SEX APPY - are you addicted to sex apps? Words by Stuart Haggas | @GetStuartPhotography by Chris Jepson, © www.chrisjepson.com. A REAL PROBLEM? In the recent TV commercial for Kindle Fire HDX, a bewildered technophobe hits his Kindle’s ‘mayday’ button, starting a live video chat on usage control with tech adviser Amy. He soon reveals an addiction to Plants Vs Zombies, prompting Amy to confess her Candy Crush Saga addiction. “It’s becoming a real problem,” she admits. Beyond the ideal world of TV adverts, apps and games are in fact resulting in problems of addiction – something that many gay men recognise all too well. There are numerous apps designed specifically for us. If we’re feeling horny, bored or lonely, there’s a gay social networking app that can help fix that – but over-reliance on these apps can, to quote Amy, “become a real problem.”SMARTR GAY SOCIALISING Last month, we asked our readers about their use and experiences of gay social networking apps. Almost all of the 412 respondents said they use these apps on their smartphone and/or tablet. By far the most popular app was Grindr: of the guys who use these apps, 87% regularly use Grindr. This was followed by Scruff, Gaydar, Growlr and Hornet. Other apps mentioned include Planet Romeo, Jack’d, Recon, Blendr, Mister, Tinder, Fitlads Mobile, Squirt, Manhunt, FabGuys, BBRTS, Adam4Adam, GuySpy, dudesnude, and Badoo – a long list that shows how app-focused we can be.WHY? When asked why they use apps such as Grindr and Scruff, the most popular answer was looking for one-to-one sex, with 71% of guys who use these apps admitting that was a major reason. “My sex life very much improved as I’m a shift worker,” says Tony from Southampton, “but the nature of the apps is not conducive to finding anything long lasting.” “The apps are great when you’re single,” acknowledges Sean from Glasgow. “Everyone gets the horn sometimes, but they have definitely added to the stereotype that gay men are promiscuous.” Interestingly, the second most popular response was boredom, with 67% admitting they use these apps because they’re bored. 49% acknowledged it was ‘out of habit’, the third most popular response. “It has just become a habit,” says Tom from London. “I don’t actually meet that many people off it though. Most people are really weird, plus I’m looking for a relationship. It’s easy to tell who is just looking for sex, and who like me wants more.” Other reasons for using apps are looking for dates (48%), friendship (47%) and relationships (41%), while 26% of guys said they use them because they’re lonely. 20% use them to find sex parties, and a comparatively small but significant 4% use them to find chems. “They were responsible for introducing me to chem sex and a very dark couple of years of my life,” admits Robert from London. “Now eight months into rehab, I use them a lot less and more wisely.” “I think the problem lies with our own poor understanding of what we want from sex, and how to go about getting it,” David Stuart of 56 Dean Street says. “You’re horny; you switch on the app. You’re bored; you switch on the app. You’re craving that rush; you switch on the app. Apps CAN be used to address these things, but they don’t solve them all.” “Additionally, it has been argued that by continuously using Grindr and other apps, many gay men are caught up in a compulsive cycle of emotional avoidance – using real or virtual sex to avoid or replace feelings of loneliness, boredom, sadness or depression,” adds Andre Smith of Positive East. “For younger and perhaps more vulnerable gay men, app use/addiction at this early stage of their lives may have profound impact on their future ability to form emotionally and psychologically healthy relationships.”DAILY DOSE The vast majority (74%) of those surveyed reported to using these apps at least once a day (34% said they use them daily, 26% said several times a day, and 14% admitted constant use throughout the day). 16% said they use them weekly, and just 10% said they use them only occasionally. The majority (59%) of those surveyed didn’t consider themselves to be addicted, and 14% didn’t know – however, 27% of those surveyed said they’re addicted to these apps. “It’s a double-edged sword,” says Emmet from Northern Ireland. “In one way they open up channels of communication and the potential to meet new people, but can have a hidden very dark side. I find the apps addictive, and tend to spend more time on them than they originally intended. While I don’t rate the apps highly, I would feel lost without them because they have worked their way into my daily routine.” “I don’t use them all the time, but when I do I’m obsessive,” admits James from London. “I think they’re an addiction in many ways. I’ve had more sex as a result, but not better sex, and certainly not more meaningful sex.” “I hate them,” says Damon from London. “They’re addictive. They’ve ruined the social side of meeting and cruising. And worse, it’s all too easy to be abusive and rude to others.” “They have ruined the gay scene completely. In the five years I have been going on the scene it is nowhere as near as fun and as exciting as it once was,” says Joe from Brighton, “because people don’t need to