2014 research awards

Same-Sex Male Social Dating Networks: Identity Formation and Protection: A Preliminary Examination

  • Principal Investigator: Prof Chris Ashford Dr Kevin J. Brown Northumbria University and Queen’s University of Belfast
  • Start Date: Sept 2014. End Date: June 2015
  • Amount: £1280

Summary of the Project:

Many gay, bisexual and MSM make extensive use of same-sex encounter/dating apps. They can form an important part of their lives allowing them to connect with men for casual encounters, dating, friendship or networking. There are now a range of location-based mobile service apps available catering for different tastes including Grindr, Scruff and Gaydar. This project funded by the British Irish Law Education and Technology Association explored the ways in which men are performing identity in the context of this technological landscape. This was done through conducting a number of focus groups with men who make use of these apps. Two focus groups were conducted with men over the aged of 18. A total of 17 men participated in total with over three hours of focus group discussion generating valuable data. Professor Chris Ashford from Northumbria University described the purposes of the project as follows:

Apps such as Grindr appear to be an increasingly important aspect of men’s sex lives yet we don’t know enough about how men in the UK are presenting and understanding identity in these spaces. This research project begins the important process of addressing this gap in knowledge. This project also seeks to understand the ways in which individuals endeavour (in so far as they do) to protect these online identities.

Information which is seen as more private and therefore less likely to be divulged included full name, telephone number, Facebook ID, email address. Whilst most users make use of face pics, some choose not to in order to protect their identity. Individuals may wish to protect their identity for different reasons including their job, not being out as an LGBT person, their relationship status (e.g. if they are married). More intimate pictures are sometimes shared between users of the apps. Reasons for sharing more intimate pictures include: enticing someone to meet up, to receive compliments, peer pressure, social norms, a lack of concern about privacy.

Identity can be flexible on these apps with some users reporting that they are sometimes not honest about themselves with all users reporting that in their experience other users are not always honest. Reasons for a lack of honesty include: insecurity about an aspect of themselves, fear of rejection, wanting to entice others, peer pressure.

Identity theft was a concern among some users and most users had experience either directly or indirectly of it.


Conference Paper presented at the SLSA Annual Conference at Warwick University on 31st March 2015. The paper was entitled: Same-Sex Male Social “Dating” Networks: Identity Formation and Protection: A Preliminary Examination.

Conference Paper presented at the Law and Society Conference in Oslo University on 11th June 2015. The paper was entitled: Same-Sex Male Social “Dating” Networks: Identity Formation and Protection: A Preliminary Examination

The researchers are currently working on an article for submission to a relevant peer reviewed journal.

Final Comments:

The researchers are immensely grateful to BILETA for funding this project. The amount of funds awarded may have been relatively small, but they proved vital in getting this preliminary study of the ground. In an era of big grants, BILETA’s award scheme has an important role to play in providing seed-corn funding.