These studies show that using Tinder meets a variety of psychological needs, beyond the obvious ones relating to dating and sex. Tinder can also be used to fulfill more general social needs. Both studies showed that the trendiness and excitement of the app were larger drivers of its use than motivations that relate to what most users believe to be its purpose (dating, sex). It can also help to fulfill our needs for self-worth. Receiving matches on Tinder can be an ego boost. On the other hand, not receiving matches could damage self-worth, and in fact, LeFebvre found that lack of success on Tinder, including not receiving matches, was one of the main reasons users quit the app. 1
In LeFebvre’s qualitative study, 77 percent of the respondents indicated that they had met a match in person at some point, with the average participant reporting 4.58 offline meetings with matches. And in fact, 37 percent reported that a Tinder date led to an exclusive dating relationship. What about those infamous hookups? Well, these participants did do plenty of hooking up. Of those who met a Tinder match in person, only 21.8 percent indicated that they had never hooked up. Another 12.6 percent said they had hooked up but it didn’t involve sexual intercourse and another 65.6 percent said their hookups did involve sexual contact. In addition, the average number of hookups reported by the participants was just above three.
Participants in the Dutch study seemed to be less successful on Tinder. Slightly fewer than half of the participants (45.5 percent) had gone on an offline date with a match, and 18.6 percent reported having had a one-night stand. This rate is much lower, but other data from this study indicates that these participants were overall less active on the app than the participants in LeFebvre’s study.
You might also be wondering how Tinder users’ motives for using the app relate to their actual use of the app. LeFebvre’s qualitative data couldn’t really address this question, but Sumter and colleagues were able to examine the association between Tinder use motives and participants’ likelihood of going on a Tinder date or having a Tinder hookup. 2
Those who were looking for love or casual sex were more likely to go on Tinder dates. Not surprisingly, the more that participants indicated casual sex as a motive for using Tinder, the more likely they were to have a one-night stand with a Tinder match. Those who used Tinder as a way to boost their feelings of self-worth were less likely to have a one night stand. Interestingly, those who used Tinder because it seemed like an easier way to meet people were actually less likely to go on dates with Tinder matches. Perhaps these individuals were especially likely to be shy and thus ultimately didn’t follow through with their Tinder matches.
Returning to the question that began this post, is Tinder really a hookup app? Yes and no. Tinder-initiated hookups are quite common, but the notion that Tinder is primarily about hookups is overstated. Tinder users are more likely to be seeking relationships than casual sex. Moreover, dating and sex are not the main reasons that many people are using Tinder.
These two studies give us a window into the motives of Tinder users, but ultimately it’s hard to generalize the findings. As I pointed out, the actual dating and hookup experiences of the two samples of participants differed considerably. So which experience is closer to that of the typical Tinder user? It’s hard to definitively say without surveys that seek out a representative sample of Tinder users. Nonetheless, both studies suggest that much of Tinder’s popularity is, ironically, due to its popularity. This may not be the best news for those who really do use Tinder to look for love or sex, as they may find that their matches don’t take the app very seriously and aren’t as interested in following through.