I was fresh-faced, 16 and in the closet when I logged onto Grindr for the first time. If my girlfriends were to be believed, all the best-looking men are gay - so surely a world of gorgeous, tanned hunks with god-like torsos were only a click away? But what did I find? 'Dick-pics' by the dozen, old men in leather, strapped into what looked like my Uncle Kevin's garage and guys who initiated conversations with me by describing what they'd like me to do. No thanks. So I as quickly as I had downloaded the app; I deleted it.
Fast forward eighteen months and I made the difficult decision to come out to my followers on YouTube in a film. It was a nerve-wracking time. I got 10 death threats, but equally got hundreds of messages of support, from other young gay people who were in a similar situation. 66,000 people watched the video. Now I was out, single and 18. What next? How to find a gay friend? A gay social life? A boyfriend?
There over seven million users of Grindr worldwide and London is home to over 270,000 of them, their pockets buzzing, popping and beeping furiously as messages come in. Grindr is by far the most popular but Hornet, Scruff, VGL and Jack'd are gaining ground too - dating apps are a big and growing business. But more than that, they're changing sex and relationships - and fast. Now whatever you're looking for - in and out of the bedroom - there's an app for that. But what if you're young, single and recently out? Do the apps have a solution for that too?
I was about to find out. I downloaded them all again to really put them to the test.
Buzz. "Wow, Sexy!" - came the first message from @horny99. Naturally I was compelled to answer. It seemed only polite. I quickly found myself involved in a rally of messages, batting flirtation and innuendo back and forth for nearly half an hour. Did it go anywhere? No. He was a 46-year-old horny guy around the corner with one thing on his mind.
I wrote my profile with care. After all, you never know, this could be the first thing a future partner or boyfriend would see of me. Several people I'd met had got together with boyfriends and even future husbands on the apps. Was I a twink? (Teenage, White into No Kink?) I didn't think I was an Otter, but how was I to know - when I wasn't 100% sure what that was? And that's before we got into the nitty-gritty of who likes to do what to whom. It was a sexual minefield.
For five days I chatted to people on the app. Most were waste of time. I was offered cash for sex. I was sent pictures of naked torsos (some of them pretty buff) and spent a lot of time responding to the opening gambit of choice "Hey Man... What you doing?" How to respond to this question occupied hours of my day... "just chilling" "drinking a coffee" or "hanging out" seemed non-committal but still relatively up for it. The truth is, for an app that advertises instant gratification, getting a date was unbelievably time-consuming. There were plenty of men nearby looking for sex. I only fancied a drink or a chat. But as I sat in a Soho café, with G-A-Y London in striking distance, finding someone of my age who might want more than just sex was like looking for a four-leaf clover.
Eventually, I did manage to get a date, which involved a couple of pints in a pub, marred only by the invitation to go back to his before we'd even bought a packet of crisps. You can't blame him for trying.
So after five days of full immersion in the world of Grindr, Hornet, Jack'd, Scruff and the rest - what had I learnt? I toughened up. There was brutal rejection, there was propositioning, there was a lot of talk of sex - but you have to text a lot of frogs to find a prince.
Gay Sex, Apps and Me is available on 4OD now
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