Grasping Grindr – an uncut deep dive into online gay hook-ups

The online queer world can be a daunting thing to penetrate. Messy speaks to avid Grindr users to find out how to have a smooth ride on the app, so things don’t get hairy.

“Oh god. I’m about to meet up with this complete stranger. To have sex.”

Alex was 18, and on a street in Southport waiting to meet the first person he would sleep with off Grindr. It was 2017, and he was looking for the car belonging to a man he’d been messaging for all of a few hours. 

“The feeling is very, very vulnerable.”

He’d only had sex two or three times before. He was nervous, excited, daunted, all in one. But the night went well, and the mystery man was really nice. Now seven years later, ‘Alex’, a hospitality worker who wanted to remain anonymous, is now 25 and has met with around 200 people off the app. 

He’s just one of Grindr’s 13 million active monthly users.

Grindr isn’t all about waiting for a shag at the side of a road. But it is the granddaddy of dating apps, celebrating its crystal anniversary this year. That’s 15 years for anyone scared of commitment.

So if you’re a baby gay pressing download on that intimidating yellow masked icon yourself, or you’re just intrigued about the wild and Messy world of online gay hookups, here’s what you need to know.

The ‘Bear’ Necessities

Let’s get one thing straight, Grindr isn’t So don’t expect to meet the love of your life at the press of a button. It brands itself as a ‘gay networking’ app but it’s undoubtedly focused on casual hookups. In reality: “There is an underlying, kind of like, you know what this is for”, says Alex.

It also vastly differs from its stepbrothers Tinder, Hinge and Bumble. There’s no matching by swiping right. Or sending virtual roses. Or writing personality prompts. Instead, the app is based on immediacy and location.

It’s one big grid of mostly topless torsos ranked by distance away to the metre: closest at the top, and the furthest away at the bottom.

Chris, a 25-year-old junior doctor from Manchester, has only met with a handful of people from Grindr, but he’s spoken to hundreds of men on the app. 

He says what makes Grindr unique is that anyone has a direct line to message you. Anyone can speak to you at any time and, like a virtual glory hole, this can be anonymous if they wish.

Chris says: “People may think that’s negative, but a lot of people who use that app would view it as a positive, that there aren’t really any boundaries.” 

But is there a ‘gAy – B’ on how to act on Grindr? Chris says everyone approaches it differently: “I don’t think there is any etiquette, but I would just say that you act how you want to be acted to.

“If you don’t want to be receiving random nudes, don’t pop up with random nudes.”

Alex says honesty is always the best policy when on the Grindr, and says whether you’re skinny, toned, or overweight, it’s important to be genuine about who you are.

You might be surprised to hear that almost everyone lists their HIV status on their profile, and whether they’re on preventative medication PrEP. This isn’t the same barrier to dating as it once used to be, and the app encourages open conversation about the virus.

Alex warns not to use the word ‘clean’ when describing your status, whether about HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.

“I’ll always call someone out for saying they’re clean,

“I’ve caught gonorrhoea and chlamydia three times each. That doesn’t mean I’m dirty. I was just sex positive.”

Grindr is also filled with gay slang. Queer readers might be more familiar with jargon such as ‘Bussy’ or ‘Twunk’ but profiles filled with the abbreviations ‘CNC’ or ‘BB’ can initially be overwhelming for anyone navigating this online space. 

Perhaps you didn’t know ‘BBC’ doesn’t just refer to a certain broadcaster. Fear not, Alex points out these are all definable by a quick Google search.

Just maybe delete your browsing history afterwards.

Alternatively, Alex says it’s sometimes best to just ask if you don’t know what someone is on about. Building up knowledge of this queer thesaurus takes time. 

“Or watch Drag Race. That’s good for stuff like that”, he recommended.

‘Twinking’ it all Through

When using Grindr, Alex says it’s important to remember you can withdraw your consent at any time. He says he once invited someone round to his flat who wasn’t honest about what he looked like, and Alex wasn’t attracted to him.

“I was on all fours, and I just turned round to him and said I don’t think we connect sexually.”

Alex says to remember: “This is quite literally a stranger from the internet.

“You can block them and go home.”

Alex warns that situations can get weird on Grindr, and there are a lot of catfishes on the app.

He says a huge red flag to look out for is when profile pictures are blurry or look like they could have been screenshotted from somewhere else. 

To stay safe, he says always tell someone else where you’re going, and: “If you need an Instagram handle or Snapchat from someone, because you feel like that will validate their identity, get it.”

Madison McCullough is an LGBTQ+ focused psychotherapist based in New York City. According to her, communication on Grindr is key to looking after yourself mentally.

“Being really clear about it, like, ‘hey, these are my boundaries’, is important.

“Also, the communication in your profile. The clearer you can be about what you’re looking for, I think the better experience overall you’re just likely to have.”

Madison recommends that checking in with yourself is crucial. Whilst this might be a struggle for you high libido legends, she says taking breaks from the app, and talking situations through with others, can stop Grindr getting all too much.

“It’s a whole new world. And it’s important to have support.”

Grindr may not be the immediate answer to finding a husband, but Alex and Chris do say the app can lead in different directions than just a one way ticket to hookup-ville.

Chris remembers ignoring a man on Grindr for a while, but eventually decided to invite him round. “He came over, then he ended up not leaving for three days. And before we knew it, I was in a two and a half year relationship with this guy.”

For Alex, he met one of his closest friends on Grindr seven years ago. “We did do stuff, and we had sex. But then we ended up moving in together and it was completely platonic. 

“It still is. I’m going for a drink with him later today.”

Written by Robin Hibbs

For more articles about relationships and all their complexities, visit our ‘friends, family and flings’ page.