Sniffies isn’t bookmarked on my phone, but I’ve logged onto it enough that the web address autocompletes in my browser. I most recently checked it on my short walk to the gym. I scanned the sea of profile bubbles, fired off a few choice messages to handsome strangers and spent the entirety my workout furtively making lingering eye contact over my shoulder, in the mirrors and across the squat rack, sussing out who might have been behind those anonymous profiles I’d seen on the map.
Finally, a new message arrived: “Sauna?”
Twenty minutes later, I found myself naked under a towel in the sauna across from a man I’d thought was thoroughly engrossed in his chest workout, but who apparently had other intentions. Next, we began the sly back and forth of crotch adjusting, subtle glances and strategic repositionings of our bodies that eventually led us to do away with our towels completely, and get down to brass tacks.
It’s facilitating these electric, one-off, cruising encounters that Sniffies is best for.
What’s that? You don’t know about Sniffies yet?
Sniffies is a browser-based cruising and hookup app for gay, curious and bisexual guys. Cruisers can stay as anonymous as they’d like, and instead of the traditional grid or swiping formats, Sniffies works on an interactive map. Users can commit themselves to one of Sniffies catalogued locations at a specific time in order to cruise the scene, use the messaging features to plan a hookup or just post publicly that they’ve left their door unlocked and have blindfolded themselves. But functionality aside, what makes Sniffies special is how unrestricted users are on the platform.
That is, Sniffies exists outside the jurisdiction of any app store, which means it’s not subject to Apple’s Terms of Service or their user agreements. This is hugely important, because it allows Sniffies to get to the center of exactly what makes the internet so alluring — it’s uncensored, it’s a little dangerous and it can be anything you want it to be.
Profile pictures can be explicit, users don’t need an account to log in and there’s nothing stopping you from delving into your most fucked-up kinks. Hook your nipples up to some kind of battery? Throw on a pup mask and bark at your alpha? Just want some good old fashioned daddy/boy roleplay: Sniffies doesn’t care. In fact, they encourage it. Behold:
When I first started using Sniffies, I quickly found that it wasn’t just another way for guys to give each other blow jobs. It’s the answer to the predictability and sterilization that’s endemic to the larger apps we’ve used for years. It’s a return to the mercurial, illicit and sexy queer tradition of cruising, and a push toward a true queer sexual liberation.
For years, gay hookups have been largely facilitated by a few select digital platforms. These apps have borne new gay digital slang, created a unique sexual social network and completely changed the conversations we have around sex. A completely biased, wholly incomplete accounting of them:
- Grindr is by far the largest, and is for gays who quote Lady Gaga’s “Chromatica” in their bios and people who disguise their racism behind “sexual preferences” (gross).
- Scruff is for guys with tattoos and body hair. Basically, daddies in Toronto who want to fist you.
- Tinder is for gays in finance, or straight people, I guess? I have never met anyone off Tinder, but did once flirt with Ben Platt for three days until he lost interest.
- Manhunt is for when you’re feeling nostalgic for your own internalized homophobia from the early 2000s.
- OkCupid is for me specifically, in college, when I thought I wanted to get married to a guy named Christian and move to Connecticut by age 25.
- Jack’d advertises itself as a queer inclusive dating app for POC, and as a certified white boy, I have chosen to let that be a space I don’t insert myself into!
- Instagram, while technically not an app for “gay sex,” is where the seed of many a homosexual encounter has been planted. It’s also a great place to exchange nudes with the guy who used to bully you in high school — Instagram DMs are a free-for-all.
These apps all have their downsides, of course — Grindr, for one, may be selling your information to the Chinese government, which, while erotic to me personally, isn’t ideal — but the larger problem is their ubiquity. Everyone’s there, and logging on is just like going to the overcrowded gay bar down the street to see the same faces again and again. And just like that familiar bar, there’s one horny kinkster for every 10 vanilla people who are there because they’re bored. Along those lines, there’s also a 50 percent chance that whoever you strike up a conversation with is looking for precisely eight minutes of arhythmic missionary and nothing more.
Mainstream apps are no longer a sexually free space because, essentially, they’re Facebook. I’ve encountered colleagues, professors, bosses, frenemies, parents of friends, etc. on them, and that doesn’t make for a space in which most people feel comfortable displaying or indulging their kinks. Instead, you create a profile that showcases you as a painfully hot, but very normal person, and then you link out to your Instagram and Twitter to corroborate your story. I mean, how many people on Scruff describe themselves as a “chill, sane, regular guy”?
“Sniffies was created to fill a gap in the dating app world to facilitate in-person and digital experiences for the curious,” says Eli Martin, Sniffies CMO and creative director. “We need Sniffies so that we have a place for queer sexual liberation without shame or judgment.”
Thankfully, the illicit whispers about Sniffies are getting louder every day. “I discovered it written in Sharpie on the back of a toilet door at a bar,” says a friend of mine who we’ll call Xavier (a pseudonym he inexplicably chose). “I still remember showing all my [friends] at the time, and everyone being absolutely flabbergasted, shocked at how explicit it was.”
Mention Sniffies in a mixed crowd of homos, and it’s likely that between one and three of them have let their curiosity get the better of them as well. “When you’re an anonymous figure that’s leading with a picture of your dick, or if you’re leading with an ass shot, it’s very clear in the sense of why you’re both there,” Xavier continues. “On Scruff, on Grindr, there’s this kind of political correctness in terms of why people are there. Some people love the forwardness of, ‘Here’s what I want, show me all the pictures,’ whereas some people get offended by it. Sniffies isn’t trying to hide anything. It’s there to hookup.”
There’s little chit chat on Sniffies. No one wants to know how your day was (a question I’m asked on Grindr with confounding frequency). I log onto Sniffies to find messages asking if I’m interested in fucking, and if so, how fast can I get to their place? Or the nearest glory hole.
“My main thing is getting a quick fix in between meetings,” another intentionally nameless friend tells me. “When you come back and your coworkers know what you’ve done because they see you’re flustered, and then you have a cheeky little smile — that’s what I use it for.” He goes on to tell me the salacious details of understall foot tapping, lustful lingering eye contact at urinals and the many glory holes, changing rooms and hotel bathrooms he’s found in Sniffies’ catalogue of cruising spots.
“You know what? To those that potentially find love through anonymous dick, good on them, but for those that want a very primal connection to getting off, it’s for that,” he tells me.
Whereas Grindr and its ilk focus on building relationships through indefinitely saved conversations and linked Instagram accounts, Sniffies chats eventually expire, which means meetups are that much more electric and ephemeral. “In an age where millennials have forgotten how to cruise, it brings back a new digital kind of cruising mentality,” my mysteriously anonymous friend continues. “What Waze did for maps, Sniffies is doing for hooking up.”
As for me, I haven’t seen my sauna acquaintance at the gym again. Maybe he was visiting, or maybe we’ve just been missing each other. Who knows? Besides, I prefer not to know anyway.