Ever think about how people from the 1800s would react if we explained to them that we can conjure sex out of thin air using the glass rectangles we keep in our pockets? I know it’s not quite that simple, but compared to our forebearers, we have it remarkably easy. What did they do when they were horny? Walk uphill both ways in the snow to get to the local tavern? Write a fawning letter to a beautiful person they met once at a train station? Stay at home, marinating in sexual shame? (Probably mostly that last one, to be honest…)
In all seriousness, it’s pretty damn cool that via apps and websites, we have so much potential access to intimacy — physical, emotional or both — with people we might never have met otherwise. Social commentators theorize on how the internet has dulled our ability to truly connect with others, but I have more of an “iPhone-battery-half-full” view of the situation. We no longer have to feel so alone in moments of loneliness (or horniness), because with just a few taps, we can summon up hundreds of profiles of people feeling the same way, and maybe make plans to meet up. It’s nothing short of modern magic.
It would be disingenuous, though, to pretend that using hookup apps is all smooth sailing. Trying to find sex online isn’t as clear-cut as ordering a pizza — we first have to wade through sketchy profiles, bad conversationalists, awkward dates and potential safety hazards, to name just a few concerns. But when it all works out, it can feel so, so worth it.
What Qualities Matter Most in a Hookup App?
1) Useful Filters. Whatever you’re looking for — or not looking for — it’s helpful if the app you use has ways of letting you search for other people seeking the same thing(s). “Having the right filters is really important to a hookup app, to differentiate between people who want certain dynamics,” says Leanne Yau, a polyamory educator. “Some people date for marriage, whereas some people are looking for more short-term things.”
Some apps also let you filter for things like distance (in case you don’t feel like driving 50 miles for some action), hobbies and even height. You might want to consider which filters you’d find most useful and look for apps that offer that.
2) Space for Self-Identification. Lush Lynn, a sex educator, likes hookup apps that offer “a way for people to thoroughly explain their gender, their sexuality preferences and their relationship preferences, as opposed to just “looking for men” or ‘‘looking for women.” If your gender and sexuality are fairly cut-and-dried, this may not be as important to you — but it can be a vital factor if your identities are nuanced and you want people to self-select out of your hookup pool if they’re put off by who you are.
3) User Base. While there are a lot of interesting hookup apps out there that focus on niche communities or have specialized features, Lynn points out that none of that really matters if hardly any people where you live are using the app you want to use. For this reason, it might make sense to go with an app that has a bigger and more generalized audience, especially if you don’t live in a big city.
The types of users on an app can be a selling point, too. Some hookup apps lean one way or the other politically; some are queer-focused and some are more straight-focused; some emphasize your interests and personality while others put your photos front-and-center. You might need to try a bunch to get a feel for what each is like, but you’ll hopefully be able to find at least one where you vibe with the overall user base.
4) Privacy and Safety. No matter who you are or where you live, there’s always a chance that you could run into a privacy or safety issue on a hookup app — whether that be encountering your abusive ex’s profile, getting followed around by a digital stalker, receiving non-consensual nudes or other such violations. The best hookup apps in terms of safety are those that let you block other users as needed, and that have a robust system for reviewing reported users’ infractions and banning them from the app if need be.
5) User Verification. Lynn appreciates when hookup apps have ways of ensuring that their users’ photos and locations are indeed real, through some kind of verification process. This helps cut down on catfishing and similar scams, and can set your mind at ease while you’re swiping or scrolling.
6) User Experience. This one’s a purely technical consideration. “I don’t want to have to keep closing and opening the app again every time there’s a glitch or a bug,” Yau says. Check the App Store reviews of apps you want to download to see if tech problems are frequently reported or not. Needless to say, the most popular apps, like Tinder and OkCupid, tend to have the biggest budgets for quashing bugs.
In the mood to get your swipe on? Here are some of the best apps for finding someone to hook up with…
Best Overall Hookup App: Tinder
Pricing: Free to join; upgraded subscriptions ranging from $4.99 to $39.99 per month
What It Does Well: In terms of sheer numbers, Tinder wins. it’s the most downloaded dating app in the world, so if you want to maximize the potential partners available to you, it’s probably the best pick. Signing up and creating your profile is fairly quick and easy; you use your Facebook login or phone number to create an account, which makes it harder for catfishes and creeps to do what they do. The app offers a lot of options for self-identification around gender and sexuality. There’s a photo verification system, too: If you see a blue check on someone’s profile, that means their pictures are legit. It’s usually relatively bug-free, and its swiping-based interface is easy to use once you get the hang of it.
What It Does Not-So-Well: Tinder isn’t the best for those of us who care about sexual partners’ personalities more than their appearance, because its swiping system is largely based on photos and first impressions (though some redesigns over the past few years have at least made the first few lines of each user’s bio easy to read quickly while you swipe). You only get a certain number of swipes per day unless you pay a monthly fee for extra ones. The upgraded subscription fees are also higher for people over 30 than for people under 30, which kinda sucks.
