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Swipe right? Geo-social networking applications, gender, and sexual identities, and social-sexual practices

Research funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

Principle Investigators: Corey W. Johnson and Diana C. Parry, University of Waterloo


Recently, a controversial article in Vanity Fair highlighted the critical and time-sensitive need for cultural research on geo-social networking applications (GSNAs). GSNAs use cell phones and satellites to create computer-mediated communication whereby users exchange a series of electronic messages and participate in different relational activities via cyberspace, often leading to in-person meet-ups for dates, sexual hookups, etc. GSNAs are radically and rapidly changing the nature of our cultural landscape, including gender identities, sexual practices, use of public space, commerce, and quality of life.


Four objectives framed this research: 1) Generate qualitative interview data that address the impacts of GSNAs on gender and sexual identities, relationships and quality of life within straight, bisexual, lesbian and gay communities, and across diverse gender identities; 2) Conduct focus groups to generate data on how the use of GSNAs in public spaces affects the shape and configuration of those spaces; and 3) Promote a new methodology for the study of GSNAs to equip and encourage qualitative inquiry on the intersection of digitality and social, cultural and sexual practices.

Geo-social networking applications and the Collaboratory on Digital Equity Research: an overview

Dating apps like Tinder and Grindr are transforming the ways in which we connect with one another. But how? In this first video of our series, we acquaint viewers with the concept of geo-social networking applications, or GSNAs, and describe what sets them apart from other communication technologies

Authenticity versus desirability: Gay and bisexual men’s self-presentation on dating apps

Geo-social networking applications, or GSNAs, have changed the dating game dramatically for everybody. But for sexual minorities like gay men, these apps are the most frequently used method of meeting partners. The way that these apps are designed have users constantly competing for attention against a grid of other users, so effective presentation of the self is crucial to making connections. In this second video of our series, we explain what self-presentation is, how the digital environment changes the ways in which we go about it, and what different self-presentation strategies indicate about users’ relational motivations. We also describe how users balance tensions between representing themselves authentically and making themselves appear desirable. 

Dehumanization on dating apps: digital infrastructures and social contexts

Increasingly, geo-social networking applications are being used not just for seeking out sexual and romantic partners, but as a leisure activity – a game to play. Tinder’s signature swiping function is an example of how apps are gamifying the act of meeting people. While this gamification is great for user engagement and company profits, it introduces a layer of dehumanization to each of the interactions happening in the app. As we explain in this third video in our series, dating apps are rife with discriminatory and uncivil behaviour, much of which is enabled by the structure of the app interface itself, but also reflects the problematic sexual and gender norms that form the context in which dating apps are developed and used.

Women’s many uses of dating apps

Despite the harassment, sexism, and misogyny to which they are regularly subjected online, women of all stripes are active users of networking technologies, including geo-social networking apps. In this final video of our series, we explore some of the many reasons women use dating apps. Primarily, dating apps serve two basic needs: having fun and connecting with others. Ultimately, though, dating apps are not just places to meet new people online. They are conversation starters, games friends can play together, and sites where one can imagine themselves as part of a community.

Refereed journal articles

‘What’s my score?’: the complexities of straight male Geo-Social Networking Application use

Luc S. Cousineaun, Diana C. Parry & Corey W. Johnson (2020)

Millions of people around the world use Geo-Social Networking Applications (GSNAs) to connect with new people and potential sexual partners. Using data from a broad study of GSNA users, this paper explores GSNA use by straight men and the implications on their positionality, masculinity, and for their leisure. Straight men showed that although they speak out against traditional masculine norms in their offline lives, on GSNAs they enact and embrace hegemonic norms of dating. This dualistic (re)presentation demonstrates some of the complexities of how contemporary leisure spaces (like dating) become digitally mediated, but maintain deep human-to-human involvement and traditionalist social expectations.

Read the full paper

Building community, one swipe at a time: hook-up apps and the production of intimate publics between women

Jonathan Petrychyn, Diana C. Parry & Corey W. Johnson (2020)

Hook-up apps are an increasingly popular way for women to meet other people for sex, dating, relationships, and more. As a mundane and habitual form of media, the multiple uses of hook-up apps allow for the production of intimacy in surprising and complex ways. This paper draws on narrative interviews with 15 self-identifying women to explore how dating and hook-up apps help produce ‘intimate publics’ for women. The field of intimate publics available to women users of hook-up apps is broader than those afforded by in-app interactions; there is an entire network of intimacy, sociality, and publicity that forms around hook-up apps. Our findings show that while both queer and straight women use hook-up apps to find sex, hook-ups, dates, and relationships, they are also central to building community, friendship, and sociality between women.

Read the full paper

Traditions in (re)Negotiation: Geosocial Networking Apps and Intimate Relationships Among Men Seeking Men

Eric Filice, Diana C. Parry, Corey W. Johnson

Information and communication technologies have introduced profound changes to how individuals pursue sexual and romantic connections. One class of communication technologies that has become especially popular in recent times is that of geosocial networking apps, which characteristically use smartphones’ global positioning system technology to transmit and receive users’ location data. To date, however, most research investigating the impact of internet-mediated communication on socio-sexual relations has focused on more established systems like chatrooms, social networking sites, email, and instant messaging. The present study thematically analyzes interview data from gay, bisexual and queer men to explore how geosocial networking apps influence the development and organization of intimate

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The influence of Grindr, a geosocial networking application, on body image in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men: An exploratory study

Filice, E., Raffoul, A., Meyer, S. B., & Neiterman, E. (2019, August 22).

