There May Never Be a Good Dating App for Lesbians — Here's Why


I've tried dating apps everywhere from Karachi to New York City. But I gave up my sapphic romantic pursuits on hookup apps a while ago. Whether it was configuring mainstream apps like Tinder to look for women who like women or using straight-up lesbian dating apps like Her (formerly Dattch), online dating was simply not worth my time. 

I'm not the only gay woman who feels this way. Most of the queer women I know have deleted dating apps from their phones after finding them equally frustrating, not to mention overwhelming. 

"It's like consumer paralysis. Knowing you want a toothbrush but then walking into a Wal-Mart and you don't even know where the toothbrush section is, and then you're in the camera section, and then you're holding a DVD copy of Crossroads," Sara*, a woman in her twenties, told Mic about Tinder.

Why isn't there something better out there for gay women? 

Tsering Topgyal/AP

"Hi, sexy...into straight couples?": While developers have created a version of Tinder for pretty much everyone, from farmers to dogs to Israelis and Palestinians, there has yet to be a Tinder for lesbians that's really caught on. 

That might have to do with the fact that many Tinder-inspired apps are structured around what's typically considered a male-oriented approach to attraction. "With these apps, we're looking at a model of male sexuality — they're very visual," Sara said. 

The stereotype that men are inherently more "visual" than women may actually have some truth when it comes to sexual attraction. A study on gendered responses to stimuli published in the Archive of Sexual Behavior demonstrated that men "responded more to visual sexual stimuli than did women" and that "women discriminated less in their responses" to said stimuli. Swiping through a bunch of duckface selfies super fast certainly qualifies as "visual sexual stimuli."

But it's not just about the users themselves. Mainstream apps like Tinder don't serve the queer population very well, from poor filtering to the lack of nuanced categories.

"There often isn't a category for genderqueer individuals, for example, and the codified structure of these apps tend to be more heteronormative," Taylor Hatmaker, a queer woman and technology editor for the Daily Dot, told Mic. Lesbians also use subcategories when it comes to their aesthetic appearance, such as "butch" and "femme" These labels help gay women navigate the dating world, but they're noticeably absent on apps like Tinder. 

Lesbian women on Tinder also constantly face the ever-pleasant "Hi, sexy... into [straight] couples?" inquiry from men on the app, in part because Tinder doesn't adequately filter matches for women seeking women. Hatmaker said that when this happens, "the app is no longer a safe space for these women" and therefore isn't conducive to the sapphic prowl.  

Claudio Reyes/Getty Images

Why we'll never have a Grindr for lesbians: Given Tinder's failings as a dating app for gay women, the obvious solution would be to create a version of Tinder exclusively for lesbians. But while apps like Her and Scissr have been described as "Grindr for lesbians," such comparisons are apples and oranges, given the vast cultural differences between the gay and lesbian communities. 

Adele*, a queer woman and social work student, hypothesizes that gay male culture operates differently due society's distinct expectations about male sexuality, such as the stereotype that men are inherently more sexual or "promiscuous" than women. That might make it more socially acceptable for men to use apps like Grindr to find casual hookups, she theorized to Mic.    

But in the lesbian community, "there's more of an allowance for women to be intimate and relationship-oriented," she told Mic. A culture of slut-shaming and policing of female sexuality also explains "why some queer woman are more hesitant to meet up for a casual sexual encounter." 

In sum, the way queer women date isn't necessarily conducive to the swipe-happy, visually based format of most dating apps. "Women aren't looking for a 'Hot or Not'," Her founder Robyn Exton wrote in a press release last March. "They want to chat and meet up, make friends, meet girlfriends, find events." That's not something that's easy to find on most hookup apps. 

Matt Sayles/AP

Breaking out of the swiping cycle: That aside, the main reason why we're still waiting for a lesbian Tinder is simply because dating app developers are overwhelmingly straight, male and white, meaning there are still few options for anyone who doesn't fit into those categories. 

"Above all, there's a universality of a heteronormative dating experience" on apps, Sara told Mic. By promoting traditional gender roles or only allowing users to identify as cisgender, virtual dating platforms make it easy for straight people to navigate the dating world, but not necessarily everyone else. 

"How a queer person relates to gender as a structure is probably different to how a straight person does," Sara opined. "So these boxes and categories, when it comes to identifying who you are and what you're interested in, don't always really work for people who aren't heterosexual." Because once you break out of the social orthodoxes, things aren't as neat and tidy as they might seem on Tinder.

* Names have been changed to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.