Swipe Right for Community: Using Women’s Hook-Up Apps to Create Inclusive Spaces


Hook-up apps, or what we prefer to call geo-social networking apps (GSNAs), are an increasingly popular way for women to meet other people for sex, dating, relationships, and more. Though many popular and academic accounts warn of the potential social detriments of the ubiquity of GSNAs, their potential to create divisions, promote the harassment of women, and produce inequalities, in the spirit of this year’s call for papers, we ask: can GSNAs also be a significant catalyst for the creation of inclusive and intimate communities for women?

To answer this question, we conducted narrative interviews with 15 self-identifying women. We employed a narrative interview style in order encourage participants to tell stories and focus on making sense of their interactions on GSNAs in relation to their gender and sexual identity. Triangulating inductive, thematic analysis of these interviews with historical research on the development of queer and heteronormative women’s spaces, we explore how these women use apps like Tinder, Bumble and Her to build intimate communities around their sexuality and gender. Rather than see these technologically-mediated forms of community-building as existing within a narrowly defined public sphere, we draw on the sociology of intimacy, and specifically the work of Lauren Berlant and Kenneth Plummer, to theorize them as sites of “intimate citizenship” where claims community are continuously contested and negotiated by our intimate desires.

Our findings show that while both queer and straight women use GSNAs to find sex, hook-ups, dates, and relationships, they are also central to building community, friendship, and sociality between women. We argue that for queer women, GSNAs help create intimate spaces and communities, especially in contexts where there are no queer women’s community spaces. In contrast, we argue that for straight women, GSNAs help strengthen their already existing networks and friendship and produce opportunities for open conversations about sex and dating in the digital age. We suggest that these findings complicate perspectives that see digital technologies as solely producing divisions and provide empirical evidence and theoretical frameworks for understanding how digital technologies like GSNAs can be mobilized toward the creation of inclusive, respectful, and reciprocal spaces.