Aside from writing it in your profile or reading it in other people’s if they choose to share, there’s also no easy way to specify, or filter for, particular types of relationships you might be looking for (e.g., non-monogamous relationships, friendships with benefits, one-night stands only and so on). There’s also no way to block a user unless and until you’ve already matched with them, so I wouldn’t use Tinder if I was worried about running into a scary ex on it.
Finally, Tinder’s audience is quite general and broad, so it may not be the best place if you’re looking for something niche, like a bisexual third for a threesome or a domme to flog you.
The Final Word: Tinder is the hookup-app equivalent of throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. It leaves something to be desired in terms of safety and seeking people from specific sexual subcultures, but its user base is one of the biggest out there. If you’re going to the trouble of casting your line, it’s nice to know that there’s lots of fish in the sea.
Best Hookup App for the Sexually Open-Minded: Feeld
Pricing: Free to join; upgraded subscription for $15.99 per month
What It Does Well: Open to couples and singles of all sexualities and genders, Feeld markets itself as being an inclusive, open-minded platform for dating and sexual exploration. Yau recommends Feeld because “it has a lot of different labels for gender identity and sexuality, which allows me to find other queer people to date, as that’s a priority for me.”
Your profile can also specify what kinds of connections you’re looking for, like “friendships,” “BDSM” or “casual.” The app encourages you to use an “imaginary name” rather than your real name, which could make it feel safer for people who are worried about privacy. If you want, you can also pair your account with a partner’s, so that their profile will be linked to yours and vice-versa, and you can participate in group chats together (like if you’re planning a threesome, foursome or moresome).
Feeld is easy to use, and making a profile is free and fast. Users’ bios, interests and identities are displayed right below their photos, so whether looks or personalities are more important to you, you’ll be able to get a sense of each potential match pretty quickly.
What It Does Not-So-Well: The “imaginary names” thing can feel a little creepy if you’d prefer to know your dates’ real name and identity for safety reasons (although, of course, you can always exchange that info via message — the app just doesn’t have a built-in way to verify it as truth). You can only select one sexual orientation for your profile, which I personally found annoying as a queer, bisexual, demisexual snowflake. Some key features are locked behind a paywall, such as the ability to filter by what type of relationship you’re looking for, and an “incognito” mode that lets you hide your profile from your existing Facebook friends for privacy reasons.
Also, Feeld’s DMs are notoriously glitchy, so many users take their conversations off-platform to better-operating apps like Kik, Signal, WeChat or just text messaging.
The Final Word: If you’re looking for sexually open-minded individuals and/or couples to hook up with, definitely consider Feeld. It’s got great features for finding people whose sexuality, gender and/or sexual interests line up with what you’re looking for, whether you’re craving group sex or just a one-on-one encounter.
Best Hookup App for Starting Conversations: Hinge
Pricing: Free to join; upgraded subscription for $39.99 per month
What It Does Well: Lynn likes the playful approach that Hinge takes to profile-building — rather than writing a normal bio, you respond to prompts such as “A fact about me that surprises people,” or “You should not go out with me if…” Your answers are then displayed on your profile, and matches can respond to specific prompts or photos, which makes starting conversations easier than it is in many other apps. You can even answer a prompt with a 30-second voice recording — excellent news for those of us who are more charming when speaking than when texting.
Supplying your last name is optional, and if you do fill it in, it’s only shared with matches, which makes this app feel safer. You sign up with a phone number, so there’s an extra barrier of entry for catfishes, stalkers, etc. who might try to get around bans and blocks by making multiple accounts. You can select between three preset gender options (man, woman, non-binary) or fill-in-the-blank with your own terminology, and there are more than 20 different sexual orientation options.
What It Does Not-So-Well: You can only send out eight “likes” per day, so the pace of finding matches can be slower than it is with more permissive apps. There’s no way to specify what type of connection you’re looking for, or to filter matches by this criteria, and the app seems to be overall more relationship-oriented than hookup-oriented. Hinge also requires you to input your height and always displays it on your profile with no option to remove it, which I find very odd.
You can’t select more than one sexual orientation to list on your profile, either. You can select your political affiliation from a list that only includes liberal, moderate, conservative, “not political,” “other” or “prefer not to say,” which bugged me since politics are more nuanced than that (not that you’re necessarily going to get into those discussions with your one-night stand, but still). Some features are paywalled, like unlimited likes and being able to filter by political beliefs.
The Final Word: Hinge is a great option if you struggle to get the ball rolling conversationally, because it supplies you with so many prompts to fill out on your own profile and to respond to in other people’s profiles. However, it’s seemingly more focused on dating than sex, and doesn’t make it especially easy to connect with other people who are just looking for a hookup.
