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Our projects

University of Waterloo Researchers Examine Dating Apps and Sexual/Gender-Based Violence


Researchers at the University of Waterloo, in partnership with the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region (SASC), have secured a Social Science and Humanities Research Council Partnership Engagement grant to understand the roles dating apps play sexual violence online.


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.


According to Co-Director of the  Collabratory on Digital Research (CODER) Dr. Corey W. Johnson, the study will help us understand the roles GSNAs play in sexual and dating-based violence online. The project will survey 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 to provide SASC with data and a report with best practice recommendations. The data will be used to 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.


Geo-Social Networking Applications and Gender and Sexual Social Relations


The introduction of new innovations like cars, telephones, birth control pills, and the internet have changed dating practices dramatically. And with the use Geo-social networking applications (or GSNAs), dating practices are changing again. GSNAs use cell phones and satellites to create computer-mediated communication whereby users exchange a series of electronic messages and participate in relational activities starting in cyberspace. GSNAs boast millions of users, and yet, there is little research exploring their influence on the individual and culture. As our project advances, we hope to more broadly understand similarities and difference according to different sexual and gender identities and the importance of both context and country.

Women Making the First Move: Bumble and Socially Conscious GSNAs


Through a research partnership with Bumble, this project seeks to understand how socially conscious geo-social networking apps (GSNAs) – or hook-up and dating apps whose mission, marketing, and technological affordances centre an equity and/or social justice lens – are changing the GSNA market. As a case study, we explore how Bumble’s mission of “women make the first move” impacts gender dynamics on dating apps and beyond. We take an intersectional feminist approach to analyse how women’s experiences on Bumble change based on their race, class, sexuality, gender, class, mental and physical health, and religion. Drawing on interviews and focus groups with Bumble users, this project seeks to understand the complex relationships between GSNAs and equity.

Digital looking glass or funhouse mirror?: Self-presentation on location-based real-time dating apps and reflexive embodiment in men seeking men 


Despite their widely-acknowledged social utility, internet-enabled information and communications technologies (ICTs) have repeatedly been shown to be associated with aversive states of bodily self-awareness and resultant psychosomatic and behavioural issues, including appearance dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Based on mediation analyses, a number of social-psychological processes have been identified as possible causal mechanisms underlying this relationship, such as social comparison, self- and other-objectification, and solicitation and receipt of appearance-related feedback. Conspicuously, a plurality of these processes in some way involve goal-oriented interpersonal behaviour intended to generate certain surface appearances, otherwise known as self-presentation. To date, however, no research has yet explicitly investigated how the process of self-presentation accounts for the effect of ICTs on users’ body consciousness. My dissertation research aims to address this gap by exploring self-presentation tactics and contingencies on location-based real-time dating apps (e.g., Grindr, Tinder) and their influence on gay, bisexual and queer men’s reflexive embodiment. 

The intersections of digitality and SEM consumption for women

This study critically examined how and why women adopt new digital technologies to consume sexually explicit material (SEM), including pornography and erotica. SEM is a timely and socially relevant topic that is of interest to Canadians as evidenced by the recent article by Dr. Rebecca Sullivan (Director of the Institute for Gender Studies, University of Calgary) published in the Globe and Mail. In the article, Sullivan notes Canadian consumption of SEM is ubiquitous, but the practices are poorly understood. "Our ignorance about pornography practices in Canada," argues Sullivan (2014), "makes conversations about sex and sexuality more difficult and less complex. That is a problem because sexuality is a critical part of how we define ourselves and relate to each other. No matter how hard we try to deny it, pornography is a part of our culture." Within the academic literature, women have been identified as an ever-increasing group of SEM consumers, but scant research has explored their consumption and particularly lacking is the influence of technology on their SEM practices (Smith & Attwood, 2014). As a result, research on women’s consumption of SEM has taken on new urgency and greater significance (Smith, 2010).  Using a cyberfeminist theoretical lens, the study addressed these gaps in knowledge. Cyberfeminism "refers to a range of theories, debates, and practices about the relationship between gender and digital culture" (Daniels, 2009, p. 102). Emphasizing the possibilities of technology to enhance women's lives, cyberfeminism recognizes women's experiences with technology can facilitate worldwide networking and the creation of women's own spaces of dialogue and action on the internet (Orgad, 2005).

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