A new study shows that racism on hookup apps does real harm to mental health.
The research appears in the Archives of Sexual Behavior and is the result of a survey of over 1,000 men recruited from Grindr. The results showed that men of color who have sex with men “experienced significantly more race-based sexual discrimination” compared to white men who have sex with men.
In addition, researchers learned that “race-based sexual discrimination was significantly associated with lower self-esteem and, in turn, lower life satisfaction.”
Researchers noted there are some limitations to their findings. Notably, there were not enough respondents in racial subgroups for comparison. The data suggest that Latino, Middle Eastern, Indigenous/Pacific Islander, and multiracial participants experience significantly less discrimination than Asian and South Asian participants, which is consistent with other studies.
The results are in line with a 2015 report from researchers at New York University and the University of New South Wales in Sydney. That study encompassed a much smaller sample — just 14 people — but delved deeper with lengthy interviews, finding that sexual racism was a consistent component of online dating. While it was often expressed subtly, respondents reported that outright aggressive racism was not unheard of.
Dating apps are aware of this problem. In 2014, an OkCupid study found that white users were more likely to get messages, less likely to respond the messages from people of color, and more likely to question interracial marriage.
While these issues are true both for queer and straight users, Grindr has particularly faced criticism over the sexual racism problem on its app. In a 2015 study, researchers discovered that 15 percent users express racist preferences or discriminatory rhetoric in their profiles. White men are particularly likely to guilty of racism on apps.
That study found that men who were expressed sexual racism were also likely to express racist attitudes more broadly in their lives, which suggests that the justification of “it’s just a preference” actually masks more generally-held prejudice.
In other words, if someone’s a jerk on Grindr, they’re probably a jerk in real life, too.
Grindr users considered a class-action lawsuit against the company in 2018 over its failure to address systemic racism. The company attempted to respond to the issues of racism on its platform last year, unveiling an initiative called Kindr that encouraged users to be nicer to each other.
After rolling out videos for several weeks, the Kindr initiative does not appear to have been updated in the last year. Meanwhile, there’s no evidence that the campaign had any impact on user behavior.
Officially the app bans racist language, but as researchers found, bad behavior is still widespread.