'Her,' the Lesbian Grindr, Has Nothing to Do with Casual Sex

Beyond some very basic similarities, Her isn’t actually anything like Grindr.

|
Nov 10 2015, 4:00pm

Image: Her

Gay hookup app Grindr launched in March 2009, and ever since, entrepreneurs have been trying to find a way to port that magical experience of semi-anonymous, tech-enabled sex to other demographics. After a few false starts, Tinder has established itself as the go-to app for the straight set, and now queer women have an app of their own: Her.

Except that, beyond some very basic similarities, Her isn't actually anything like Grindr. Originally launched as lesbian dating app Dattch, the app pivoted earlier this year, unveiling both a new name and a new mission. While Grindr is about finding gay men who are right by you, right now, Her's objective is the more long-term focus of helping connect queer women to community, a goal the app achieves more through the sharing of articles than of body fluids.

It's tempting to read this as a story about men versus women, but at its heart, Grindr vs. Her is more a tale of the limits of tech. We often view technology as a magical fix capable of creating behavior. With the right app, we think, we'll exercise more, and eat right, and be more productive, and get one click access to unlimited, on demand sex. But even the best app can't overcome decades of social conditioning, and for women who've been trained to see anonymous sex as a recipe for danger and disaster, a slickly designed app isn't enough to completely change their behavior.

Image: Her

The rebranding that occurred in the transition from Dattch to Her offers an interesting lesson in the social side of tech. While Dattch was about finding women to date, Her is about finding women, period: whether they end up as friends, fucks, or something in between. In addition to profiles and messaging, Her offers users access to a curated selection of lesbian-themed news items (which users can comment on and share) and lists of local events. The vibe is more salon than meat market; tellingly, Her's branding labels it a "social" app rather than a dating one.

It's not prudery on the part of Her's developers that's led to this shift. Her founder Robyn Exton (who, like many dating app creators, found inspiration for Her's launch in her own romantic struggles) originally intended the app to have a narrower, sex and dating specific focus. In the beginning, she assumed that some Grindr-like features would be just as appealing to women as they are to men. But experience has taught the Her team that that's not actually what the majority of women (well, the ones using Her, anyway) want—even when they profess otherwise.

Although a number of Her users have requested geolocation and other features that would enable immediate meetups, when presented with the option, they don't actually make use of it.

"There's a big difference between what people think they want, and what they actually want, and what their behavior shows that they want," Exton said. While users might express an interest in technology that'll facilitate instant sex, that interest often seems to be more about fantasy than reality. When pressed, even users making the feature request often reveal that casual sex isn't something they regularly engage in, a significant difference from Grindr users, many of whom were getting it on in bar bathrooms and at The Black Party long before Grindr had its first download.

If a significant number of queer women wanted a Grindr-like experience, they wouldn't need an app to enable it

There are certainly women who use Her to find their next hook up, but Exton's discovered that many of them are more comfortable seeking out dates in a social environment, where it's easy to strike up a conversation. "It's literally the exact opposite of Grindr," Exton notes. While the gay app places priority on immediate in person meeting, Her's much more focused on building trust among users, trust that will, hopefully, eventually enable an in person meeting.

It's impossible to say whether it's nature or nurture that's led to these different dynamics, but it's clear that Her has definitely struck a chord among queer women. It certainly appeals to users like Danielle Trent, who found the app through an article on Jezebel. Trent says she "was drawn to the fact that it was women only... it seemed like a place where I could more definitely find a pool of women interested in dating women without having to wade through things like couples looking for a third," and, she hoped, with "more women willing to send the first message."

These days, Trent checks the app about once a week, and though she's yet to make the leap from online messaging to in person meetups, she appreciates the queer community that Her provides her with.

Grindr didn't invent gay male hookup culture. It just made it much, much easier for would-be fuckers to find their way to instant, semi-anonymous sex. If a significant number of queer women wanted a Grindr-like experience, they wouldn't need an app to enable it: they'd already be trolling for sex at the bars and sex parties set up to facilitate this experience. A true "Grindr for girls" isn't a question of tech. It's a question of completely overhauling the way that women are taught to think of sex and intimacy.