Grindr: The ethics behind the 'right now' culture (Part 1)
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What exactly are the implications of this “right now” culture? Firstly, it affects perceptions of the gay community both externally and internally. Evidence suggests that both the gay community, as well as outside observers, see gay men especially as ‘sex obsessed’ with alcohol being a crucial element of the gay scene. As Wigel put it, it’s clear that straight dating apps like Tinder don’t have this ‘right now’ element as straight men are not so sex obsessed, and we are left asking ‘Why don’t more straight couples want it? (Or why do so many gay ones?!)But it also, for some, seems to demean the value of sex in-and-of-itself. Some philosophers hold that sex is about more than simply the physical pleasure achieved in orgasm: it’s about the union and connection, on a physical, emotional and psychological level, between the people involved. And so sex, to sustain its value, ought always to have an emotional dimension. If ‘right now’ culture is promoted, which appeals to the same ideas of sex as prostitution, the value drops. I am unconvinced. While sex may gain value by being emotionally loaded, this does not prima facia mean it loses value by not having it. Could there simply not just be valuable and unvaluable sex? It is far from clear why having unemotional sex affects the value of sex that is emotional (it might, in fact, help us draw the distinctions to understand the true value of valuable sex). It is similar to purchasing a dress having two purposes: on-the-spot happiness and long term fulfilment. While having both is the aim, if long-term fulfilment is not gained, nothing is lost and you still have the on-the-spot happiness. It’s less valuable but the system as a whole is unaffected. The same applies with sex; sex would have two ‘value’ purposes that are mutually exclusive from each other: physical and emotional. The use of sex purely to achieve the former does nothing to effect the value of the latter. It is unfair to say Grindr demeans the value of sex and should be branded unethical on this ground.
The more worrying repercussion, at least for me, is its simultaneous demeaning of the value (or at least perception of) of dating and relationships (and, hence, love).This, unlike sex, is demeaned by the very promotion of this “right now culture”. Some may argue this line of argument contradicts my previous argument that prostitution is morally permissible without degrading the value of love – but there is a key distinction to be unearthed. Prostitution sets itself up as what it is: ‘right now’ sex and nothing more. You really do get what you are paying for! Grindr, however, presents itself under the guise of a dating app. What it therefore does is make us believe that dating is about this type of sexual encounter or, put otherwise, that dates must include sex. So with Grindr ‘right now’ sex becomes mixed up with relationships in a quite worrying way. While not demeaning the value of sex, the app is problematic on theoretical grounds as it becomes mixed up in the distinction between what it claims to be and what it is. Compare this to Tinder, where the ‘right now’ option and the conventions of dating are regularly achieved, or even ‘Her’ – the lesbian equivalent to Grindr, which evidence shows promotes dating through the promotion of connection and ‘articles’ rather than ‘bodily fluids’.
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So it seems that Grindr and other such apps are shifting the focus of the label ‘gay’ away from sexual actions (i.e. a man having sex with a man) to a self-identification (you are ‘gay’ if you say your ‘gay’). The issue is to then understand the ethical and psychological implications of such a shift. On a base level it at least seems like homosexuality ought to be linked to homosexual acts and to say you can be ‘straight’ but engage sexually with men seems to conflict. We would, after all, say that if someone said they were exclusively gay, and had sex with women, that they were lying and were bisexual. While, granted, these labels are never perfect they do serve a basic purpose in helping with sexual identification in a way that the ‘bro-job’ fundamentally plagues. ‘Grindr’ and ‘BRO’ both become a breeding spot for ‘straight’ men to hide away homosexual urges (or paint over them as coming under the remit of exclusive heterosexuality). This might seem to be helping ‘destroy the labels’ but in reality it’s allowing both straight men to hide away from properly exploring their sexuality and is making being ‘gay’ a matter of pure self-identification. We now live in a world where you can have sex with men, but still say you are exclusively straight, because you are just bros. What, then, is the difference between straight and bi? It’s just a way to allow ‘straight’ men to hide away from their self-perceived shame of desiring other men and we are not only allowing this to happen, but seemingly actively encouraging it. With this clash of definitions hanging over these apps, it continues to enforce itself as unethical and problematic.
BRO: the app for bromance and not-gay sex. Journalists: i am waiting by the phone. https://t.co/4dBnHioYnO— Jane Ward (@thequeerjane) January 19, 2016
The concept of Grindr, and other male dating or hook-up apps, are theoretically unethical. While not necessarily demeaning the value of sex as others have suggested, they demean the value of love, affect modern perceptions of homosexuality, can be seen to dehumanise homosexual men and have led to pertinent problems in how we define homosexuality. But this, for many, will not be enough. Theory is good, but surely it’s OK in practice? What really is so wrong about Grindr “in the real world”? That is left to be seen.