How Much Have Dating Apps Changed Sexual Mores?

Last week, Olga covered a data release from OkCupid in which the company compared responses they received from users in 2005 to those collected in 2015:

Though not as rigorous as a truly random survey, the data hint at changing views of sex, love, and gender norms among online daters in the U.S. Surprisingly, OkCupid found that people have become more sexually conservative in certain ways. For example, fewer people now say they would have sex on the first date.

One reader doesn’t think we should draw any broad conclusions:

This data could just be reflecting the changing dynamics of OkCupid. That app, Plenty of Fish, Tinder, JDate, Christian Mingle, and eHarmony all have specific demographics they target and base their advertising on appealing to those demographics. A decreased number of OKC members willing to sleep with someone on the first date could just mean OKC has surrendered that market to PoF and Tinder, rather than indicating anything about the habits of Millennials generally.

This reader is on the same page:

Online dating has become much more mainstream in the last 10 years.

So it’s much more likely that rather than this data showing that people’s sexual mores have become more conservative, we’re really just seeing the online dating pool become more representative of the general population’s dating pool.

Also, as far as gays go, it’s important to remember that gay men use other apps for sex. For gays, OkCupid is about finding people to date—not hook up with—so of course it’s going to skew toward looking like more gays have conservative sexual mores. For what it’s worth, as a gay living in NYC, I have never—not once in 10 years—met a gay man categorically against sleeping with someone on a first date.

That reader’s point about online dating becoming much more mainstream is punctuated by Rob’s piece last week showing that the percentage of online daters between the ages of 18 and 24 has tripled in the past two years. This reader makes another key point:

The answers OkCupid collects are self reported, basically under duress. You know your answers are going to be seen by potential mates, and that skews them towards “what you want others to think about you.”

For more reader discussion along these lines, check out this Notes thread of people talking about how online dating “saved their lives.” Contribute yourself via hello@theatlantic.com. And there’s a free-wheeling sex discussion among readers in this moderated forum if you’re interested. One writes:

I don’t think people have changed all that much in their thoughts on sex generally. I think we’ve changed the way we talk about it. Talking about it has become less and less taboo.

Such talking applies to messaging as well, as this reader can attest to:

I just got an OKC message that said “Excuse me if I’m being forward but do you want to fuck.” And so it goes. Also, I will not be fucking that guy this weekend.

But I do enjoy a good one-night stand.

Leaving the Closet to Become an Adult

Last week, our video team revived our long discussion thread on adulthood by producing a series of person-on-the-street interviews in Manhattan (re-embedded above). We still have a ton of your emails and are trying to post as many of the best ones as we can. One of the most common themes for the question “When did you become an adult?” is financial independence, namely from parents. Here’s reader Michelle, age 38:

Great question! I felt like an adult at age 26. For the earlier part of my twenties, I rarely lived at my family home, but I searched out opportunities to live for free—friends’ homes, non-profits that offered housing, jobs where you could live on-site. But at 26, I got a studio apartment in a big city and paid rent through my own efforts. Living alone for the first time was my entry into true adulthood; financial independence and self-knowledge occurred in those rocky but wonderful years.

Megan Von Bergen gets a bit more specific with her marker:

One of the first times I really felt like an adult was when I started paying my first utility bills, during graduate school. This was my very first apartment. Paying bills was something I’d seen my parents do, it was something I was never involved in, and so to take responsibility for a mundane task made me really feel like an adult.

Ironically, for the first few weeks, this made me really excited about paying bills.

Stephen Grapes, on the other hand, isn’t quite there yet:

I don’t think I’ve become an adult just yet. I’m a 21 year-old American student who lives almost entirely off of my parent’s welfare.

For the last several years, I’ve felt a pressure—it might be a biological or a social pressure—to get out from under the yoke of my parents’ financial assistance. I feel that only when I’m able to support myself financially will I be a true “adult.” Some of the traditional markers of adulthood (turning 18, turning 21) have come and gone without me feeling any more adult-y, and I don’t think that marriage would make me feel grown up unless it was accompanied by financial independence.

Money really matters, because past a certain age, it is the main determiner of what you can and cannot do. And I guess to me the freedom to choose all “the things” in your life is what makes someone an adult.

Here’s another thing from Lauren Oliver:

When are you an adult? When you make your own doctor appointment.

Yes, there are defining moments in life that will make you feel like an adult: having kids, owning a home, holding a steady job, marriage, or experiencing deaths of loved ones, divorce(s), and career loss. All of these experiences are part of an adult’s life. But what is an adult? An adult is when one has full responsibility for him/herself. Bills are paid by oneself, appointments are made by oneself, confirming holiday plans with family members is done by oneself. Once this occurs, in my opinion, is when one is an adult.

