Tinder is a popular dating app driven by the premise that relationships should be easy to fire up. Smartphone users are served a stream of images of available singles. Swipe-left to disregard. Swipe-right to show interest. If the same person counters and swipes-right back, a conversation is initiated. It is all driven by geographical vicinity, with the highest rates of connection being with users within one mile of each other.
And the app now has ten million active users each day.
Tinder’s popularity also raises many questions. Like how does swipe-liking the mere image of a potential mate fundamentally skew dating standards and expectations? And how will men engage dating relationships in a society where they are presented with a limitless digital harem of options from which to choose?
Love Me Tinder?
Even more fundamentally, I want to ask a more common question: What is Tinder useful for? Is Tinder really just a place to initiate a “casual sexual hookup,” as some suspect, or is it a platform where healthy, long-term relationships are sparked?
“This is a false dichotomy,” wrote one psychologist in his defense of Tinder. “As a psychological researcher who studies online dating, I believe that Tinder’s approach is terrific for pursuing casual sex and for meeting a serious relationship partner.”
If that sounds terribly confusing and potentially misleading, it is. “If you are on these dating apps, the game is different for men and women,” wrote one CNN commentator. “Men ‘rack up’ as many sexual partners as they can. Women try not to lose the person they’re ‘hooking up’ with. How can you possibly win a game with different rules? You can’t.”
The prime illustration of this Tinder confusion was a detailed, and graphically explicit, feature article published by a major periodical. In it, journalist Nancy Jo Sales quotes several Tinder users, including heartbreaking stories, like one young woman, who admitted, “I had sex with a guy and he ignored me as I got dressed and I saw he was back on Tinder.”
Stop and think about this for a moment.
So why would a man connect with a woman on Tinder, sleep with her, and then ignore her immediately as he turned his attention to the next object of his lust?
“I wondered if there could be a parallel to [feminist] Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth (1991),” writes Sales. “Wolf posited that, as women achieved more social and political power, there was more pressure on them to be ‘beautiful’ as a means of undermining their empowerment. Is it possible that now the potentially de-stabilizing trend women are having to contend with is the lack of respect they encounter from the men with whom they have sex? Could the ready availability of sex provided by dating apps actually be making men respect women less?”
And that gets at the question of huge importance: Does easy sex make men harsh?
The implied answer is yes — but why?
“Young women’s expectations of safety and entitlement to respect have perhaps risen faster than some young men’s willingness to respect them,” posits Stephanie Coontz, professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College. “Exploitative and disrespectful men have always existed. There are many evolved men, but there may be something going on in hookup culture now that is making some more resistant to evolving.”
Does easy sex make men harsh to women? Yes. But is this caused by an evolutionary lag in men? No. The real answers for why easy sex makes callous men is a compilation of four key biblical truths the church can re-claim and proclaim in the Tinder age.
1. Easy sex predates the digital age.
Easy sex roving local streets was a problem long before GPS technology in a smartphone could connect available partners in a city. Scripture tells us of the lure of such easy sex, offered by an alluring woman who walked the streets herself (Proverbs 2:16–19; 5:1–23; 6:20–35; 7:1–27; 9:13–18; 23:26–28).
It lures, not macho men, but gullible men, too ignorant to see it for what it was: a self-destructive lust trap.
2. Men (and women) who grab at easy sex are selfish.
Sexual idols are always manifestations of self-centered greed (Ephesians 5:3). And as manifestations of greed, sexual idolatry must always dehumanize the objects of lust.
Men, lured by the heart for the next moment of sexual ecstasy, necessarily objectify and degrade woman in the pursuit.
3. Easy sex is a killjoy.
The pleasure of sexual idols, like any idolatry, is strangled by the law of diminishing returns. Lust cannot satisfy the heart for long, as Solomon learned as he filled his life with hundreds of partners (Ecclesiastes 2:8). At the end of the experiment, his soul was numb and empty to the pleasures of life. Whatever he thought was gained only worked to further empty his soul. Easy sex grew dissatisfying.
Limitless sexual partners empties life of the pleasure being pursued.
4. Women should be cherished.
The desire of women to be loved, appreciated, and treasured by a worthy man is not the byproduct of advanced evolution, but God’s good design for women to image to the world the delight of the Bride as the object of the self-giving love of Christ (Ephesians 5:25–33). The divine drama of the ages proves that yes, a man should cherish a woman.
The Bible goes so far as to employ unblushing language to show one bride who was truly prized and cherished as she ought to be, as is proper and fitting (Song of Solomon 2:4–5).
This one bride “has received public affirmation and acclaim, and she wears her husband’s love like a banner,” notes author Carolyn McCulley. “Instead of insecurity or disappointment, this woman revels in her status. She is no hookup casualty or discarded sexual partner. She is celebrated and prized — and intoxicated with her husband’s sexual attention. This is the message that young women today need to hear. God’s original design for sex is still the best” (Radical Womanhood, 181).
This is a timely message our society is desperate for young men to heed. Marriage is the best place for a woman to be cherished by a man.
Men will always lust after women they don’t respect. The challenge is for a man to learn to respect women as fellow heirs of eternal life, and as queens of heaven, and in that respect to seek a wife who he can love and cherish.
That is the glorious work of grace Tinder hookups will never foster. It is a glorious work that truly Christian singles aspire to, as they broadcast their new values and affections to a lost world who needs to see a better way than the misleading and damaging and heart-callousing hookup culture digital apps make more convenient than ever.
What was true before dating apps will remain true until the end of time. A man is called to seek out sexual expression in a covenant intimacy with one cherished woman, his wife. Sin will always complicate this aim, but the blood of Christ will indeed make such relationships possible, and exquisite. The plan is not prudish, but another marvelous branch of a beautiful design by the Creator to manifest the glory of his Son to the world.