Have you ever struggled to send a good opening message on a dating app? A study published in Personal Relationships suggests that traditional greetings are more positively viewed than sexually explicit messages, but negative reactions to sexual messages vary based on a myriad of factors.
Dating apps have inherently changed the way people function in romantic courtship. Now, first impressions can be cultivated online without so much as meeting the other person in real life. Online dating tools can offer many advantages, giving people a chance to connect who may run in different circles or live in different neighborhoods.
Additionally, it can aid people who struggle with shyness or social anxiety. Regardless, there are also drawbacks, including increased sexual harassment, objectification, and sexually explicit messages. This study sought to understand how recipients’ responses to sexually explicit messages may differ by various factors.
For their study, Amanda E. Lilly and Emily M. Buehler utilized 275 undergraduate students at a Midwestern public university who were between the ages of 18 and 29 years old. The sample was predominantly comprised of women, heterosexual, and white participants. Participants completed measures on their motivations and usage of dating apps.
Next, participants were asked to imagine that they had matched with a potential partner and received an initial message from them. For this, participants were assigned to receive either a traditional message (“a greeting and a question to spark more dialogue”) or a sexually explicit message. Following, participants answered questions about how the hypothetical message matched up with their motivations and expectations about dating apps.
Results showed that receiving a sexually explicit initial message was viewed as both more unexpected and more negative than being sent a traditional greeting as an opener. This suggests that sexually explicit messages are not well-received by recipients and may have negative consequences for the initiation of a relationship.
This effect differed by gender and by motivation for using dating applications. Although both women and men viewed receiving a sexual message as negative, women reported viewing it more negatively than men did. Additionally, participants who reported using dating apps in order to look for a long-term relationship viewed sexual messages more negatively than participants who used dating apps for casual sex.
This study took steps into better understanding reactions to initial messages on dating apps. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that the study did not give a traditional or sexually explicit opener to participants and rather asked them to imagine receiving one in order to shield participants from risk. Another limitation is that this study utilized all self-report measures, which are vulnerable to bias.
Nevertheless, the study contributes to understanding the impact of sexually explicit messages on online dating and emphasizes the importance of considering gender, motives, and expectations.
“Although this type of initiation message is becoming a common tactic utilized by some when trying to start a romantic relationship, the current study indicates that these types of messages tend to violate recipients’ expectations in a negative way,” the researchers concluded. “Although recipients’ gender and motives for using online dating tools may mitigate how negatively they view this type of message, receiving sexually explicit content in a relationship initiation message tended to be viewed negatively.”
“Online daters might choose to reserve sending sexually explicit content until they are sure the recipient would appreciate that kind of communication. Online daters who understand when it is and is not appropriate to use sexually explicit messages may be more effective at attaining their goals by using online dating tools.”
The study, “Online daters’ reactions to sexually explicit initiation messages“, was authored by Amanda E. Lilly and Emily M. Buehler.