“It’s nice to feel comfortable in your own weirdness; it’s maybe even the most important thing.” That’s my favorite line in this reader roundup, from Tom Schroeder, a 25-year-old grad student:

I began considering myself an adult shortly after moving into my own one-bedroom apartment about a year ago, at the age of 24, roughly two years after becoming financially independent from my parents. This probably says a lot about my personality, but it wasn’t until I lived alone and felt full ownership over my living space that I felt comfortable forming healthy routines.

I finally began learning to cook, for example. I kept my apartment clean for once in my life. I began to feel like a competent host. I no longer dreaded coming home, because there was no longer the question of whether there’d be any roommates around that I’d have to justify my actions, schedule, or company to.

It’s nice to feel comfortable in your own weirdness; it’s maybe even the most important thing. It’s easier without witnesses.

I’ll be moving away soon, so I had to abandon my beloved apartment in the summer to find a temporary room in a house with some friends. It’s the best thing I could have found for my circumstances, but I feel myself backsliding—between having housemates and existing in a more or less transient state, I’m cooking less, avoiding my own home, and living more messily and less healthily.

In short, I feel less like an adult living here. But I now know what to look for so I can get back on track when I arrive in my new home.

One more reader, who prefers to remain anonymous:

When I was a child, I thought adulthood was when you went to college. You were “completely on your own.” You took the classes that you wanted, you made the friends that you wanted, you ate what you wanted. You were the only agent in your successes and infrequent failures. Besides, you were 18 years old—that was pretty old to a 9 year old. You had to have been smart and mature and nice at that point. You had to have been “grown up.”

When I entered college, I realized how woefully naive that idea was. I was supported by my parents since they paid my tuition as well as room and board. Without them, I would have nothing.

With that, I mentally crossed off the sole agent bit. The other bits would be crossed off one by one, as I met many people who weren’t very smart or mature or nice or “grown up” and I came to realize that doing whatever you wanted did not equate a sense of adulthood. Eating Subway sandwiches at 4 AM on a Tuesday night, drunk out of your mind, when you have an 8 AM class is not a roaring affirmation of your maturation.

When I was in graduate school, still being supported by my parents, I thought that having a job and living on your own made you an adult. Actually being responsible for your own day-to-day life had to have meant something. You truly were on your own. How much more grown up is that?

Now that I have a job and am getting closer to moving out of my parents’ house, I am coming to realize that there is closer of a truth in that idea. I do feel better and more “grown up” about myself handling the finances in my life. Except that there are all these technicalities that come with that sense of financial independence.

For example, the cellphone plan. Adults pay for their cellphone plan. Except … do adults stay in their family plan? By doing so, I pay $44 a month as opposed to about $100 for unlimited data, talking, and text.  That’s some financial responsibility right there! Especially since it makes my parents’ cell phone plans cheaper as well. But after I pat myself on the back, I find it hard to ignore the feeling of embarrassment that my mommy takes money out of my checking account to pay for my cell phone every month. Is it better to pay more to get rid of my hot cheeks?

I know that it is a very Millennial thing to say (and thus unfashionable in certain circles), but I also don’t want my identity to be tied to money so closely. I had hoped my sense of adulthood would be connected to feelings rather than decimal points and commas in an online statement.

Am I an adult now? Who am I? I am 23 years old. I have a job. I am moving out soon to live with a significant other of nearly three years. I have two degrees and I am hoping to pursue a third. On paper, I am on the cusp of maturation. But I still am insecure. I over-analyze things to death and, while I argue that I am a realist, I am probably enormously pessimistic. I am anxious about small things and large things, and the gaps in my knowledge about basic things (still have not learned how to change a tire, how do I do taxes without an accountant, how do I know if I want children one day-oh God, the list is endless) deeply troubles me.

On a good day, I would say I am 60 percent of an adult. Since today is an okay day, so I am about 40-50 percent of the way there. At least I am making progress.

I Analyzed a Year of My Reporting for Gender Bias (Again), Cont’d

A reader dissents:

Adrienne LaFrance’s article is a prime example of why I am fond of The Atlantic. I really appreciate the level of introspection and intellectual rigor that many of your writers display. I may not always agree with his or her conclusion, but I can be reasonably assured that the ideas explored are of sufficient quality and nuance so as to be worthy of a place at the discussion table.

With that said, I would caution Ms. LaFrance to ensure that she doesn’t overcorrect in her attempts to seek out women as sources of information for future articles. Also, she has to find balance in terms of using the best source for the story vs. finding a female source. This dichotomy won’t exist in every circumstance, but she will definitely encounter it at some point.

Lastly, I do find her statement about the “pipeline problem” somewhat troubling. Her answer to the lack of women is that degree programs aren’t “inclusive.” I find that answer dissatisfactory because her narrative doesn’t give women agency. Her narrative presumes that women don’t have the power to make their own rational choices, and instead concludes that some institutional programs are actively preventing women from joining. Rather than empowering women, she undermines their power as free-thinking humans. The lack of agency in many narratives has become a systemic problem throughout the media and grossly distorts our understanding of the world.

