Online dating has been increasingly popular in recent years because it has expanded the pool of potential connections, as well as made it easier to communicate anonymously. According to a Pew Research Center 2015 survey, among 18-24 year olds:
- 27 percent report using online dating
- 22 percent use dating phone apps
Lots of people use phone apps to meet potential partners or engage in sex, and many of those encounters occur without issue. Whatever your reason for using these apps, here are important tips to help you achieve your goals and lower your risk of violence or other negative experiences with these platforms, online and offline. We also offer some specific considerations for LGBTQIA people, reporting and other support resources, and additional safety tips.
Difficulties with Digital Communication
Communication is key to any relationship. While digital communication has many benefits, it also has limitations.
The anonymity of the internet allows people to hide aspects of their personality, appearance, and life circumstances (e.g., financial issues). People can even create an entirely fake persona. What someone presents online might not be their true selves, and sometimes that is done with ill intent (e.g., deception, manipulation, etc.).
Emojis have made it easier to convey emotion through online messaging, compared to text alone, but there are still some aspects missing from the face-to-face interaction. Eye contact, tone of voice, body language, physical contact – these cannot occur through digital communication and their absence can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings or disappointment.
It’s important to keep in mind that no matter how long you’ve been talking to someone online, they are still a stranger in some respects. For this reason, it can be helpful to be somewhat wary and take precautions when connecting online and in-person.
Consider the following tips to guide your interactions and increase safety:
- Set expectations
- Be honest about sex
- Protect your privacy
- Do some research
- Trust your instincts
- Report suspicious or harassing behavior
- Meet in public
- Be smart about substances
- Check in with yourself
- Trust your instincts
- Protect your health
Your rights and responsibilities
With any kind of relationship, you have rights and responsibilities that support respect and safety.
So you’re ready to get into online dating! You downloaded your app(s) and are making your profile. Here are some things to consider before and during your exploration:
Some apps are typically used for folks looking for sex, while others might be more relationship-focused. Even if the particular app or platform you’re using conveys a certain goal, be explicit about your intentions.
If you think that you might engage in sexual activity with another app user, communicating about it beforehand can be helpful. Discuss relevant parts of your sexual history, such as dates of testing, STI status, and number of partners. Set some boundaries in terms of what you are or are not willing to do, so your expectations are clear and you feel more empowered to maintain these boundaries when the time comes.
Avoid giving out personal information, like where you work, live, or places you frequent. Be careful when creating your username or profile that you do not include this information either.
Set up a free Google Voice account so you can give your phone number out without providing your real number. Online contacts can still access your voicemail and reach you, but on your own terms.
Be cautious about sharing intimate photos or videos
You know that saying that “once something is on the internet, it’s there forever”? That’s kind of true; it can take a lot of time and effort to remove images, information, etc. from websites and search engines. Not to mention, folks can take a screenshot or use third party apps to save photos. Someone with ill intent might share that photo with others or could use it to extort money.
If you do send these types of photos, be sure to crop out your face and/or identifying features (e.g., tattoos, unique birthmarks, etc.). Using a webcam or sending videos could result in similar risks, where someone might record the interaction and use it for blackmail.
Be wary about giving out financial information
Some people are online to catch others up in scams or theft. Some signs that someone might be scamming you for money are reporting financial hardships or emergency expenses (e.g., needing car fixed, medical bills, etc.) during your online interactions.
Find out as much information as you can. Just like you might not visit a new restaurant without a recommendation from a friend or checking an online review, you may want to do some research on your contact. Do an online search or check social media to see if you have any mutual friends. Ask yourself if their information online matches what they are sharing with you.
If the interaction doesn’t seem genuine or makes you feel uncomfortable, you can block or cut off contact with that user. It doesn’t make you mean or a bad person – you are protecting yourself and ensuring your safety.
Before agreeing to meet in person, make sure it is something that you are ready to do. If you are feeling pressured to meet before you are ready, pay attention to that feeling and do what makes you comfortable. Another person should respect your need for more time, an important boundary, without making you feel badly about it. Also, just because you’ve agreed to meet them in person, does not mean you’ve agreed open-endedly to anything else.
If you plan to meet in person, choose a public place to meet, whether it’s a restaurant, mall, coffee shop, local public transit station, etc. Be sure you’ve told a trusted friend, roommate, or family member about your plans (e.g., where you are going, what time you are meeting them, etc.) so if something does go wrong, you have someone who can check in or follow up with you. You can even schedule a check-in call with this person midway through the date and decide on a code word to use to alert them if there is an issue.
