Until very recently, the ready capacity to find completely anonymous sexual partners, willing to hook-up for sex without any kind of relationship connection, was mainly the dubious privilege of gay men, rather than most heterosexuals. While straight men have always been able to hire prostitutes, go to strip clubs and hit on women met in bars and clubs, these were either paid anonymous experiences or ones that left the straight casual sex seeker at risk of either being rejected or of being asked for an unwanted, longer-term connection to extend beyond the sexual act itself.
Outside of early adult experimentation and the occasional bachelorette party, healthy women most often want some degree of conversation and relational connection prior to sex or at least after –“buy me a drink,” “let’s go to a movie first,” “when can we meet again,” etc. This issue has been the key stumbling block for those straight men seeking anonymous sex with women.
Gay men on the other hand, because their sexual partner choice was male and men in general are wired to have an easier time being sexual outside of relatedness than most women, have nearly always been able to hook-up with anonymous sex partners found in parks, bathhouses, sex-clubs and tea-rooms without having to first buy them a drink, take them to dinner, pay for the sex act or even hold a conversation. This was the essence of gay cruising.
Today, anyone (gay, straight or anything in-between) who loads up their smartphone with sex-locator apps like Ashley Madison, Grinder or Adult-Friend-Finder, which are simple programs designed to help users to find available, geographically desirable sex partners in the same way you might locate a nearby Italian restaurant, can find and have sex with anonymous partners literally without having to speak to them, engage emotionally, personally or financially.
For gay men, applications like Grinder may foretell the end of anonymous sexual cruising in public places like parks and restrooms, as they are an easier, safer and more reliable way to sexually hook-up. More reliable too as the app user has already located, texted and made arrangements with a potential partner — who also has their app open and is actively looking for sex. So it follows that heterosexual men can now hook-up with women for sex only — without having to face the challenge of dating, conversation, paying for it, potential rejection or being discovered cheating by a spouse — should one also be in the picture.
Apps like Ashley Madison, “Life is Short, Have an Affair,” being their slogan, have over 9 million members worldwide and are changing the landscape of unpaid recreational sex – making the idea of hitting on someone at a bar seem as quaint as a thank you note. Why go down to the hotel lobby or café to find someone to hit on when traveling on business – when you use your smartphones’ friendly sex-locator app from the safety of your hotel room and line up a sex a date as readily as ordering room service?
Relationship fidelity issues aside, it will be interesting to follow how heterosexual men handle their newfound privilege. The gay culture’s history of anonymous cruising often ended up in arrests, disease transmission, personal injury, learned patterns of addictive behavior and a whole lot of sleep deprived nights on the town. We have yet to determine if heterosexuals will fare better, but somehow I have a feeling that for a lot of people this is going to cause a whole lot of problems. And let’s not forget all those women out there, also apparently adapting and opening themselves up to casual sex in ways that would today make even the most ardent sexual revolutionary of the 1960’s and 70’s blush. Here again, technology may have trumped our puny, slow to develop pre-frontal lobes. But only time will tell the tale…