A study published in the journal Sexes uncovered an elevated risk of hypersexuality and depression among dating app users. According to the study’s authors, the findings could suggest that some people who struggle with mental health issues or hypersexual tendencies are using dating apps as a coping mechanism.
Dating applications are exceedingly popular, and many psychology studies have explored the personality profile that characterizes dating app users. Some studies have uncovered mental health concerns among users, such as risky sexual behavior and depression. Study author Giacomo Ciocca and his team wanted to explore two psychological traits that are mutually correlated that might influence the use of dating apps — hypersexuality and depression.
“Much evidence shows that the formation of couple relationships is often related to the use of dating apps. Also, sexual behavior is mediated by the use of these technological tools. Therefore, psychological research is called to study this contemporary phenomenon,” said Ciocca, a researcher and assistant professor at Sapienza, University of Rome.
Hypersexuality involves obsessive thoughts and urges about sex and compulsive sexual behavior. This pattern of behavior mirrors addiction disorders, which is why hypersexuality is often referred to as “sex addiction.” These tendencies have been associated with depression, and there is evidence that hypersexual people use sex to cope with low mood and depressive states. Ciocca and his fellow researchers proposed that hypersexual and depressive tendencies might lead certain people to seek out dating apps.
To investigate the prevalence of hypersexuality and depression among dating app users, the researchers first recruited a convenience sample of 1,000 Italians via an online platform. Participants were between the ages of 18 and 60 and had no severe mental health issues. The participants completed sociodemographic questionnaires that included questions about their relationship status, sexual orientation, contraceptive use, and whether they were currently in a stable or casual sexual relationship. Importantly, the participants were also asked whether they used any dating apps.
Additionally, participants completed a measure of depression symptoms and the Hypersexual Behavior Inventory (HBI), which measures hypersexuality according to three factors. The “coping” factor assesses the use of sexual behaviors as a response to distress, the “control” factor assesses a lack of self-control regarding one’s sexual behavior, and the “consequences” factor assesses the consequences of one’s sexual behavior and urges (e.g., interference with school and work).
About 12% of the sample said they used dating apps. When the researchers compared the survey responses between those who used dating apps and those who did not, they found that dating app users were more likely to have casual sexual partners while non-users were more likely to have stable sexual relationships. Although some studies have suggested that people who use dating apps are more likely to engage in unprotected sex, the findings revealed that dating app users were more likely to use condoms than non-users.
Dating app users also had higher overall scores for hypersexuality and scored higher than non-users in each of the three factors on the HBI. Dating app users also had higher symptoms of depression than non-users and were more likely to demonstrate severe or moderate depression symptoms. Further analysis revealed that dating app users were more likely to be male, younger than 40, single, and non-heterosexual.
“Dating app use, like every technological tool, is characterized by two aspects mirroring two faces of the same coin. The use of dating app is useful to meet new people, friendships and partners, but it hides also some risks,” Ciocca told PsyPost.
The authors said these findings are the first to demonstrate a robust association between depression and compulsive sexual behavior among people who use dating apps. They say some people may use dating apps as a tool to cope with their problematic sexual behavior and to alleviate depressive feelings. According to the authors, “This evidence could mean that some hypersexual and/or depressed individuals recurringly use dating apps to alleviate their psychological and sexological suffering.”
Alternatively, an additional variable could be playing a role. For example, since low self-esteem has previously been associated with dating app use, it may be that people seeking to boost their self-esteem through dating apps have higher levels of both depression and hypersexuality.
Ciocca and his colleagues said that their study was limited since it did not consider additional relationship types like polyamory or open relationships and since the sample consisted of more women than men. Accordingly, they aim to further investigate subgroups of their sample according to sociodemographic characteristics.
“Sexual behavior, as Alfred Kinsey said, is the result of physiological and morphological aspects and all forces in the living and non-living environment,” Ciocca added. “Therefore, the study of the technological environment is fundamental for the knowledge of human sexuality and also for psychosexological health.”
The study, “Hypersexual Behavior and Depression Symptoms among Dating App Users”, was authored by Giacomo Ciocca, Lilybeth Fontanesi, Antonella Robilotta, Erika Limoncin, Filippo Maria Nimbi, Daniele Mollaioli, Andrea Sansone, Elena Colonnello, Chiara Simonelli, Giorgio Di Lorenzo, and Emmanuele A. Jannini.