“Should I go meet up with this guy from Grindr?” I looked up from the article I was reading on my phone to focus on my friend Austin. It was past midnight, and we had decided to spend the night in our hotel room, sipping on cheap vodka from the corner store and laughing at stupid memories. It was my first time visiting Los Angeles, and I had made a promise to myself before my plane even took off that I would try to take advantage of everything — and everyone — that LA could offer me.
A woman on a mission, I kept suggesting mixed or women-focused bars around the city, but our group was mostly comprised of gay men and straight women, so I found myself exploring the gay male locales instead. I didn’t mind dancing my heart out to top 40 pop hits as speedo-clad men danced on the bar, but it made me feel like I was missing out on all the queer women that “The L Word” had led me to believe lived nearby. I turned to the only solution my gen Z brain could think of: dating apps. I had spent the majority of my trip mindlessly swiping, hoping that someone — anyone — would be willing to meet up for a quick bit of “getting to know you” (wink, wink) with the East Coaster on vacation. I received match after match, but it seemed like no one really wanted to have a conversation beyond introductions. Even when things would turn flirty with a girl or two, it was swiftly ended by bouts of ghosting or absurdly late replies.
Which is exactly why, when I looked up at my friend from across the room, I couldn’t help but feel upset. I had been swiping and messaging for a good 5 days to no avail, and here was Austin, about to go off to meet someone who had only made contact minutes before.
“Duh, of course,” I managed, trying to make my tone sound more cool-friend than freaked-out-queer. I rolled over to check my phone as he sprinted out the door, and I had zero notifications. I let out a heavy sigh and sat up, suddenly too defeated to fall asleep. I wish Grindr was for queer women, too, I thought. Or, at least, I wish there was a Grindr for queer women.
Launched in 2009, Grindr describes itself as “the largest social networking app for gay, bi, trans, and queer people” that “represents a modern LGBTQ lifestyle.” But any random person on the street could tell you that Grindr is a hook-up app for gay men. Every single aspect of the app seems to be set up just to make hooking up easier. Fifty photos of users in the area are displayed on the home screen at any time, with green dots next to names to signify that they’re online right now. If you see someone you’re interested in, all you have to do is click on their profile, scroll through their photos, and then message them. There’s no swiping left or right, no waiting for a match back in order to make contact — you just go for it. Users set up their preferences, including age, what they’re looking for, what “tribe” they’re interested in (this is the label that gay men identify with, such as bear, twink, or otter), and whether they only want to see profiles with face pictures attached to them.
But there’s a lack of service like this for women — particularly queer women — and I’m not the only one to notice.
A quick search of “is there a Grindr for lesbians” provided me millions of results, but none of them were answers; in fact, most of them were questions from other women about the exact same thing. “Grindr for lesbians??” asked one Reddit thread to a chorus of replies that all said the same thing: There isn’t one, but we want one. It made me feel better knowing that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t an outlier in a sea of commitment-obsessed queer women. But it also brought up the implications. If there were this many queer women who wished for a hook-up app, where was it? Of course, I knew the answer, as every single queer woman does, because it’s the stereotype we can’t seem to detach from: U-hauling.
“U-hauling” is the term used to describe queer women’s relationship tendencies — i.e. being overly-emotional about a partner and committing or moving in quickly after beginning to date. The term itself is believed to come from the cliché joke, attributed to Lea DeLaria, that asks, “What does a lesbian bring on the second date? A U-haul.” While the stereotype doesn’t have an official origin, an article published in The Atlantic points to the underground history of the LGBTQ+ community in the 1950s and ‘60s as a possible source. “Back then, if you had the good fortune to make a family, you held onto it. It was a marriage. In the lesbian world, serial monogamy was safe, and also fulfilling,” notes the article. Another idea is that, because society teaches that a committed relationship, specifically marriage, is the ultimate goal for women, a same-sex relationship would double the amount of pressure put on women to commit.
Regardless of the stereotype’s source, it has become a widely anticipated and accepted practice in the LGBTQ+ community. But the claim that queer women get attached to their partners rapidly and with a fiery intensity is scientifically contested. In a 2012 study conducted by Robin Milhausen, Jessica Wood, and Ashley Ronson, twenty queer women were interviewed about what sex means to them and why they sought it out. The scientists found that the most popular reason that queer women have sex is physical desire, rather than anything emotionally motivated. Another study conducted in 2014 by Heather Armstrong and Elke Reissing asked 149 queer women to rank their motivations behind having casual sex, with the results finding that “physical reasons were the most frequently endorsed.”
“I’ve had this conversation at many, many dyke hangouts,” Zoe, a 24-year-old bisexual woman who has used services like Bumble, Hinge, and HER to casually date or hook up with other women, tells me. She disagrees with the idea of U-hauling and asserts that there’s a solid community of queer women who are looking to make casual connections. But, in her experience, dating apps tend to be created with the preconceived notion that you must go on a real date with someone, so many of the users follow that expectation. “Honestly, if someone wants to invite me over to smoke a J and hook up, I’d be so down! But it never happens.”
Although she’s had success, Zoe says the difficulty of finding a hook-up through dating apps is prevalent at every step, considering it goes against the original purpose of the service. For one, it’s almost impossible to gauge the intention of every other user. “On my profile, I make it clear I’m in an open relationship and just looking to hook up, but I think it’s off-putting for someone to see a person blatantly making it known they want only that and not a date,” she says. For some, like 31-year-old queer woman Amy, being upfront about their intentions only makes it more difficult to find an honest casual connection. “Even though some people would list they were looking for a hook-up or something casual, I often encountered many women who were, in fact, looking for relationships. It was frustrating at times,” she says.
But even when both parties are on the same page about the casual nature of the encounter, there’s really no way to truly know someone’s intention until you meet in person. “I’ve been tricked many times by a seemingly cool girl who wants to hook up only to find out later that she wants me to be a third for her and her bf,” Zoe says, emphasizing that there are way too many heterosexual couples looking for a third, catfishes, and self-promoters to wade through on the apps. “I’m not interested in fulfilling your queer fantasy, straights!”
According to Emma Ziff, co-founder of U.K.-based dating service for queer women Pink Lobster Matchmaking, deception and safety are only partly responsible for driving the community away from dating apps. “Casual sex is definitely not such a hidden culture amongst queer women anymore, and therefore, they don’t necessarily need to hide behind a screen for this to become reality,” she notes. Depending on how active the LGBTQ+ community is where you live, Ziff says that finding hook-ups at local lesbian bars is still the preferred method for a lot of women.
It’s a sentiment that Al, a 23-year-old bisexual woman, echoes. When she found herself living in a place with very few sex-positive queer spaces, dating apps helped her create that space. It wasn’t hard to find a queer coffee shop or bookstore, but “sometimes you want more than latte art,” so she turned to the digital. Once she moved to New York, however, Al found that it was much easier to meet women in bars than online. “You only really know whether you have chemistry with someone after you’ve met in person, and that can be determined at a lesbian bar very quickly,” she notes. “Whereas on Tinder, I felt like I was spending hours a week swiping based on arbitrary criteria that mattered so much less face-to-face.”
“As a person with social anxiety, the thought of approaching someone at a function in order to try to hook up with them makes me want to barf,” Zoe says, noting that she prefers to find hook-ups digitally because it allows her to lay out her intentions before even meeting the other person. This streamlined simplicity in expectations is the appeal of using dating apps for hook-ups for so many people. Finding someone online and chatting with them first is a simple way to make sure that all parties are on the same page in terms of what you want. “It can make the experience of sex more communicative,” she adds.
Although every queer woman I interviewed had unique experiences with hooking up via an app, there was one commonality across each one: There is definitely a community of queer women who want a casual encounters app. So why doesn’t one exist? It’s not for lack of trying. HER, a dating app “by queer people, for queer people,” was originally launched by creator Robin Exton with every intention of being a “Grindr” for queer women. “A bunch of times, we get feedback from people like, ‘I want a hook-up app!’ and ‘I just want to meet up with people for very casual sex,’” Exton says. “There is certainly an audience of people that want to do that.” But what Exton found was that, although there is a market for queer women seeking hook-up apps, the support she received for this version of the service was small. Eventually, HER made the transition from a casual app to a full-blown dating service.
It’s this inability to stick with the minority community it serves that many queer women point to as the moment when LGBTQ+-centered apps tend to fall apart. “I strongly believe that many queer women are still embarrassed or indeed worried about how they will be seen for simply wanting sex,” says Ziff, adding that many queer women are still unlearning the shameful stigma that surrounds hook-ups. “Why should women still be viewed as sluts whilst men are lotharios?” By introducing apps that are meant to cater to the hook-up community and then changing their purpose to something more romantic, companies are sending the message that the population seeking something casual is outside of the norm, so it’s not worth the effort. “I think the most critical thing would be to make sure [a queer women hook-up app] normalizes hookups between queer women,” asserts Zoe. “Come on, queer ladies! It’s okay to f*ck before moving in with her! And it’s okay just to f*ck!”
But an app created purely for queer women looking for hook-ups would have to do more than normalize casual sex, and a major problem becomes clear when you start to list what the app needs to do. Because the queer community is vast and ranging, everyone is looking for something different from the app. For Ziff, dating apps for queer women could increase use by heightening security and emphasizing safety checks. She also suggests in-app educational resources to help teach women how to have casual sex safely and enjoyably. Al, on the other hand, hopes a queer women hook-up app would place sex positivity at the forefront of its beliefs. “It’s frowned upon on [other apps] to frankly discuss kinks or look for threesomes, but I want a platform where I can openly look for those things. You can’t send images on [other apps], but I would feel a lot more comfortable exchanging photos on another casual hookup app.”
Regardless of what you hope to get out of a casual encounters app, it’s clear that the queer women community has a desire for one. Just as Zoe felt that her social anxiety stopped her from meeting women in person, Ziff highlights the fact that dating apps are still strongly used for women seeking no-strings-attached relationships. She points out that IRL lesbian spaces are slowly fading, so women are looking to meet digitally instead. Ziff also notes that apps provide a space for women who aren’t comfortable searching for something out in the open. “There are many women who are ‘experimenting’ with their sexuality and will use dating apps to find women for this,” she says. The potential ease of a queer women-only dating app is another perk, says Zoe. “They can also be selective, and if they are worried about someone finding out, they can meet someone a distance from their home.”
So why doesn’t a queer women-focused hook-up app exist? Just as there are infinite different types of queer women, there are also infinite different types of desire. But for the community that’s been expected to U-haul, it can be terrifying to stray from the societally engrained norm. By creating a queer women hook-up app, it not only recognizes the casual sex loving portion of the community, but it normalizes queer women’s lust to the same degree as their cohabitating tendencies. It sees them as people who want more than cuddling and cats; they also want sex. And while no apps currently exist that create this space for queer women, it doesn’t mean that the conversation around LGBTQ+ women and sexuality is at a stand-still. By pushing the conversation to center around queer women hook-up apps, the stigma around casual sex can change.