Ever since hookup websites (and subsequently apps) became the way gay men play, lesbians have been asking, “Where’s our Grindr?” But perhaps the better question would be, do lesbians want to bang or just hang with friends? And if you build a women-seeking-women app, will they come?
Women have been saying they want to be able to hook up the way the guys do at least as far back as 2001, when Elizabeth Perlman complained on a website called The New Gay, “I certainly wouldn’t mind competing with the gays to take back my right to be a slut if it meant being a normal person who collects vagina photos on my cell phone.” The reality, however, is that while gay men quickly monopolize new technology to find the fastest way to get laid (remember those AOL chat rooms?), lesbians tend to use social media to be more, well, social. That means holding out for the first few dates anyway, in stark contrast to those gay men for whom “date” means “fuckfest this Friday.”
Last year, Grindr, far and away the preferred cruising app for gay men, introduced Blendr for heterosexual users. Grindr founder Joel Simkhai tells the Voice he “just didn’t see a big enough demand” for a female-only version.
Even so, a new wave of dyke entrepreneurs are attempting to lure visitors by offering more than just nearby potential bedmates. Women want more than just the location and stats Grindr provides. If they’re virtually cruising, it’s for “that perfect soulmate they can enjoy the high life with,” according to Nicola Chubb, co-founder of FindHrr. Like Grindr, FindHrr, GirlDar, Dattch, and the forthcoming Parlez use geolocation to enable users to find and connect with others users in their immediate vicinity. All begin with a non-paying tier; FindHrr, Dattch, and Brenda (a chat app) offer upgrades for extra functionality like sending videos.
Unlike Grindr, however, they all take pains to distance themselves from projecting an explicitly sexual vibe. Brenda even makes users confirm that they understand it’s not to be used as a sex app. Krysten Milne tells the Voice that when she was building GirlDar, she wanted to give lesbians who live outside the major urban centers a way to connect with each other. It never even occurred to her that these women might have only been looking for sex.
What’s true in the hinterlands, however, may also pertain to the big city, where, for now at least, women still prefer face time. None of the new apps have attracted the critical mass needed to make them cruisable. On a recent Wednesday evening, only 21 FindHrr users were online—all far from lesbian-centric Williamsburg. True, the app only launched in February. But compare the 8,000 total users on FindHrr, one of the more successful lesbian apps, to Grindr’s claim of an astonishing 844,785 in New York City alone. If true, that means 10 percent of Gothamites are men who, at one time or another, have taken the time to upload personal information in pursuit of man-on-man sex.
Even the very few women using these apps are more likely to equate intimacy with a relationship. “Women know it doesn’t only take a few hours to learn about another body,” xoJane UK writer Lisa Luxx tells the Voice. “Hookups are fun, but in my experience women, including myself, prefer to have incredible sex rather than average ‘wham, bam, and thank you ma’am’ sex.”
Diana Cage, author of Mind-Blowing Sex: A Woman’s Guide, feels that current apps don’t go far enough in allowing users to define sex roles. “I’m a femme lesbian who’s attracted to butch lesbians,” she says. “So if the person has long hair, earrings, and lipstick, I know we’re probably not going to hit it off.”
As Kristen Ford, of lesbian website Autostraddle, tells the Voice, one of the biggest problems looming over all such women-centric endeavors is the failure of a neutral technology to screen out men. Luxx was appalled when one Brenda user offered her several hundred dollars in an attempt to lure her into a lesbian sex show for her boyfriend.
It’s the same problem lesbian-for-lesbians porn has long had to deal with. In back rooms or online, gay men have never had to fend off advances from women, but straight men have long fantasized about sex with lesbians—and inevitably, male looky-loos act on their porn-fed desires and invade women-only turf, overwhelming and eventually turning away the women themselves.
The creep factor has already infested apps like Dattch: Founder Robyn Exton estimates that one in 10 users may be a man posing as a woman. For single women living alone, this presents far more than a mere nuisance. Male stalkers are a real threat to their personal safety. When giving out their location, women are naturally going to be far more cautious than men—who have their own safety issues.
The problem would appear to be intractable. FindHrr requires a photo, but has accepted a photo of a dog, which would seem to defeat the purpose. Exton requires an active Facebook account and said she has other security protocols to verify gender (transpersons self-identifying as women are welcome).
Even so, some women would still like more mystery than the TMI other lesbians require before even a coffee date. “Part of the fun was meeting someone who didn’t know me and who I knew very little about,” says Brooklyn attorney McCormack-Maitland, who tells the Voice she found her current partner online.
Some sex-positive lesbians believe they’ve located the real reason why so many of their sisters won’t try to hook up virtually: Sinclair Sexsmith, the blogger known as Sugarbutch, tells the Voice lesbians are often “deeply afraid” of making the first move. That’s why New York lesbian event producer Milly DuBouchet plans to offer talking points in her forthcoming Parlez to boost come-ons. “If an app came around that took away the awkwardness in lesbian hookups,” Sexsmith says, “it would help hundreds get laid.” ❤