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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.

University of Waterloo Researchers and  the Sexual Assault Center of Waterloo Region Examine Dating Apps and Sexual/Gender-Based Violence

The Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region (SASC) has been at the forefront of developing initiatives to combat sexual and dating-based violence in the Waterloo region for the last thirty years. Like many sexual assault support centres and services, SASC is working to adapt its resources to the reality that an increasing number of young Canadians are meeting romantic and sexual partners through dating apps like Tinder and Bumble. Combined, the world’s top four GSNAs have over 90 million users. While recent research has focused on the misogyny, sexism, and harassment that users endure on social media, it is not understood what roles GSNAs are playing in sexual and gender-based violence online. The study will help us understand the roles GSNAs play in sexual and dating-based violence online by surveying current data and state of knowledge on the relationships between dating apps and sexual violence as well as generate new qualitative interview data from current and former dating app users. We hope the project might inform front-line intake and counselling services; provide on-the-ground support to clients accessing its services; train volunteers on how to engage with a client experiencing sexual and/or dating-based violence online; and develop educational curricula and workshops.


Distinguished Researcher Award

The Academy of Leisure Sciences, February 2021

CODER Co-Director, Corey W. Johnson was honoured with the Distinguished Researcher Award from The Academy of Leisure Sciences. The purpose of the award is to recognize an exceptional member of the Academy as demonstrated through research contributions that have significantly advanced the knowledge base of leisure sciences, through basic and/or applied research, in areas including but not limited to, recreation, parks, tourism, sport, therapeutic recreation, outdoor recreation, and/or leisure sciences. Congratulations Corey.

Visit the Academy of Leisure Sciences site

New study examines socially conscious dating apps

University of Waterloo, November 30, 2020

Researchers from the University of Waterloo and Bumble have partnered to study how interacting in a space that promotes justice and social equity affects dating.

Corey Johnson and Diana Parry are leading the work as co-directors of the Collaboratory on Digital Equity Research (CODER). Both are professors in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies.

Red the full article

Luc Cousineau talks about trans-exclusionary Radical Feminists on Reddit in the Atlantic

The Atlantic, December 2020

After they were banned from Reddit, trans-exclusionary radical feminists became the latest of many toxic communities to simply build their own platform.

Read the full article

Call for Papers: Gender, Sexuality and Embodiment in Digital Spheres: Special issue

Journal of Digital Social Research, The Centre for Digital Social Research at Umeå University, September 2020

This special issue of Journal of Digital Social Research (JDSR), has two goals. First, it aims to bring together innovative and newly developed theoretical, empirical, analytical, and critical approaches in the study of gender, sexuality, and embodiment in digital spheres. Second, by connecting intersectionality and digitality, we aim to adopt an integrated approach that reflects the intricacy and interconnectedness of social markers and categories of difference, privilege, performance, and discrimination. As such, we specifically encourage submissions that adopt an intersectional approach and address gender, sexuality, and embodiment as integrated with other social factors, such as — but not limited to — age, race, (dis)ability, religion, color, and nationality.

Read the full announcement

Postdoctoral Fellowship – Qualitative Research in Gender,
Sexuality, and Digitality

University of Waterloo, June 2020.

We seek a highly motivated postdoctoral fellow to help lead research focusing on gender and sexual social practices on Bumble in their efforts to make the app inclusive and equitable. In addition, the postdoctoral fellow will assist the Co-PI’s on other projects connected to their examinations of gender, sexual identity, digitality, and leisure.


The Postdoctoral Fellow will have the opportunity to work with Drs. Diana C. Parry and Corey W. Johnson, who are affiliated with both the Office of Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion (HREI) and the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies (RLS) at the University of Waterloo (Canada).

Read the full job announcement

Press release: Weight stigma affects gay men on dating apps

University of Waterloo, Waterloo News, October 2019.

Weight stigma is an issue for queer men using dating apps, says a new University of Waterloo study.


The study found that Grindr, the most popular dating app for gay, bisexual, two-spirit and queer men, had a negative effect on men’s body image, especially when it came to weight. Three out of four gay men are reported to have used Grindr.

Read the full press release on Waterloo News

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