Meeting someone, especially a potential partner, for the first time can be both exciting and anxiety-producing. Sometimes in new situations, it is easy to want to cover up those emotions or suppress them with the use of alcohol or other substances. Since alcohol and other drugs can impair your judgment or lower inhibitions, think carefully about using before or during a meeting. Be aware that someone with bad intentions might also use drugs or alcohol to take advantage of you. If you are making drinks, make it yourself so you know what is going into it (e.g., alcohol content, etc.) and never leave your drink unattended.
Online dating can be a great option for finding ways to connect to others without overwhelming crowds or small talk. Sometimes, one-on-one is just easier. However, if you are looking to online dating because you are uncomfortable with face-to-face interactions or because you are unsure of what you want and are exploring, you might want to talk through some things with someone else (e.g., close friend, counselor, support professional) before jumping in. Identifying what you want from the experience beforehand can help you in more easily finding a match.
Prepare for a meeting by developing a safety/exit plan in advance, just in case you feel threatened or unsafe at any point. Make an excuse to leave, like a phone call or the bathroom. If you need to, enlist help from a friend (e.g., fake emergency phone call, ride home) or folks nearby (e.g., waiter, security personnel).
If you choose to be sexually active with another app user, protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and/or pregnancy by being prepared. Take control of your sexual health by bringing your own barriers (e.g., dental dams, internal condoms, external condoms, finger cots, etc.). Using barrier methods during sexual activity can lower your risk of contracting STIs through contact with bodily fluids or skin-to-skin contact. You may also want to have lube to make things more comfortable for everyone involved and reduce likelihood of barriers tearing, due to friction.
- Know your STI/HIV status
- Take prescribed medications
Because the number of out LGBTQIA people in your community may be small, you as an LGBTQIA person may not always have the option to meet people in person to date or hook-up, so online dating can be a great way to connect. According to the 2016 Singles in America survey, 56% of LGBT singles have dated someone they met online.
However, it’s still important that you be thoughtful and plan well when getting ready to meet someone in person. Sometimes people hide behind their apps to manipulate LGBTQIA people, getting you to send photos or information before you’re ready and then threatening to out you. Be sure to communicate with your friends when and where you are meeting up with someone, or the LGBTQ-focused Anti-Violence Project is a great resource to contact (212-714-1141) if you’re not out to your friends but want to make a safety plan.
There is always support for you on campus, including Gender + Sexuality Resource Center staff members you can meet with to talk about whatever is on your mind, resources and LGBTQIA-inclusive safer sex supplies are always available in the Rainbow Lounge (Frist 246).
If you are the victim of extortion or blackmail, save as much evidence as possible. Take screenshots, save messages, etc. so that you can share with the proper authorities.
Some apps have the option to report a user. Utilize this feature, if relevant.
If anything happens, remember that it is not your fault. There are resources here to support you and to help you explore your options, and navigate which, if any, you choose to pursue.
Counseling & Psychological Services
Individual and group counseling and support
McCosh Health Center
Gender + Sexuality Resource Center
Collaborative programming, education, advocacy, and mentorship for women, femme, trans, and queer Princetonians.
Frist Campus Center, Room 246
Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education (SHARE)
Crisis response, advocacy, support, counseling, education and referral services for victims/survivors of interpersonal violence and abuse
McCosh Health Center, Room G14
Sexual Health and Wellness at University Health Services
Sexual and reproductive health counseling, STI testing, exams, prescriptions for PrEP, birth control, and access to barrier methods
McCosh Health Center
Community Support Resources
Sexual and reproductive health care, education, contraception, LGBT-specific services, and STI testing and treatment
2279 State Highway 33, Hamilton, NJ
437 East State Street, Trenton, NJ
Crisis intervention, emergency shelter, counseling, court advocacy and housing services for victims/survivors of domestic and sexual violence
1530 Brunswick Avenue, Lawrenceville, NJ
24-hour crisis line: 609-394-9000
Online Support Resources
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Hotline
Support services for victims/survivors of sexual violence
1-800-656-HOPE | www.rainn.org
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Advocacy, safety planning, resources and support for victims/survivors of abuse
1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 | www.thehotline.org
The Network/La Red
Organizing, education and support services to address partner abuse in LGBTQ communities
24-hour hotline: 617-742-4911| http://tnlr.org/en/