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Love in the time of Tinder: Does Tinder lead to casual sex?

Editor's note: So you’ve swiped right, exchanged numbers and got yourself a date on Tinder. What next? This is a 10-part series on the dating landscape among the young-ish and single-ish of India. Part VI asks if Tinder leads to casual sex.

“I was up all night with this really cute guy,” my friend whispered to me over coffee.
“Tinder hookup?” I asked.
“Tinder?” she scoffed. “I don’t need Tinder for a hookup!”

Are women in India swiping right for sex?

Are women in India swiping right for sex?

There it was. The bludgeoning of a million wet dreams of Indian men, everywhere.

When Tinder was launched in India there was a quiet cheer among all men, married or otherwise. They thought that Tinder would create a marketplace for guilt-free casual sex, like a sabzi mandi of female bodies, ready to be looked at and home-delivered, easier than ordering shaving cream on Bigbasket. They’d rack up conquests with one right swipe and entice young women into bed on the basis of a few text exchanges. They’d convince a woman to sleep with them as easily as they convinced Mummyji to make them another chapati. Tinder would give them the animalistic draw enjoyed by netas, abhinetas and cricketers.

Such wishful thinking! The truth is that Tinder does not entitle men to casual sex.

Tinder is not a magic wand for a woman to worship a man’s wand. My friends who are on Tinder tell me that there’s a greater chance for them to be run over by a Mumbai local train than to be indulged in the good ol’ bed-hop via Tinder.

Don’t believe me? The proof is in the brand itself. Tinder’s first ad in India, launched a few weeks ago, showed a mother cheerfully sending off her philistine daughter to an afternoon Tinder date. It was a shocking makeover that sent India’s frisky brigade into a tizzy! Alarmed, they swiped left on the ad, disparaging Tinder for wanting to become the next shaadi.com. But it was too late! Our sanskaars had defeated Tinder. Tinder had learnt that giving sex a good name was an impossible task in our country. Tinder knew what the nation wanted — saccharine-styled Panglossian relationships. So, it went on to post Disneyesque Facebook photos of Sooraj-Barjatya-type-engaged couples meeting on Tinder.

And, India became the first country to convert a hookup app into a matrimonial app. Once again, our nation created history.

Tinder became like the unused condom lying discarded in a drawer: it gave the illusion that casual sex was available without actually providing it.

It brought lotion, tissues and the left hand back in vogue.

Nonsense, I hear the men say. What about women and their needs?

True. Many women celebrated Tinder as it recognised the importance of female sexual agency, as opposed to coating it with a dose of denial, as our nation is famous for doing. It threw out the outdated notion that casual sex demeaned and objectified women, ultimately proving destructive for them. It debunked the double standard that by having sex, men get something but women give up something. It dispelled the theory that men only want to hookup and women only want a committed relationship.

But it also came with many risks.

Men in India are not known for their discretion. In fact, they’re so easily excited by casual sex, or even a whiff of it, that they flaunt it as a badge of honour.

“Men in India don’t know how to indulge in casual sex without becoming exploitative or disrespectful, and turning into epic jerks,” a female friend tells me. “Why would I want to be a 2 am booty call to a guy who goes around calling me ‘easy’. Where’s the respect? What’s the point?”

A second friend whispers, “What if my parents found out? They’d be so ashamed of me."

A feminist friend states: “Men are relying on skewed notions of a woman being game on the basis of a profile picture. We can’t give them that kind of power.”

Another female friend — making a staunch case against hookups — adds. “Why would I want to be a man’s option, when I can be his priority?”

Clearly, women are not playing by men’s rules.

And some men are also doing the same. “Would a man be as open to casual sex on Tinder if someone told him that his mother or sister was on Tinder?” a male friend asks. This throws up the ubiquitous question: ghar-mein-maa-behen-nahin-hain-kya?

It’s no wonder then that around 60-70 percent of women on Tinder explicitly state in their profile that they’re not looking for a hookup. Fair enough. Whether casual sex empowers or estranges a woman depends from where you’re looking.

The truth — as my friend succinctly pointed out — is that if a woman is willing, she doesn’t need Tinder to hookup.

Another reason why men don’t see as many hookups as they’d like to actually has nothing to do with male behaviour. It has to do with society.

Today’s women are doing many things. They’re flying planes, becoming presidents, hosting Oscars, but there’s still something about a woman’s sexuality that makes society fearful. Can Indian women use their sexuality the way they want to, without feeling ashamed? Absolutely. It’s “my body, my choice”. But women are also always reminded of the caveats associated with acting like a sexual being.

In India female sexuality is a double-edged sword. There are, of course, women who are exercising their right to sexual liberation without guilt or restraint, as it should’ve always been. But this is a microcosm of India, a small pool of women. As writer Mitali Saran sagaciously put it, as a society that is pathologically devoted to marriage, we hate free-range vaginas, that is women who are single, divorced, unmarried, widowed, commitment phobic or sexually active.

The case for men is different. Men in India have been granted more sexual impunity than women. This is implicit in the fact that sexually liberated men are called ‘cool’ or ‘players’ or ‘stud’ while sexually liberated women are labelled ‘loose’ or ‘slutty’ or ‘unmarriageable’.

It doesn’t help that many of our Indian movies reaffirm laddish and loutish ideas of love, sex, gender roles and female stereotypes. They, very often, objectify the female body and abnegate her identity.

Casual sex for women in India can also sometimes be an argument for safety, not against shame. If you’re using Tinder for casual sex you're trusting people you barely know. It can be seedy. It can be dangerous. Women’s expectations of safety and respect are higher than most men’s willingness to honour them.

It takes a very long time to penetrate public consciousness in India — several odious social attitudes and practices have remained for centuries, patriarchy and misogyny being the most deeply entrenched. Whether we like it or not, free-range vaginas still evoke a lot more shock and horror than we believe.

Does Tinder make hookups easier? Yes it does. But it also makes finding a potential partner or spouse easier. The way the app is utilised depends solely on what both matches want out of it. A lot of my friends have found their boyfriends on Tinder and we’ve all heard of Tinder marriages!

Therefore, there’s no point reinforcing the superbly outdated and unfortunate premise that Tinder is only for hookups. Sex and love are two separate needs, and people have both of them. They are free to use Tinder to cater to either or both.

At the end, Tinder is merely a tool. It does not create intention; it fulfills it.

Also in this series:
Part I — "The Tinder Man" — the 10 guys you'll see on Tinder
Part II — "The Tinder Woman" — the 10 ladies you'll meet on Tinder
Part III - The first date — who asks, who pays, who gets laid?
Part IV — The five worst Tinder dates
Part V — When the Tinder date doesn't match his/her photo

Next week: Why hoping for love is ruining Tinder.

Meghna Pant is the award-winning author of Happy Birthday (2013, Random House) and One And A Half Wife (2012, Westland)


Updated Date: Jun 05, 2016 08:28 AM

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