex. “Young women’s expectations of safety and entitlement to respect have perhaps risen faster than some young men’s willingness to respect them,” says Stephanie Coontz, who teaches history and family studies at the Evergreen State College and has written about the history of dating. “Exploitative and disrespectful men have always existed. There are many evolved men, but there may be something going on in hookup culture now that is making some more resistant to evolving.”
Such a problem has the disrespectful behavior of men online become that there has been a wave of dating apps launched by women in response to it. There is Bumble, created by Tinder co-founder Whitney Wolfe, who sued the company after she was allegedly sexually harassed by C.M.O. Justin Mateen. (She reportedly settled for just over $ 1 million, with neither party admitting to wrongdoing.) One of the main changes in female-centric dating apps gives women the power to message first; but as some have pointed out, while this might weed out egregious harassers, it doesn’t fix a cultural milieu. Such apps “cannot promise you a world in which dudes who suck will definitely not bother you,” wrote Kate Dries on Jezebel.
Bring all of this up to young men, however, and they scoff. Women are just as responsible for “the shit show that dating has become,” according to one. “Romance is completely dead, and it’s the girls’ fault,” says Alex, 25, a New Yorker who works in the film industry. “They act like all they want is to have sex with you and then they yell at you for not wanting to have a relationship. How are you gonna feel romantic about a girl like that? Oh, and by the way? I met you on Tinder. “
“Women do exactly the same things guys do,” said Matt, 26, who works in a New York art gallery. “I’ve had girls sleep with me off OkCupid and then just ghost me”—that is, disappear, in a digital sense, not returning texts. “They play the game the exact same way. They have a bunch of people going at the same time—they’re fielding their options. They’re always looking for somebody better, who has a better job or more money.” A few young women admitted to me that they use dating apps as a way to get free meals. “I call it Tinder food stamps,” one said.
Even the emphasis on looks inherent in a dating game based on swiping on photos is something men complain women are just as guilty of buying into. “They say in their profiles, ‘No shirtless pictures,’ but that’s bullshit,” says Nick, the personal trainer. “The day I switched to a shirtless picture with my tattoos, immediately, within a few minutes, I had, like, 15 matches.”
And if women aren’t interested in being treated as sexual objects, why do they self-objectify in their profile pictures? some men ask. “There’s a lot of girls who are just like, Check me out, I’m hot, I’m wearing a bikini,” says Jason, the Brooklyn photographer, who on his OkCupid profile calls himself a “feminist.” “I don’t know if it’s my place to tell a girl she shouldn’t be flaunting her sexuality if that’s what she wants to do. But,” he adds, “some guys might take the wrong idea from it.”
“THEY START OUT WITH “SEND ME NUDES,’ OR THEY SAY SOMETHING LIKE ‘I’M LOOKING FOR SOMETHING QUICK WITHIN THE NEXT 10 OR 20 MINUTES.”‘
Men talk about the nudes they receive from women. They show off the nudes. “Tit pics and booty pics,” said Austin, 22, a college student in Indiana. “My phone is full of ’em.”
And what about unsolicited dick pics? “They want to see your dick,” insists Adam, 23, a male model in New York. “They get excited from it. They’re like, ‘Oh my God, you’re huge.’ “
No woman I talked to said she had ever asked for one. And yet, “If you’re a girl who’s trying to date, it’s normal to get dick pics all the time,” said Olivia, 24, a Brandeis graduate. “It’s like we have dicks flying at us.”
The Morning After
On a rainy morning at the University of Delaware, the young women who live in an off-campus house are gathering on their front porch for coffee. They’ve been joined by their sister “squad,” so the porch table is crammed with sorority girls in shorts and sundresses, all ponytails and smooth bare legs, all meeting up to discuss their Saturday night, which included some hookups.
“This kid went to sleep and woke up with the same hairstyle—how the shit did that happen?” says Danielle, 21, the one with the Betty Boop voice.
Rebecca, the blonde with the canny eyes, also mentioned above, hooked up with someone, too. “It was O.K.” She shrugs. “Right after it was done, it was kind of like, mmmp … mmmp.” She gives a little grant of disappointment.
As they talk, most are on their phones. Some are checking Tinder. I ask them why they use Tinder on a college campus where presumably there’s an abundance of available guys. They say, “It’s easier.” “And a lot of guys won’t talk to you if you’re not invited to their fraternity parties.” “A lot of guys won’t talk to you, period.” “They don’t have to.” “Tinder has destroyed their game.”
“I’m on it nonstop, like nonstop, like 20 hours a day,” says Courtney, the one who looks like a 70s movie star.
“It’s, like, fun to get the messages,” Danielle says. “If someone ‘likes’ you, they think you’re attractive.”
“It’s a confidence booster,” says Jessica, 21, the one who looks like a Swedish tennis player.
I tell them how I heard from guys that they swipe right on every picture in order to increase their chances of matching.
“Nooooo…” They explode with laughter.
“Boys will do anything, do anything, to get it in,” says Rebecca, frowning.
The rain comes down harder, and they move inside to the living room, which has a couch, a coffee table, and tie-dyed tapestries everywhere. The talk turns to sex again:
“A lot of guys are lacking in that department,” says Courtney with a sigh. “What’s a real orgasm like? I wouldn’t know.”
They all laugh knowingly.
“I know how to give one to myself,” says Courtney.
“Yeah, but men don’t know what to do,” says Jessica, texting.
“Without [a vibrator] I can’t have one,” Courtney says. “It’s never happened” with a guy. “It’s a huge problem.”
“It is a problem,” Jessica concurs.
They talk about how it’s not uncommon for their hookups to lose their erections. It’s a curious medical phenomenon, the increased erectile dysfunction in young males, which has been attributed to everything from chemicals in processed foods to the lack of intimacy in hookup sex.
