In Online Dating, Orientation May Be SecondaryS

A dating site claims a significant portion of its straight users are actually messaging people of the same sex. That's more evidence that the way people identify themselves online doesn't necessarily describe what they do.

In a press release, UK dating site FlirtFinder reports that 8% of its male users who list themselves as straight have messaged gay men on the site. And 7.6% of straight-identified female users have messaged lesbians. To his credit, FlirtFinder managing director Justin Battell notes that even straight-identified people could have same-sex attractions from time to time: "it may be that sexuality cannot be clearly defined as gay or straight and is much more of a spectrum." No shit. He also speculates that online dating might help people who aren't ready to come out dip a toe in the same-sex dating world:

This type of dating platform allows users to get experimental without the risk of any potential embarrassment or rejection. If you're curious about your sexuality it's much easier to send someone a quick message online than pluck up the courage to meet with them face-to-face straight away. Mobile dating gives people a breed of confidence that isn't always present in day-to-day life.

Online dating offers more than confidence, though. It could also let folks who aren't out in their day-to-day lives message potential same-sex partners secretly. FlirtFinder didn't follow up with any of these folks (for understandable reasons) to find out if they were experimenting or actually on the downlow. Interestingly, their study isn't the only one to find discrepancies between online identification and behavior. Last year, OkCupid found that the majority of users who identified as bisexual actually messaged just one gender. Younger bi-identified men were more likely to message only men, while by the age of 55, 75% of bi-identified guys messaged only ladies. For bi-identified women, the results were more consistent across all ages — about 40% of them messaged only dudes, and the same percentage only women. A commenter named Rose had a lot of ideas for why this might be:

The straight people who make up the Okcupid staff may not know this, but the same-sex dating scene is small. I live in a large, very gay city, and it's small FOR ME. I can't imagine what it's like for people in less popular, less queer-friendly areas. It makes sense statistically, since only 10% of the population is interested in the same sex. So there are a lot of bi people, including myself, who signed up to use Okcupid specifically to find dateable people of the same sex. If you're a straight person and you have difficulty finding someone you like who also likes you, imagine how much harder that would be if your dating pool was 10 times smaller than it is.

On the opposite end, part of that may be because if you're looking for both sexes, since there are more straights than queers out there the vast majority of your matches will be people of the opposite sex. So bi people who mostly message opposite-sex matches may only be doing that because that's what the site is giving them. It's why I have myself looking just for "girls who like girls," even though I'm open to guys as well, because girls are why I signed up for the site and I don't get that many if I'm looking for both guys AND girls. And as others have mentioned, there's the problem with people in the gay community who are biphobic and refuse to date bisexuals, further reducing the already-small same-sex dating pool. I know this is a huge problem for bi girls looking to date lesbians, but from what I've heard many gay men won't date bi men either.

What all this illustrates is that people's online dating habits may not say that much about their preferences, and vice versa. Also, people come to online dating for a lot of reasons — to experiment, to meet people outside of their usual dating pool, to date secretly, to gain more control over who approaches them. And they may date online differently than they would in the real world. Dating sites could learn something from this: for one thing, they shouldn't overemphasize stated sexual orientation. Rose writes,

I'm not really sure how Okcupid can say they're not being judgmental of our orientation, but then they list "I'm bisexual" as one of the "lies people tell" on dating sites. Um, yeah, you're being judgmental.

An important step to making your customers comfortable is to recognize that they might be using your product in unexpected ways — and help them do so without being judged.

Eight per cent of straight men check out gay dating profiles online [FlirtFinder]

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