This post was written by a student in the Stanford’s Winter 2011 Networked Rhetoric class; it was designed to focus in on a particular source or research experience related to his/her project on social media and digital culture . See a more detailed overview of this assignment.
My research topic is based on a topic with which America has a love-hate relationship: sex! More specifically, I am examining how social networking and geolocation services have changed the gay hookup scene. Whereas men used to go to the local gay bar before the internet, technology has greatly facilitated and streamlined the process of finding partners, either for love or some lovin’. I made profiles on a few different sites and I’ve been pretty shocked to see what I’ve found.
The range of guys who use online resources to hookup is extremely diverse. I’ve talked to other students, attorneys, construction workers, machinists, entrepreneurs, professors, and party planners to name a few occupations that these men hold. They’ve ranged in age from 18 to 47 (or should I say, “18” and “47”). Some are interested in just chatting, and some are interested in sex. Most are HIV- but there have been a few who are open about being HIV+. Some don’t disclose, and some don’t care– a scary prospect. They range from being totally in the closet to being out to everyone. One commonality is that most are embarrassed to use the site. I’ve received messages from over one hundred guys, which has led me to my biggest conclusion: it’s surprisingly addicting.
As bad as it sounds, tt’s easy to stay logged in to a hookup site all day because it’s fun to get messages from other users. Basically, hook up sites are as much about ego stroking as they are about actually finding sex. Who doesn’t want to be complimented by total strangers? When I first made my profile on one of the sites, I had three hundred messages in my inbox within a couple days. In 48 hours, I received more compliments than I have in real life in the last 19 years. Chalk it up to online anonymity– much like alcohol, it provides an excuse for people to say what’s on their minds without fear of repercussions.
I’m in the middle of compiling data from profiles that will give my audience a better picture of who uses the sites online—average age, race %, and the like. I’m really excited to see the end results for myself when it’s all said and done.