“If a guy can’t get hard,” Rebecca says, “and I have to say, that happens a lot, they just act like it’s the end of the world.”
“At four in the morning this guy was so upset, and I was like, Dude, I’ll just go to fucking sleep—it’s O.K.,” says Sarah, 21, the one with the long curly dark hair. “I get really tired of faking.”
According to multiple studies, women are more likely to have orgasms in the context of relationships than in uncommitted encounters. More than twice as likely, according to a study done by researchers at the Kinsey Institute and Binghamton University.
“When I see limp dicks coming at me I’m like, Oh my God,” says Courtney, putting her fingers in the sign of a cross, as if to ward off a vampire.
“It would be great if they could just have the ability to perform and not come in two seconds,” says Rebecca.
“I think men have a skewed view of the reality of sex through porn,” Jessica says, looking up from her phone. “Because sometimes I think porn sex is not always great—like pounding someone.” She makes a pounding motion with her hand, looking indignant.
“Yeah, it looks like it hurts,” Danielle says.
“Like porn sex,” says Jessica, “those women—that’s not, like, enjoyable, like having their hair pulled or being choked or slammed. I mean, whatever you’re into, but men just think”—bro voice—” ‘I’m gonna fuck her,’ and sometimes that’s not great.”
“Yeah,” Danielle agrees. “Like last night I was having sex with this guy, and I’m a very submissive person—like, not aggressive at all—and this boy that came over last night, he was hurting me.”
They were quiet a moment.
“People Are Gorging”
So where is this all going to go? What happens after you’ve come of age in the age of Tinder? Will people ever be satisfied with a sexual or even emotional commitment to one person? And does that matter? Can men and women ever find true intimacy in a world where communication is mediated by screens; or trust, when they know their partner has an array of other, easily accessible options?
According to Christopher Ryan, one of the co-authors of Sex at Dawn (2010), human beings are not sexually monogamous by nature. The book contends that, for much of human history, men and women have taken multiple sex partners as a commonly accepted (and cvolutionarily beneficial) practice. The thesis, controversial and widely criticized by anthropologists and evolutionary biologists, didn’t keep the book from being an international best-seller; it seemed to be something people were ready to hear.
“I think the spectrum of human sexuality appears to be getting more colorful and broader, and very rapidly,” Ryan says. “You have an acceptance of gay relationships, of transgender people; young kids are redefining themselves as queer and other gender identities.
“I think a lot of people are still interested in having long-term, stable, deep connections to one or a few other people,” he says. “We as a species value intimacy and authenticity very highly. On the other hand, we are very attracted to novelty…. So people are going to go ahead and have sex with the people they’re attracted to, as they’ve always done, and it’s a good thing for everyone if that becomes accepted and not censured by church or state.”
Listening to him talk, I could only think, If only it were that easy. In a perfect world, we’d all have sex with whomever we want, and nobody would mind, or be judged, or get dumped; but what about jealousy, and sexism, not to mention the still-flickering chance that somebody might fall in love?
“Some people still catch feelings in hookup culture,” said Meredith, the Bellarmine sophomore. “It’s not like just blind fucking for pleasure and it’s done; some people actually like the other person. Sometimes you actually catch feelings and that’s what sucks, because it’s one person thinking one thing and the other person thinking something completely different and someone gets their feelings hurt. It could be the boy or the girl.”
And even Ryan, who believes that human beings naturally gravitate toward polyamorous relationships, is troubled by the trends developing around dating apps. “It’s the same pattern manifested in porn use,” he says. “The appetite has always been there, but it had restricted availability; with new technologies the restrictions are being stripped away and we see people sort of going crazy with it. I think the same thing is happening with this unlimited access to sex partners. People are gorging. That’s why it’s not intimate. You could call it a kind of psychosexual obesity.”
Michael Monogold, Falotico, an indie 29, is band the bassist that has for played in all the top Brooklyn venues and at festivals from Austin to Cannes. He’s tall and slim and looks like a Renaissance painting of Jesus, plus a nose ring. All of which means that, in a certain corner of the world, Michael is a rock star. So he should have no trouble meeting women.
Which he doesn’t. But he still uses dating apps. “I would consider myself an old-school online dater,” Michael says on a summer day in New York. “I’ve been doing it since I was 21. First it was Craigslist: ‘Casual Encounters.’ Back then it wasn’t as easy; there were no pictures; you had to impress somebody with just what you wrote. So I met this girl on there who actually lived around the corner from me, and that led to eight months of the best sex I ever had. We’d text each other if we were available, hook up, sometimes sleep over, go our separate ways.” Then she found a boyfriend. “I was like, Respect, I’m out. We still see each other in the street sometimes, give each other the wink.
“Now it’s completely different,” he says, “because everyone is doing it and it’s not like this hot little secret anymore. It’s profiles that are, like, airbrushed with lighting and angles and girls who will send you pictures of their pussies without even knowing your last name. I’m not saying I’m any better— I’m doing it. It’s texting someone, or multiple girls, maybe getting very sexual with them, 99 percent of the time before you’ve even met them, which, more and more I realize, is fucking weird.” He grimaces.
“And it’s just like, waking up in beds, I don’t even remember getting there, and having to get drunk to have a conversation with this person because we both know why we’re there but we have to go through these motions to get out of it. That’s a personal struggle, I guess, but online dating makes it happen that much more. Whereas, I would just be sitting at home and playing guitar, now it’s ba-ding”—he makes the chirpy alert sound of a Tinder match—”and …” He pauses, as if disgusted. “… I’m fucking.”
*Names and some identifying details have been changed.
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