Positive outcomes for gay men dating online

Gay dating and hookup apps and websites reach many men at risk of The project's goal is to maximize positive outcomes for all parties.
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After this initial session, two members of the team coded each remaining transcript independently and met subsequently to resolve any discrepancies between their codes. Throughout the coding process, the research team addressed questions and concerns that arose in regard to individual codes and amended the codebook accordingly.

After coding all 34 transcripts, each finalized version was entered into NVivo to allow for systematic extraction and reviewing of codes of interest. In the course of coding the interviews, the research team was struck by the richness of the narratives elicited as participants spoke about the formative nature of their initial experiences in the online world. We therefore used NVivo to create a subset of the data corpus to analyze these narratives more fully, guided by our theoretical questions regarding processes of identity formation and perceived risk.

We used thematic analysis to identify patterns in the data, which were then used to describe and interpret the dataset in greater detail.


Specific to the question of initial online dating experience, we asked participants to recall the age at which they first began dating online, in order to establish a temporal frame for these behaviors. The mean age of reported first experience is 17, with a range of years old. It is important to note, however, that all participants provided informed consent as adults 18 and over at the time of the interview.

Participants had been using the Internet to seek out partners for an average of five years at the time of the interview. In the course of our in-depth interviews, participants shared a variety of narratives recounting their initial online experiences exploring and utilizing dating and hookup websites. YGM used the Internet to seek out friendships, sexual partners, and romance. Access to the Internet meant access to dialogues and encounters rarely attainable in participants' face-to-face environments.

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Participants also found the anonymity afforded by online interactions particularly appealing. These interactions were opportunities to internalize and test out interpersonal scripts safely by removing the dangers of rejection and stigma. While validation and acceptance of one's sexuality were commonly touted as benefits of going online, YGM also described their disillusionment with what they deemed as an overtly sexual online atmosphere.

In addition, these young men contemplated the meaning of both the sexual and romantic relationships that evolved as a result of their nascent efforts. As they transitioned from online identity experimentation to the sexual, in-person consummation of these efforts, YGM expressed anxious uncertainty over their actions.

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With little sexual experience or confidence, they found that the scripts they had begun to refine in their initial online experiences were often insufficient for negotiating their needs and desires with sexual partners. Over time, however, armed with more experience partner-seeking and with sexual and romantic relationships, participants described their online interactions as increasingly self-determined. Having initially used these interactions to safely explore their sexual identities, participants now reflected these well-worn scripts to more reliably and comfortably fulfill their desires.

In sum, by seeking partnerships online, participants chose to engage in a process both fraught with disappointment and ripe for self-discovery. This process left them more knowledgeable about whom and what they were seeking online and, consequently, better positioned to pursue their romantic and sexual desires. In recalling their first instances of use, some participants granted that long before they met anyone in person, they had browsed various websites e.

Com, Manhunt, and DList. Others, however, went online initially with the express intention of meeting up with men from nearby areas. Certain elements particular to the online realm made it an appealing venue to search for romantic and sexual partners as YGM embarked upon their initial online dating experiences.

Participants told of the allure of discovering an atmosphere characterized by facility, freedom, safety, and control. Ryan 23, White, in a relationship summarized this experience, stating:. It [the Internet] basically created a safe way to explore that world without having to expose myself. I had a single room with an Internet connection. And within a few well-placed Google searches, I suddenly had access to other people that I can chat with anonymously, and sort of articulate and express ideas and desires that I would never be able to do in a social setting.

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The participants described the facility with which they were able to connect with or at least observe same-sex desiring men online. It's so much easier to meet gay people online, like, like-minded guys, because in the real world, a lot of times, I have to be pretty closeted, and I feel like the ratio of gay to straight…is definitely like maybe 1 to 9 or 1 to There's extremely small numbers.

And so, that definitely provides an outlet for everybody to get together and, you know, know that they're gay and know that you're gay, and then, you know, see if you can hit it off…. So, I felt like it was definitely a lot easier way of meeting other guys. YGM repeatedly made mention of the high level of anonymity afforded by online encounters. When asked what he liked about the first online dating sites he visited, Aiden 23, White, in a relationship replied:.

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Mostly that you can remain anonymous, almost entirely. Decide, you know, decide what you wanted to put on there, like stats and what you look like and stuff like that. You didn't have to put anything else on there. You could leave it entirely blank. Such anonymity created an atmosphere of safety and control, as young men were able to explore at a level that felt comfortable without having to divulge too much personal information.

Control over the type and amount of information that participants posted online meant that they could construct alternate identities, exploring different facets of themselves and the individuals they wished to be. With participants dating online for the first time at a mean age of 17, many of them did not meet the age requirement of some dating sites.

Rather than age acting as a barrier, young men reveled in the freedom that accompanied lying about one's age. Ryan 23, White, in a relationship exerted a higher level of control in order to feel safe, portraying himself as a different person entirely. I could enter into a conversation and either say as much of myself as I wanted or construct elaborate… false information. I used a pseudonym for the longest time. And — both out of security and not wanting to, you know, somebody asks a name and I don't, don't want to reveal it. But also just, again, sort of creating a persona that it was safe to explain with them.

At a period in their lives in which many of our participants were scrutinizing their own sexual feelings and desires, and often confronting a society that was less than accepting of them, freedom of expression in a safe, controlled environment was both refreshing and reassuring. Once they had begun dating online, YGM asserted that they benefited considerably from the connections made through websites and chat rooms. For many of them, these virtual networks were their first exposure to other men with same-sex desires.

This introduction was an affirmation that their feelings and attractions were not singular, but rather were shared by a multitude of people. I was feeling lonely. Pretty sure.

And a lot of curiosity. Furthermore, as Ethan's 24, White, single comments demonstrate, a critical element of these experiences was the newfound courage that arose in online interactions:. I felt like I wasn't alone. I felt I could actually talk to people. I mean, even if I couldn't get the guts to go out and talk to people, I felt like I had friends who understood, and I'd meet people not from Idaho in some of the chat rooms and just feel not alone.

In taking the next step and initiating communication, participants came to recognize that attention from other men was a source of validation and acceptance. For Winston 21, African American, single , the confidence boost was palpable:. You're so attractive. I can't — I want to lay with you.

I want to be with you. What can I do to pick myself up?

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Let me go online and, you know, hear all these men that, you know, want to have sex with me. I'm feeling pretty, I'm feeling much better about myself now.

While many youth portrayed their initial online dating experiences as generally affirming, in that they were discovering virtual spaces that not only accepted but celebrated their sexual desires and identities, they also made vivid remarks regarding the drawbacks of these experiences.

Participants candidly expressed their disillusionment with the culture of casual sex that they found online. Having just emerged from a long-term relationship, Caleb 22, White, single felt especially unnerved by the emotional disconnect he experienced when first going online to date:. I did dislike it because I found that everyone on the site was just looking for sex. And the relationship that I had just gotten out of was like a four-year relationship.