Casual sex: The fundamental differences between gay men and everyone else 


Apps like Grindr and Scruff have become the gold standard for men to meet men. These apps, and others like it, use geo-locational technology to connect users to other men currently logged onto the app within a certain physical range, creating easy opportunities to both meet and hook up with new guys. While some men aren’t necessarily meeting up (just) to have sex, it is generally understood that Grindr, Scruff and the like are used for casual sex.

But why are these apps seemingly reserved for gay men? What about a hookup app for lesbians or for straight people? Certainly, Tinder is the closest thing to a hookup app for non-gay men but it absolutely falls short of being a full-fledged hookup app. Instead, it exists in a sort of gray area between a Grindr/Scruff-type app and a more formal dating site like Match or OkCupid. So, where is the disconnect? 

Surely, gay men aren’t the only group of people who want to engage in casual sex. In fact, much research shows that men and women, regardless of sexual orientation, choose to have casual sex (just for the sake of it) at roughly the same rate. But — and this is a very distinctive but — biological differences between men and women seem to be the cause of differences in hooking up habits.

Oxytocin is released in the brain during sex and plays a primary role in our ability to bond and attach to others, to develop romantic feelings and to establish feelings of trust. While this chemical is produced by both men and women, it is only released in men during orgasm, while oxytocin is produced in females all throughout the sexual experience and at higher levels than men. Additionally, testosterone suppresses oxytocin’s effects while estrogen maximizes it, making the differences between men and women’s sexual experiences even more pronounced. In short, men are not emotionally attaching because of sex unless they are already connected to their sexual partner in other ways (i.e., dating or in a relationship). 

While women can also engage in sex without forming an emotional attachment, the biological variation in how men and women produce and maintain oxytocin likely causes women to unconsciously practice more discretion before choosing to have casual sex. This occurs as part of a self-protective response and is one major reason why it is only gay men who reap the benefits of full-fledged hookup apps.

Beyond serotonin, from a societal level, when girls are taught about sex, they learn to look at it in the context of love and commitment instead of physical pleasure. They are taught to be cautious of sex instead of embracing of it. On the other hand, boys are taught about sex much more expansively. Society teaches boys that sex is equated with not just pleasure, but also with power, self-worth and pride. A man who has many sexual partners receives positive labels and associations; historically, we might have referred to such a man as a “Don Juan” or “Casanova,” while a woman with the same habits might be called “slut” or whore.” This unfair assignment of labels in response to the same sexual behavior tends to create shame in girls and women, which results in a more-limited sexual experience and a lower likelihood of going out and having their sexual desires fulfilled.

As an aside, I’m not operating with the idea that women are not having or enjoying sex — whether casual or committed. In fact, women have the potential for more fulfilling sexual experiences than men due to the more-intense presence of oxytocin. I am, however, of the belief that if females were taught to be sex-positive (promoting of an open and positive attitude towards sex) from a young age, more women would be comfortable with casual sex and hookup apps would probably exist for everyone. In the meantime, I guess we’ll have to leave most of the fun to you gay men.

Kristina Furia is a psychotherapist committed to working with LGBT individuals and couples. She owns Emerge Wellness, an LGBT health and wellness center in Center City (