Are you looking for love online? New study shows mixed experiences

Whether looking for love or a casual hookup, 3 in 10 American adults say they have used a dating site or app, with mixed experiences, according to a Pew Research Center study released Thursday. For the sub-35 team, more than half have tried it.

The total number, which stands at 30%, hasn’t changed since 2019, the last time the center looked extensively at online dating. In 2015, 15% of US adults said they had used a dating site or app, said lead researcher Colleen McClain.

“When we talk to users who have been to the sites more recently, we see that there really is a mix of emotions,” said. “Everything from exhaustion to euphoria.”

Among the key takeaways from the study for McClain: 1 in 10 dating adults said they met their current partner on a dating site or app. The number increases to 1 in 5 for those under 30 years of age.

When asked about their reasons for using the platforms, andl 44% of current or recent users had in mind finding a long-term partner, and 40% responded that they wanted to have a casual date. Twenty-four percent were looking for casual sex and 22% were looking for new friends.

The use of dating sites and apps is most popular among adults under the age of 30, Pew reported, and 53% said they had. That compares with 37% of those between the ages of 30 and 49; 20% of those from 50 to 64; and 13% of those over 65 years of age.

“My wife was my first date on Hinge”, said. “She was very easy to talk to and we had a lot in common. There was an immediate connection when we met in person.”

The two married six months later, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic. They now have a one-year-old daughter. Girón was inspired to turn to online dating by his sister, who found her spouse the same way.

“I always thought you should meet someone the usual way, in person, but that’s the way the world is now,” Giron said.

In all age groups51% of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults have used a dating site or app.

Men are more likely than women to report positive digital dating experiences, 57% vs. 48%, and LGB users are more likely than straight users to say the same, 61% vs. 53%. Black or white adults who have used one of the platforms are more likely than Hispanic users to say their experiences have been negative.

The number of men who used dating sites or apps in the past year and said having casual sex was a top reason was 18 percentage points higher than female users who said the same.

The Pew research is based on a survey of about 6,000 American adults conducted between July 5 and July 17 of last year.

The experiences of online daters were mixed, with 53% saying they have been at least somewhat positive. 14% said it has been very positive, and 48% said their experiences included at least one of the four unwanted behaviors explored in the study.

38% of those who reported negative experiences said they received unsolicited sexual messages or images, and 30% mentioned ongoing unwanted contact. Twenty-four percent said they were called an offensive name and 6% said they were physically threatened.

Users were more likely to report such experiences, especially those under 50 years of age.

Like Giron, Liv Loughlin, 22, a marketing associate at a tech company in San Jose, California, had just ended a long-term relationship when she first tried digital dating last September.

“I wanted to participate, especially to meet people because I was new to the area”, said. “My first date on a dating app was on Hinge and it was crazy. She immediately got very, very touchy and there were all these sexual undertones to everything she said. … I ended up bailing out.”

But Loughlin did not give up. He turned to Bumble and is now happily in a relationship with a man he met there.

“I thought I had hit rock bottom and couldn’t go anywhere but up.” said.

Security is a big concern for some digital daters. Over the years, there have been calls for more protections, such as required background checks, in light of allegations of harassment, sexual assault, and other types of violence. Few sites require such checks from each user.

“We see that the American people are divided on this,” McClain said. “Forty-eight percent say that dating sites are a safe way to meet people. A very similar proportion, 49%, say they are not safe.

The majority across the board said that dating sites and apps should require people to undergo background checks.

Stacy Overcamp, 58, an unemployed marketing specialist, knows the dangers firsthand. She has been dating online since approximately 1998, with various contacts leading to relationships over the years.

“I have never had a problem meeting men online. I’ve had trouble meeting quality men online,” said Overcamp, in suburban San Francisco. A long-term relationship ended in stalking, harassment and a restraining order, he said. Other men he dated turned out to be broke, drug addicts, or liars. But she remains active as her priorities have shifted to marriage.

Overcamp estimates 30 or 40 contacts a month.

“It would take me five years to talk and connect with this many men if I wasn’t online“, said.

Pew studied eight sites and apps. Tinder was the most used, with 46% of digital dating users saying they had tried it. That equates to 14% of all American adults. About 10% of American adults said they had used Match or Bumble. Six percent said they had tried OkCupid, eharmony, and Hinge.

Grindr and HER were much more popular with lesbian, gay, or bisexual online dating users than with straight users. Some 34% of LGB users said they had tried Grindr and 10% said they had tried HER.