The LGBT Health & Development Program

Research Blog—Geosocial Networking Application Use among Partnered Gay, Bisexual, and other Men Who Have Sex with Men

Posted on October 14th, 2016 by Ryan in Featured, Research Blog. No Comments

A hand holding a smartphone with a large purple question mark covering the screen, which is otherwise black.

Adapted from SplitShire, “Holding Nokia Lumia,” January 25, 2014

Geosocial networking (GSN) dating and hookup mobile applications (apps), such as SCRUFF and Grindr, are frequently used among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) to locate and connect with friends and potential sexual or romantic partners. Research shows that a majority of MSM met their most recent partner on a GSN app [1] with some MSM reporting continued use of apps throughout the duration of their relationship [2]. Yet there is little research describing how partnered MSM use apps and how its use impacts relationships.

As part of a national study, IMPACT researchers reviewed data from a sub-sample of 323 partnered MSM who described their romantic relationships as serious, lasting longer than six months, and either monogamous or non-monogamous. Participants were asked:

  • whether their app use changed since entering their current relationship
  • whether app use negatively or positively impacted their relationship
  • and whether their relationship agreement included rules about using apps.

Changes in App Use

Overall, 52.8% of participants reported that their app use changed since entering their current relationship:

  • Reduced frequency of app use (40.2%)
  • Apps used without partner to socialize, chat, or relieve boredom (39.1%), or to find outside sex partners (31.4%)
  • Increased frequency of app use (26.0%)
  • Initiated use of apps (27.2%)

Effect of App Use on Relationships

Over half of participants reported that their app use had some effect on their relationship:

  • Overall positive effect: 13.4%
  • Overall negative effect: 7.2%
  • Both positive and negative effects: 32.2%

Four main benefits from their app use were reported by participants:

  • Fulfillment of sexual needs not met in their primary sexual relationship (n=37)
  • Improved quality of their primary relationship from better communication and greater openness to discussing sexual desires and fantasies (n=35)
  • Ability to network socially, platonically and otherwise, with others in the gay community (n=35)
  • An improved sex life with primary partner from the addition of “excitement” or “variety” into their sex life, or increased desire for each other (n=24)

Participants reported four main drawbacks from their app use:

  • Jealousy and lack of trust from one or both partners using apps (n=44)
  • Loss of focus from their primary relationship due to time spent on apps (n=34)
  • Conflict, tension, or stress in the relationship (n=8)
  • Breaks or unwanted changes in their relationship agreement (n=6)

These findings show that GSN apps present a unique opportunity for partnered MSM to fulfill sexual and social needs within their relationship. While 55.0% of participants developed an explicit relationship agreement, 41.8% of participants reported that they did not negotiate app use within their relationship agreement. Roughly 25% of participants reported their partners being unaware of their app use.

Partnered MSM need relationship and sexual health education that effectively addresses app use within serious relationships and promotes continued communication about sexual health needs and protection.

For tips that may help MSM navigate using dating apps in their relationships, see our “Ask an Expert” blog. Or for more information about this study, read the article on this topic.


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1. Prestage, G., Bavinton, B., Grierson, J., Down, I., Keen, P., Bradley, J., & Duncan, D. (2015). Online dating among Australian gay and bisexual men: romance or hooking up? AIDS and Behavior, 19, 1905–1913. doi:10.1007/s10461-015-1032-z.

2. Lehmiller, J. J., & Ioerger, M. (2014). Social networking smartphone applications and sexual health outcomes among men who have sex with men. PLoS One, 9, e86603. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0086603.

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