go to a bar now to get laid. My sex life has improved, due to the nature of hook-up apps. But I was getting addicted to all of them. I couldn’t go a few hours without checking them.” APP ADDICTED “As a sexual health counsellor, I think it’s more than fair to say that some people are addicted to using sex apps like Grindr,” Andre Smith of Positive East explains. “A growing number of the gay men who I see as clients are genuinely worried about their increasing use of/addiction to Grindr and other apps. The appeal for a lot of guys is the immediacy. Apps like Grindr, Hornet and Scruff serve as a kind of fast food sex – it’s quick, easy and with no strings attached.” “It isn’t a physical addiction,” GMFA’s Matthew Hodson adds, “but lots of gay men experience it as an addiction, which you can see by the numbers who swear that they’re ‘giving up Grindr’ only to be back on it in a couple of days.” “I prefer to avoid the word ‘addiction’. It has too many differing definitions and connotations,” David Stuart of 56 Dean Street says. “I certainly think apps can be used compulsively. It’s no different from gambling: click the pretty buttons, some you win, some you lose. The reward centre of our brains gets a rush from this game.” “The apps are very convenient, very easy to use, and there’s always the hope that the next man you meet may be the one to make you happy,” Matthew continues, “whether that means a relationship or just mind-blowing sex. For many people, the hope of something better just around the corner keeps them coming back.” SCENE DAMAGE Although most agree that apps make it easer to meet people, some expressed concern about the impact these apps are having on the physical gay scene. “They have made it easier to meet people. They can put you in touch with a lot of people you wouldn’t otherwise meet, which is good,” says Matt from Brighton. “However, they take emphasis away from physical venues, which many people think has negatively affected the sense of gay community.” “It’s easier to meet for sex, but has impacted on the scene,” agrees Chris from Cardiff. “You see guys on them instead of actually talking to people that are in the club or bar.” “I think the reliance on apps to chat to people can be damaging,” adds Emmanuel from London. “An example is that people who see you in clubs wouldn’t say a word to you. However, you are sure to get a message from them afterwards on Grindr, saying they saw you last night.” “They’re a good way to chat with local guys,” says Chris from Chichester. “I think they’ve kinda destroyed the fun of flirting though, it’s too easy.” DANGEROUS “As with drugs and alcohol, the question is ‘who’s in control?’” GMFA’s Matthew Hodson says. “If you find your life is becoming unmanageable, that using apps is interfering with work, friends, or they’re not making you happy but you can’t stop using them, then these are signs that you’ve got a problem which you may need to address.” “It may not be as acutely damaging as drugs can be. There may not be an equivalent ‘rock bottom’, so to speak; but it can certainly affect our well-being, cause isolation, depression and anxiety,” agrees David Stuart of 56 Dean Street. “The potential problems lie with both the addiction to the app and the sex that men are having as a result,” adds Andre Smith of Positive East. “One of my clients told me recently that through Grindr he’d met up with and had sex with seven different guys in the course of one evening. Too much of what we may initially believe to be a ‘good thing’ will eventually start to have a negative effect on our ability to self-manage ourselves.” “Using an app isn’t dangerous in itself,” Matthew Hodson continues, “but the more sexual partners you have, the greater the chance that you’ll be exposed to HIV and other STIs. If your condom use is anything less than 100% you may be taking risks with your health or the health of your partner.” NECESSARY EVIL Many of those surveyed had positive reasons for using these apps – while simultaneously recognising various negatives. “It makes it really simple and easy for me to boost my confidence, something I lack,” says Greg from Manchester. “I think these apps have made it easier for me to talk to guys face to face,” agrees TJ from Leeds. “I have never picked up a guy in a bar or anything like that, I’ve only ever met men (for sex or dating) through these apps.” “They were a lifeline for me before I was out, providing really my only link to the gay community,” says Joe from York. “They’ve made sex a lot easier to find of course, but this has maybe made people more shallow.” “They do make meeting men easier and in a less intimidating environment than going up to men in bars,” says Matthew from London. “They are especially useful when going away on holiday to meet other gay men (not just for sex!). In London they are used a lot and frankly I’ve gotten a bit bored of the same men appearing and the focus on sex.” APP RAGEDespite the widespread use of these apps throughout Britain’s gay scene, many regular users have mostly negative things to say about them. Ian from London uses apps daily in search of everything from dates and a relationship to sex parties and chem sex. “Lots of people have lost the