Recent evidence indicates use of geosocial networking apps is associated with body image-related issues among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. The current study aims to elaborate upon these findings by investigating how Grindr, the most widely-used dating app among this population, impacts users’ body image and body satisfaction. Using an exploratory, qualitative study design, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 13 current and previous Grindr users and analyzed thematically.

Read the full paper

Conferences and presentations


5th International Conference on Gender Research

Academic Conferences International


Despite some advances being made in the area, topics related to gender research remain pertinent and are gaining momentum in a changing society. It is thus important to empower and to develop research on specific gender topics, in order to acquire a clearer understanding and to obtain important insights.

Download the posters

Read more about the conference


TALS 2021 Virtual Conference

The Academy of Leisure Sciences 2021 Annual Conference on Research and Teaching

As we continue to face challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the traditional format of the TALS Conference on Research and Teaching has been altered for 2021 to feature a number of virtual events throughout the month of February, including the forthcoming Opening Bannon Lecture; the virtual research and teaching presentations, virtual poster session, the Friday Research and Teaching Seminars, and the Closing Keynote.

Download the poster [1.8MB PDF]

Read more about the conference


Coder's Posters from the Canadian Sexual Research Forum, 2020

CODER Project (2020)

Download the three posters developed to share the CODER project in one zip file: Women's hook-up app use, What's my score, and Sex, power, and body control.

Books and edited volume chapters


Fostering Social Justice through Qualitative Inquiry: A Methodological Guide

Edited by Corey W. Johnson, Diana C. Parry

Now in its second edition, Fostering Social Justice through Qualitative Inquiry, addresses the methods of conducting qualitative research using a social justice paradigm. Qualitative researchers increasingly flock to social justice research to move beyond academic discourse and aid marginalized, oppressed, or less-powerful communities and groups.

The book addresses the differences that a social justice stance requires from the researcher, then discusses how major theories and qualitative methodologies are employed to create social justice in both the process and products of qualitative research. Snapshot theory chapters introduce the foundations of theories like feminism, critical race theory, queer theory, and many more. Robust methodological chapters cover grounded theory, phenomenology, ethnography, participatory action research, and other key qualitative designs. Chapters are written by experts in the specific theory or methodology, and exemplars of the authors work illustrate this style of research in action.

Order from Routledge

NVIVO Podcast: Episode 42: Fostering Social Justice through Qualitative Inquiry

Listen to Dr. Corey Johnson and Dr. Diana Parry discuss the importance of social justice in qualitative inquiry in the second edition of their book Fostering Social Justice through Qualitative Inquiry: A Methodological Guide published by Routledge.

Listin on Apple Podcasts


Co-Directors Dr. Diana Parry and Corey Johnson recently published a book on Sex and Leisure: Promiscuous Perspectives.

The book uses the emerging and cutting-edge area of leisure research to highlight the importance of sexuality and sexual activity and its relevance to leisure studies. It brings to the fore some complex issues associated with this topic using a range of substantive, epistemological, theoretical and methodological approaches.

Drawing on international scholarship, the book examines sexuality from multiple, and at times, competing directions, exploring the continuum of sex from work through to carnal pleasure, and across specific sexual practices including BDSM, pornography, stripping, and sex work. Drawing on critical, feminist, queer, and post theoretical perspectives, the book charts a new direction for leisure studies and sex research, including diverse understandings of leisure practice, sex positivity, fringe and deviant sex practices. Critically, the book moves beyond merely establishing sex as a leisure pursuit to focusing on the compelling and complex intersections between sexuality and leisure. 

Order from Routledge


Digital Dilemmas: Transforming Gender Identities and Power Relations in Everyday Life

eds. Diana C. Parry, Corey W. Johnson, and Simone Fullagar

The proliferation of digital technologies, virtual spaces, and new forms of engagement raise key questions about the changing nature of gender relations and identities within democratic societies. This book offers a unique collection of chapters that brings together scholars from diverse backgrounds to explore how gender experiences and identities are being transformed by digital technologies in ways that affirm or deny social justice.

Find out more


Appnography: Modifying ethnography for app-based culture.

Cousineau, L. S., Oakes, H. , & Johnson, C. W. (2018).

In D.C. Parry, C.W. Johnson, & S. Fullagar (Eds.) Digital Dilemmas: Transforming gender identities and power relations in everyday life. Basingstoke: Palgrave Press.

Read the full paper


Corey Johnson, University of Waterloo – Geo-Social Dating Apps

Johnson, C. W.


Dating practices are being changed again by Geo-social networking applications.

Corey Johnson, professor in the department of recreation and leisure studies at the University of Waterloo, takes a look at this new landscape.

Find out more

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