Opinion by EHN Staff Writer
Written by Mike Quarress, a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist at Edgewood Treatment Centre.
The first glance, a click or a swipe away, and it’s love at first sight! The motivation centers of the brain are activated, within seconds a plan is formulated, and pathways related to sex addiction are reinforced. This is what using hookup apps is like. Everyone has heard of Tinder, the most well known among them. Some people use hookup apps to scan the lay of the land. Others are looking for a fantasy “true love” and “living happily ever after.”
Divorced, single, married, engaged, are all plugged in, swiping left and right. They portray their most attractive intimate self, with the hopes of making a real connection. They’re often in a phase of denial, believing that they don’t have time to meet people in real-life social settings—where the initial “noticing stage” of courtship is actually possible. Rather than noticing attractive traits in someone from a distance and mustering up the courage to go up and talk to them, people now look at pictures, read profiles, and take chances.
(1) Hookup Apps Are Like Slot Machines
Similar to a casino slot machine, the possibility of getting lucky and matching with someone attractive plays a large part in triggering a dopamine spike in the brain. This is why hookup apps can exacerbate sex addiction symptoms, or even make healthy individuals behave compulsively and wonder, “am I a sex addict?” The anticipation of possibly receiving a message from someone who’s interested in you creates a similar effect.
This is known as a “variable-ratio schedule” in addiction research with rodents. When rats are given a reward (e.g. sugar, cocaine, etc.) after a random number of lever presses (that changes each time), they press the lever significantly more times to get the next reward, compared to rats on non-random reinforcement schedules. In both rats and humans, it’s the unpredictability of getting the reward that reinforces the compulsive behaviour.
(2) Hookup Apps Skip Important Stages of Courtship
In just a few clicks, you can jump from noticing to attraction and flirtation. Hookup apps are designed to provide quick and efficient sexual interactions. They allow individuals to fast-track to the final stage of courtship—having sex. But, most satisfying sexual experiences are more than just the exchange of bodily fluids and the release of pleasurable neurotransmitters.
(3) Great Sex Requires Trust and Letting Go
A key element required for amazing sex is having enough trust in one’s partner for complete vulnerability and unrestricted self-expression. Similarly, trust and control issues can contribute to difficulty becoming aroused or reaching orgasm. The accelerated courtship process through hookup apps doesn’t allow sufficient time to build high levels of trust and comfort.
A person’s behaviour during sex is an indicator of their ability to give up control. It shows whether a person is able to be fully present and in the moment. This requires truly letting go of expectations and normative beliefs about sex (if only temporarily). Being self-conscious and focusing on performance or, alternatively, trying to act out a fantasy, detaches one from their partner and the experience. Both of these can result when a sufficiently strong intimate connection has not been developed prior to sex—often the case when people are using hookup apps to get sex as quickly as possible.
(4) They Make Problems Worse for Individuals With Attachment Disorders—or Provide an Easy Cop-Out
The short-cuts and “efficiency” offered by hook-up apps may present special difficulties not only for individuals with sex and love addiction, but also individuals with attachment disorders. The accelerated courtship process can be an insurmountable obstacle to developing intimacy for individuals who, even under normal circumstances, have difficulty forming healthy attachments.
But, perhaps—is that the whole point? Do individuals with attachment disorders prefer interactions where intimacy, vulnerability, and bonding are not required to have sex? If so, then hookup apps are the perfect solution for them!
(5) Hookup Apps Facilitate Problematic Sexual Behaviours
For some sex and love addicts, digital seduction through hookup apps is about the conquest. The sexual outcome is not their focus—it’s more about the chase. Another problematic behaviour that hookup apps facilitate is high-risk anonymous sex, where individuals put themselves or others in danger.
(6) Popular Culture Creates Unrealistic Expectations That Play out in Hookup Apps
To complicate things further, Hollywood and popular media depict “perfect romance” through idealized narratives—often through scenarios that could not possibly occur in real life. These unrealistic expectations play out in hookup apps. The authenticity of interactions is often compromised by individuals trying to act out unrealistic fantasies and seductive role play.
(7) Online Platforms Facilitate (Or Even Encourage) Deception
Forming authentic connections is further thwarted by the opportunities—or even encouragement!—presented by hookup apps for intentionally deceptive behaviour. Ashley Madison’s tagline is, “Life is short. Have an affair.” Despite a catastrophic data breach in 2015 that resulted in users’ identities being made public, Ashley Madison, the online platform for extra-marital dating, now has over 30 million users. Clearly there is a demand—and a major hazard for individuals with sex addiction.
The Ending of the Hookup App Fairy Tale
And so the story ends: she takes an Uber to his place “to watch some netflix”—they had just started chatting two hours earlier. Before she knows it, she wakes up in his bed and it’s 4:30 a.m.—she must have drifted off. “Should I sleep here, or sneak out now and avoid getting in too deep?” she wonders. She decides to sneak out. Her fear of intimacy is strong. And so, the two of them lived happily ever after—because they never spoke to each other again.
Certified Sex Addiction Therapy (CSAT) Training at Bellwood, March 25–29
Bellwood Health Services, in Toronto, is hosting Certified Sex Addiction Therapy Module 1 training for professionals, given by IITAP, March 25–29. This training is rarely offered in Canada and is a great opportunity to upgrade your practice. Participants receive 30 CEU’s (CACCP) upon completion. For more information and to register, please visit the IITAP event page.
EHN Canada Sex Addiction Treatment Programs
If you or someone you love needs help with sex addiction, please call us at one of our numbers below for more information or to enrol in one of our programs.
- 1-800-387-6198 for Bellwood Health Services in Toronto, ON
- 1-800-683-0111 for Edgewood Treatment Centre in Nanaimo, BC