art of flirting and conversation,” he says. “I treat others and others treat me like a piece of meat.” “They have caused untold misery,” adds Tony from London. “Sex shouldn’t be this easy to get. It makes a mockery of anyone trying for more. It creates false, limited kinship. Worst of all, people sometimes stay on the apps WHILE YOU ARE HAVING SEX WITH THEM. Has sex-life improved? I guess if quantity over quality is the prerogative, then yes, it’s improved.” “I hate them,” says Paul from Brixton. “They’ve made meaningless sex easier but have made it next to impossible to find a meaningful relationship. People are rude, disrespectful and empty. A lot of people during certain times of the week are only looking for or offering drugs and bareback sex. It’s appalling. These apps are ruining the gay scene – opening a platform for gossip and social retardation. Even when people go out nowadays, they are constantly on Grindr or Scruff and all they do is talk about the profiles that they have open on their phones. From a sexual health standpoint, they spread disease and are highly addictive. I wish I could stop.” “Worst thing that could have happened to the gay scene,” agrees Andy from Brighton. It prevents people from meeting ‘the old fashioned way’ out in bars and clubs, and makes sex a sport as opposed to an intimate experience. After ‘app sex’ I tend to feel self-depreciated but do it usually when under the influence or just as a confidence boost.” “They’re no good at all for meaningful interaction,” says Drew from Cambridge. “I tend to see logging on to them as ‘falling off the wagon’ when I’m feeling isolated.”APPROPRIATE APP USAGE The majority (58%) of those surveyed think they use apps like Grindr and Scruff too much, and would like to use them less often – with 39% saying they use them about the right amount, and just 3% saying they wish they could use them more often. So how can we minimise or delete the apps from our lives? “The first step is often one of acceptance, or a willingness to admit to ourselves that we might have a problem,” Positive East’s Andre Smith explains. “The first question to ask yourself is how often am I using the app? If you can’t go longer than an hour or so without picking up your phone to check the app, then you’re very likely to have or be developing a problem.” “Health professionals can help, by addressing gay men’s sexual wellbeing,” agrees David Stuart of 56 Dean Street. “And gay men who use apps can simply keep a balance. Do the pros and cons exercise: if what you’re sacrificing through app play is entirely worth it... cool, carry on. But if it’s time to invest in your non-sexual, non-app social life, then invest in it. For your wellbeing’s sake.” Support – hooking up online GMFA and 56 Dean Street are teaming up to develop a workshop for gay men to help them to establish and maintain their own boundaries when using dating apps. The workshops will help you to identify what you’re actually looking for from your hook-up, and to communicate this in a sexy, confident way. For more information or to book a place on this course, email [email protected]. FS SAYS: 27% ADDICTED TO APPS There’s definitely a love/hate relationship between gay men and sex apps. One minute you’re chatting to a really nice guy who you might ask out on a date, the next message someone is inviting you over to shit on them. This is something we as gay men have just gotten used to. Looking through the results of our survey, the key things that we found were that 27% said they were addicted to these apps and the majority of gay men wanted to use them less. So how can you deal with your app ‘addiction’? The obvious thing anyone will tell you to do is to ‘delete them’. This is usually the wrong option as you are more than likely to re-install them two days later. The first thing you should do is look at why you use these apps and if you’re happy with the outcome of your time spent on the app. If you are happy with the way you use these apps, then you need to do nothing. If you’re, not then do something about it. "DO YOU BAREBACK?" Most gay men who have HIV caught it from getting fucked without a condom. As far as gay sex goes, getting fucked without a condom, and having your partner cum inside you, is the riskiest thing you can do. In 2012, 3,250 gay men were newly diagnosed with HIV. | To find out how risky fucking is, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/how-risky-is-fucking. “YOU CLEAN?” Where do we start with this one? Not only is asking someone if they are ‘clean’ extremely offensive (why? because you are saying that HIV-positive men are dirty) but it’s pretty pointless. The vast majority (about 80%) of gay men who become HIV-positive do so from having bareback sex with someone who doesn’t know they have HIV. So that guy who says he is HIV-negative, might not be. Use condoms and plenty of lube when having sex. Test for HIV and other STIs on a regular basis. It’s recommended you test at least once a year but if you partake in risky sex then you should test on a much regular basis. It takes HIV roughly four weeks to show up on a test. | To find your nearlest GUM clinic, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/clinics.