Is Tinder Addictive?

Tinder logo
Getty Images for Billboard / Getty Images

Tinder is a relatively new addition to the world of cybersex. It is often described as a form of online dating, but dating is not necessarily part of the process. Rather, tinder is an app that provides a picture and minimal information about a large group of participants, and users can decide whether they "like" each one or not, simply by swiping the screen to the left or right. Each time a person is "liked," their smartphone lets them know. If they "like" the person back, the two participants can be connected through their phones, which can lead to further communication, and potentially, a real life meeting involving dating and/or sex.

Compulsive Swiping

Online commentary about tinder has indicated that many users of the app find it addictive, describing the compulsion to spend hours each day swiping through pictures, and of course, gaining instant gratification from the "likes" they receive. While there are no studies indicating whether tinder addiction could actually develop into a recognized disorder, it shares much in common with both sex addiction and video game addiction. The combination of these two addictive behaviors in one gives it potential to be highly addictive, although it is unclear whether it is actually harmful in and of itself.

Connections to Sex Addiction

The similarities shared with sex addiction are related to the repetitive nature of the exposure to sexually provocative content. While the face shots that people post of themselves, which form the basis of the initial judgement for others to "like" or not, are not sexually explicit, anecdotal reports in non-scientific articles published in Marie Claire and Vanity Fair, indicate that sexting between participants is common, both in terms of messages inviting sexual contact, and sexually explicit images. Being exposed to numerous sexual images leads to tolerance -- a classic symptom of addiction, where more and more of what was initially exciting and pleasurable is needed to get the same effect.

Participants also report having large numbers of sexual partners through tinder. While it is unclear whether the stories being reported actually represent reality, or whether the number of partners most tinder users pair up with is exaggerated, is unknown. Other than the constant positive reinforcement of being "liked," it is hard to believe that there is much incentive for women to continue to use tinder as a way of meeting potential partners, given the disrespectful and unsatisfying experiences that are reported, unless they are exploiting the process as a form of sex work. However, compulsive seeking of large numbers of sexual partners, even in the face of unsatisfying and problematic experiences, is a hallmark of some types of cybersex user.

Connections to Video Game Addiction

Some have speculated that the appeal of tinder is more aligned with video game addiction and that compulsive tinder use is, in fact, simply another type of video game addiction. Taryn Hilin, for example, argues that tinder addicts are simply hooked on the game-like reinforcement, and provides an interesting case, supported by interviews with experts.

Jury's Out

However, for a behavior to be addictive, it not only has to be compulsive, to the point where users feel unable to control the behavior, but it also has to be continued in the face of negative consequences. Without credible research to answer this question, it is unclear whether people continue to use the app once it has become harmful to them personally. It is also unclear whether tinder is more harmful than other ways of initiating casual sex.

Was this page helpful?