Personal Preferences, Discursive Strategies, and the Maintenance of Inequality on Gay Dating Apps

Arch Sex Behav. 2022 Jul;51(5):2385-2397. doi: 10.1007/s10508-021-02223-1. Epub 2022 Apr 26.


Scholars have noted how online dating technologies are one important arena in which racism, classism, heteronormativity, and other systems of domination are reproduced. This often materializes via a "personal preference" discourse-a framing of desire as unique, individual, and untethered from systems of domination. Yet underexplored is how such a discourse, which fosters prejudice in preferences, is framed as socially acceptable. This paper draws on a content analysis of 858 unique profile screenshots and in-depth interview data of 26 users of Grindr, Scruff, and Jack'd to examine how users voice their "personal preferences." The content analysis results indicated that 24 percent of profiles listed a preference, and that most were framed in "positive" or polite ways (e.g., "I'm into…"). Analysis of interview data demonstrated that respondents engaged in what we call blatant exclusion and positive reframing in their interactions with other users to voice their "personal preferences." Users who did not state preferences still allowed their preferences to infuse their experiences on the app. We document how users negotiated racist, classist, and heteronormative preferences and, to an extent, how these users are understanding others' preferences. This study has implications for understanding the logic behind "personal preference" discourse and why it remains socially acceptable even as other systems of domination do not.

Keywords: Dating Apps; Erotic capital; Inequality; LGBTQ +; Online dating; Personal preferences.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Racism*
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities*