The great white whale of the dating and sex app market will go to whoever can figure out a way to change hundreds of years of gender dynamics and get women to want and ask for casual sex with random people. Every brilliant mind who has passed through Silicon Valley and has a gay friend has had the following conversation: "Let's create a dating app" "Why, there are dozens already?" "Well ours will be different because it'll be like Grindr but for women!" "Cool plan!" And the latest addition to that pile is a dating app named Pure that is currently waiting for its iTunes Store stamp of approval.
Pure isn't strictly for women; it's really for people who want casual sex but don't want the bullshit of Craigslist or the hours it takes to online flirt with someone on OkCupid. (Or in their words: "The fastest way to find more frequent and diverse sex.") But it does make use of many of the features of its fellow dating and sex apps. Pure users input what their gender is and what genders they're interested in. The app organizes people by where they are located and whether they want to go meet someone or want someone to come to them. Like Bang with Friends, it only shows users who have mutually acknowledged that they find each other attractive. And like Snapchat, all information on that person disappears after an hour. For its simplicity, New York magazine called Pure part of a rise of "minimalist" apps.
In their manifesto, founders and "pomosexuals" (people who reject labels concerning their sexual orientation) Roman Sidorenko and Alexander Kukhtenko have written that they think huamn sexuality is much more open than the way its traditionally considered:
We believe it's natural for someone to feel a powerful sense of attachment to a long term partner while feeling intense romantic love for somebody else and at the same time, feeling sexually attracted to a diverse range of people.
We would like it to be all about exploring different dynamics with different people — sexual, emotional, psychological and spiritual.
Government, society, and religion have oppressed human sexuality in the past and continue to do so to this day. It's time to make a radical change and give people back the joy of a regular and diverse sex life.
We are certain that gender, sexual activities, or the number of participants in sexual relations should not be externally regulated. Some people are looking for just one partner, while others want to explore and enjoy.
This free love way of life is made clear in their first ad, an artful, slightly NSFW video that depicts a complicated New York City relationship, about a presumably typically monogamous couple going through a rough spot. The pair is brought back together by literally bringing another woman into the picture, using (cue orgasm face and and a breathy scream of yes!) Pure.
In an interview with Salon, founder Sidorenko said he spent two years talking to women in San Francisco about whether they'd be receptive to an app that was just about sex:
“The idea that they could express their sexual desires how they want and without any shame and judgment — most of the girls liked the idea.” Well, sure, in theory — but what about in reality? He acknowledges that “there are a lot of ideas in our society about how a woman should behave sexually,” and says, “I personally realize that it’s gonna be tough mission just to get woman into it.”
Sidorenko added that location-based apps like Tinder and Blendr are too general and leave too much room for individuals getting matched up with people who they might not be on the page page with. Despite Pure's lack of gender specificity in their marketing or approach, like many apps before them, they seem to be attempting to capitalize on the idea that communication is a bigger problem for women, and that it's women who are frustrated with not getting what they want out of dating apps, far more so than men.
This "need" is based on the general consensus that that's because it's women for whom dating and sex has always been more treacherous; on the internet and in life, men and women haven't moved far away from the predator/prey dynamic. And with the anonymity of the online experience, to some women, it can feel like the only options out out there are predators.
Just ask Danielle*, who was a user of the actually-not-a-dating-app Whisper. Whisper is, in Danielle's words, "like an instantaneous version of PostSecret where you can anonymously post your deepest and darkest secrets."
Danielle says that every time she'd post something, she'd "get spammed by a million horny guys looking to hook up":
I live in Cincinnati, OH, and so whenever I would post an secret such as, "I'm so sad that my friends are leaving for grad school today" or "I feel too old to be scared of the dark" I would get bombarded with messages from guys in the greater Cincinnati area. The one about being scared of the dark got a lot of private messages. One guy messaged me, "Hey, I'm only 15 miles away. I can come cuddle with you. Send me a picture of yourself" to which I responded, "Umm...I'm definitely not going to send you a picture of myself. We haven't even had a conversation and I like being anonymous." Instead of being discouraged he responded, "Oh, I don't need to see your face in the picture." Needless to say, I did not respond. Other guys just messaged me nude pictures of themselves. A few just wanted to ask about my sexual fantasies, which really didn't make sense. I had a few propositions about whether or not I wanted to role play 50 shades. The hilarious thing to me is that these guys have no idea who I am. I happen to be a moderately attractive 21 year old female, but for all they know, I could be a 40 year old obese man in his mother's basement.
Danielle quit using Whisper because she got frustrated with all the messages and felt like it "just cultivated Anthony Weiner-esque behavior":
It feels to me like it is just perpetuating the male sense of sexual entitlement. If these guys want to see pictures of boobs, all they have to do is google that. Instead, they choose to ask random girls they'll likely never meet. I think there might be something about this experience that gives them a sense of power. Now, just for the record, I'm no prude. If people want to send nude pics to each other, I don't care. Still, it annoys me that I can't use this app without being propositioned since I don't really have any desire to take nude pictures of myself or have a one-night stand.
In some regard, Danielle's spammy exchanges with these random guys aren't far off from spamming of a traditional kind that's been reported to be a problem with apps like Tinder: they're hopefully ultimately just annoyances, but they come with real potential danger. At least, that's how they feel to the women who receive them and don't want them. So the idea of Pure, while perhaps not amenable to someone like Danielle (who isn't looking for that kind of relationship via an app or in real life) makes sense in theory. The power has always been in the hands of women to accept and reject the men coming onto them, so the idea that women are somehow supposed to become full and active participants in that process, while not a new one, is more daunting than even the founders of Pure and every other dating app are probably willing to admit.
For many women, in order to want to use Pure, they'd have to get over the hump of being sick of being harassed to have casual sex with men they aren't even remotely interested in on the street and online. In that regard, that's a barrier far too high for Pure or any other dating and sex app to leap alone. Something like Pure won't be able to heal hundreds of years of social relationships. The closest it'll probably get is acting as a salve.
*not her name