Grindr and the Evolution of the Hookup: The Pleasures... and Perils... of Online Gay Dating

You kids today don't know how good you have it! I feel like my parents when I say this, but it's true.

Back in my day, it was a lot tougher and riskier to find someone who wanted to have sex with us. There were no apps like Grindr for gay hookups, and we had to resort to all sorts of crazy behaviors to first discover, and then fulfill our desires. It was like stealing our sexuality from a society that never acknowledged us, never wanted us to find out who we were, and actively tried to persecute us into oblivion.

For Pete's sake, we even had to resort to writing our telephone numbers on bathroom stalls and walls (a sort of prehistoric Grindr)! And we didn't even know if the guy who showed up was named Pete, let alone what he would look like. We had to invent party lines and paid phone lines where we could leave messages. We had to discover printed underground guides to tell us where to find mall restrooms, public parks and rest-area bathrooms where we might meet a willing partner. We had to roam dark little porn arcades with peep shows, and saunas and gyms. While these still exist today, back in the day this is all we had.

The late, great mythologist and lecturer, Joseph Campbell, once wrote, "Boys everywhere have a need for rituals, marking their passage to manhood. If society does not provide them, they will inevitably invent their own." That was certainly true in my time. We had to invent our own rituals for recognizing one another, like wearing tight jeans that showed off our package, or wearing our shirts unbuttoned to show our chest. Then there was cruising, which involved the "stare down," that intense, hungry look that was beyond anything resembling flirting. The first time I had someone cruise me like this I thought the guy was a murderer. I ran to my car, scared to death, looking over my shoulder to make sure he wasn't following me!

As an underage kid with little money and fewer resources, I had to steal gay porn from the local bookstore because my father had only hetero porn, and my mother's Cosmopolitan magazines had little to no male nudity. But boy do I remember that Burt Reynolds centerfold in my mothers' Cosmopolitan! That was the hottest thing I had seen as a young, pubertal boy. Once, as a young adult in the '80s, I was masturbating while watching porn in an adult bookstore booth. I heard a blowing sound, and someone whispering. I looked down, and at crotch level in the wall next to me, some guy had his lips to a glory hole and was telling me to stick my penis in there. I didn't even know what a glory hole was! I was so frightened I pulled up my pants and fled, all the while my mind screaming, "Oh my god, my mother was right. Doing these things are going to get me killed!" It's funny to me now, but back then it was anything but.

Then there was the danger of getting busted. Police routinely conducted raids on mall restrooms, public parks and highway rest areas, as well as gyms with saunas where men would hookup. All over the nation cops set up sting operations in these places -- like the historic "Bag a Fag" operation in Detroit -- to lure guys into touching the cop's genitals, after which the perps were arrested and thrown in jail. Their families were then shamed and their names printed in newspapers. Yikes!

Yeah, you youngsters today have it easy. Now you have Grindr (which claims more than 2 million users in 196 countries), and dozens of other apps with names like "Scruff," "Adam4Adam," "Jackd" and "Recon." Whew, it's all rather dizzying to us who grew up in a different era.

These all make hooking up a lot easier and safer than it used to be, and generally I think this is a good thing. But there are still some big perils involved for users. The biggest, perhaps, is being fooled into thinking that you are connecting with someone of legal age. You see, there are age restrictions on these sites which require you state you 18 or older. However many underage males lie and say they are 18. Often he looks older than his legal age but in truth he is younger. Say, for instance, a man is attracted to Twinks (legal-age guys who look younger). He meets a handsome guy on Grindr or one of the other sites who swears he is of age and looks older as well. They have sex, and later the older guy finds the police at his door, and ends up serving 15-20 years behind bars for criminal sexual conduct (CSC) because he didn't verify the boy's age. And, yes, it does happen.

If you're underage and reading this, please consider the horrors that such deception could visit upon an older guy. You may be thinking of it as all fun and games, and you may really be into older men, but do you really want to ruin someone's life this way? Be honest about your age if you don't want to badly hurt someone.

If you are 18 and over seeking Twinks please do not blindly trust the age stated by the younger man. Insist on seeing his identification or driver's license to ensure you are not being placed at risk.

So, yes, the age of hookup apps is here to stay, and it is a welcome development, one I wish that had happened when I was young and desperate to explore my true sexual identity.