How Much Have Dating Apps Changed Sexual Mores?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Last week, Olga covered a data release from OkCupid in which the company compared responses they received from users in 2005 to those collected in 2015:

Though not as rigorous as a truly random survey, the data hint at changing views of sex, love, and gender norms among online daters in the U.S. Surprisingly, OkCupid found that people have become more sexually conservative in certain ways. For example, fewer people now say they would have sex on the first date.

One reader doesn’t think we should draw any broad conclusions:

This data could just be reflecting the changing dynamics of OkCupid. That app, Plenty of Fish, Tinder, JDate, Christian Mingle, and eHarmony all have specific demographics they target and base their advertising on appealing to those demographics. A decreased number of OKC members willing to sleep with someone on the first date could just mean OKC has surrendered that market to PoF and Tinder, rather than indicating anything about the habits of Millennials generally.

This reader is on the same page:

Online dating has become much more mainstream in the last 10 years.

So it’s much more likely that rather than this data showing that people’s sexual mores have become more conservative, we’re really just seeing the online dating pool become more representative of the general population’s dating pool.

Also, as far as gays go, it’s important to remember that gay men use other apps for sex. For gays, OkCupid is about finding people to date—not hook up with—so of course it’s going to skew toward looking like more gays have conservative sexual mores. For what it’s worth, as a gay living in NYC, I have never—not once in 10 years—met a gay man categorically against sleeping with someone on a first date.

That reader’s point about online dating becoming much more mainstream is punctuated by Rob’s piece last week showing that the percentage of online daters between the ages of 18 and 24 has tripled in the past two years. This reader makes another key point:

The answers OkCupid collects are self reported, basically under duress. You know your answers are going to be seen by potential mates, and that skews them towards “what you want others to think about you.”

For more reader discussion along these lines, check out this Notes thread of people talking about how online dating “saved their lives.” Contribute yourself via And there’s a free-wheeling sex discussion among readers in this moderated forum if you’re interested. One writes:

I don’t think people have changed all that much in their thoughts on sex generally. I think we’ve changed the way we talk about it. Talking about it has become less and less taboo.

Such talking applies to messaging as well, as this reader can attest to:

I just got an OKC message that said “Excuse me if I’m being forward but do you want to fuck.” And so it goes. Also, I will not be fucking that guy this weekend.

But I do enjoy a good one-night stand.