Best Hookup App for Women: Bumble
Pricing: Free to join; upgraded subscriptions ranging from $24.99 to $51.99 per month
What It Does Well: Famously, Bumble’s key gimmick is that women are the only ones who can initiate conversations — and only after both people have swiped right on each other. “For some folks, that can be really helpful,” Lynn says. “You don’t have to talk to people you don’t want to talk to.” Like Hinge, Bumble offers “prompts” that make it easier to fill out your profile and give matches something to respond to when they message you. You can indicate your gender and pronouns from extensive lists of options. Bumble lets you specify your COVID-related comfort levels, like whether you’d prefer to meet virtually before meeting IRL, and if you’re okay with indoor dates or if you only want to meet outdoors. Sign-up and setup are quick and easy.
What It Does Not-So-Well: You only get to “like” up to 25 users per day; if you want more than that, you’ll have to pay for Bumble’s pricey upgraded membership plans. Unless you pay for “extends” or “rematches,” all matches expire after 24 hours if no one sends a message in that timeframe. Ostensibly this feature is meant to force you to make connections quickly instead of putting it off, but as a busy and distractible person, I find that this feature ends up frustrating me more than motivating me, when a perfectly viable match goes “poof” because I was too slow on the uptake.
While Bumble does let you specify what kind of connection you’re looking for, the options lack nuance (they’re limited to “a relationship,” “something casual,” “marriage” and “don’t know yet”). Things like non-monogamy and kink aren’t factored into Bumble profile design or filtering at all, though you can always mention these things in your bio.
The Final Word: Bumble puts a lot of power in women’s hands, but if you’re not a woman, you might find it frustrating, disempowering and slow to produce meaningful matches. The interface is fun, though, especially filling out your profile and responding to other people’s prompts.
Best Hookup App for Queers Who Love Words: Lex
What It Does Well: Lex is a text-centered app, so it might feel comfier for folks who are self-conscious about their looks or who just find words and personalities sexier than pictures. You can fill out a profile, including what you’re looking for (friends, dates, hookups or events/community), but the main focus of the app is text-based posts that you can respond to. These posts often specify exactly what the poster is looking for (e.g., a kink partner, a FWB, someone to go to a concert with) so you know roughly what you’re getting into when you message them.
Lex’s audience is largely queer — it was inspired by the personals in the back of a lesbian erotica magazine from the 1980s and 1990s — so anyone who’s off-the-beaten path in terms of gender or sexuality might have better luck with it than on more generalized apps. Users can set a profile picture, giving you at least some sense of what a potential match looks like before you message them. There are good blocking and reporting tools that help you manage your feed and keep yourself safe, too.
What It Does Not-So-Well: Naturally, since this is an almost entirely text-focused app, it’s not the best choice for folks who are prioritizing physical attraction in their search for a hookup. There’s no verification and no requirement for users to identify themselves, meaning that catfishes and scammers could get a foothold more easily. Because it’s a deeply queer app, straight cis people probably won’t have much success with it.
The Final Word: If you’re queer and/or trans and words are important to you — the words you use to describe yourself, as well as the words you exchange with potential hookups — then I’d urge you to try Lex, if just because the postings are quirky as hell and often hilarious. It’s a refreshing divergence from the typical looks-obsessed approach to hookup apps.
Best Hookup App for Queer Men: Grindr
Pricing: Free to join; upgraded subscriptions ranging from $19.99 to $39.99 per month
What It Does Well: Grindr is one of the best-known dating apps for LGBTQ+ folks, especially queer men. There are always plenty of people on it, and you can easily find the ones who are closest to you, for those times when you wanna hook up ASAP and don’t want to travel or wait. While dating and meeting romantic partners is always an option, Grindr is pretty hookup-focused compared to some others on this list. There are several options for gender identification and you can fill in your own as well. You can also choose “tags” to display on your profile which give potential matches an idea of who you are and what you’re looking for, such as “condoms,” “vaccinated,” “FWB” and “poly.” The app is fairly easy to use and runs smoothly.
A cool “Discreet App” feature also allows you to change the app’s icon, so that if someone peers over your shoulder at your home screen, they won’t necessarily know you’ve been looking for a gay hookup.
What It Does Not-So-Well: While Grindr is ostensibly for “gay, bi, trans and queer people,” its roots as a hookup app for gay and bi men still linger and it doesn’t always feel like the most welcoming place for people who don’t fall into those categories. On top of that, the user base of Grindr can be notoriously racist, transphobic, fatphobic and femmephobic, though the app has tried to address this over the past few years. (To be clear, these biases can and do exist on other platforms, but Grindr has been called out in particular for letting discrimination run rampant in user profiles.)
Some features are locked behind a paywall, such as read receipts, ad-free browsing and advanced filters — and arguably, some of these advanced filters are themselves problematic, because you can search by weight and body type. Being a predominantly queer app, obviously this isn’t the best place for straight people to seek hookups, unless they’re looking to expand their horizons.
The Final Word: Particularly for queer men and those who find them sexy, Grindr is a hotbed of potential hookups. Bias and discrimination are big issues within it, but it’s hard to say how much of that is due to the app itself versus its users.