Thanks to those who have taken the time to respond with such civility. Overcorrection won’t be a problem. The primary goal I have for my stories is to report and write to the best of my abilities. That isn’t going to change.

Here’s another way to think about improving diversity: The challenge I face is to take the extra time to find sources who aren’t necessarily the first to come to mind. I suspect that the result of such an exercise won’t just be that I’ll find more qualified women to mention in my stories, but also that I’ll get away from institutions I rely on, perhaps too heavily.

This isn’t about meeting quotas. Not at all. It’s about appreciating the complexities of the topics about which I report by looking outside of the familiar frameworks I’ve used to explore them.

I’m not sure where this reader got the idea that I suggested women don’t have free agency. Of course women make their own rational choices, which is why so many of them choose to leave programs and fields where faculty members favor male students, or where women are perceived as less talented (even by other women), or where women are paid less for doing the same job as their male colleagues, or where women are harassed or assaulted.

It’s seems as though this person is suggesting the “pipeline problem” isn’t a problem at all, or that perhaps women are to blame for it. (All this reminds me a bit of the study that analyzed comment sections of online articles about sexism in science, and how many people either justified gender biases or claimed they didn’t exist. The Washington Post wrote about it last year.)

I’ve never worked in science, but I can tell you about my own experience. I spent almost a decade in journalism before I ever worked in a newsroom run by a woman. Did this ever make me want to leave the industry? No. I worked with some exceptional editors, who happened to be men, during that time. But in newsrooms where all of the bosses are men, I have at times questioned how that hierarchical structure reflects the organization’s editorial output and cultural values. And I’ve noticed that many of the women, sooner or later, decide to leave.

Becoming an Adult Through Divorce

Last week, our video team revived our long discussion thread on adulthood by producing a series of person-on-the-street interviews in Manhattan (re-embedded above). We still have a ton of your emails and are trying to post as many of the best ones as we can. One of the most common themes for the question “When did you become an adult?” is financial independence, namely from parents. Here’s reader Michelle, age 38:

Great question! I felt like an adult at age 26. For the earlier part of my twenties, I rarely lived at my family home, but I searched out opportunities to live for free—friends’ homes, non-profits that offered housing, jobs where you could live on-site. But at 26, I got a studio apartment in a big city and paid rent through my own efforts. Living alone for the first time was my entry into true adulthood; financial independence and self-knowledge occurred in those rocky but wonderful years.

Megan Von Bergen gets a bit more specific with her marker:

One of the first times I really felt like an adult was when I started paying my first utility bills, during graduate school. This was my very first apartment. Paying bills was something I’d seen my parents do, it was something I was never involved in, and so to take responsibility for a mundane task made me really feel like an adult.

Ironically, for the first few weeks, this made me really excited about paying bills.

Stephen Grapes, on the other hand, isn’t quite there yet:

I don’t think I’ve become an adult just yet. I’m a 21 year-old American student who lives almost entirely off of my parent’s welfare.

For the last several years, I’ve felt a pressure—it might be a biological or a social pressure—to get out from under the yoke of my parents’ financial assistance. I feel that only when I’m able to support myself financially will I be a true “adult.” Some of the traditional markers of adulthood (turning 18, turning 21) have come and gone without me feeling any more adult-y, and I don’t think that marriage would make me feel grown up unless it was accompanied by financial independence.

Money really matters, because past a certain age, it is the main determiner of what you can and cannot do. And I guess to me the freedom to choose all “the things” in your life is what makes someone an adult.

Here’s another thing from Lauren Oliver:

When are you an adult? When you make your own doctor appointment.

Yes, there are defining moments in life that will make you feel like an adult: having kids, owning a home, holding a steady job, marriage, or experiencing deaths of loved ones, divorce(s), and career loss. All of these experiences are part of an adult’s life. But what is an adult? An adult is when one has full responsibility for him/herself. Bills are paid by oneself, appointments are made by oneself, confirming holiday plans with family members is done by oneself. Once this occurs, in my opinion, is when one is an adult.

“It’s nice to feel comfortable in your own weirdness; it’s maybe even the most important thing.” That’s my favorite line in this reader roundup, from Tom Schroeder, a 25-year-old grad student:

I began considering myself an adult shortly after moving into my own one-bedroom apartment about a year ago, at the age of 24, roughly two years after becoming financially independent from my parents. This probably says a lot about my personality, but it wasn’t until I lived alone and felt full ownership over my living space that I felt comfortable forming healthy routines.

I finally began learning to cook, for example. I kept my apartment clean for once in my life. I began to feel like a competent host. I no longer dreaded coming home, because there was no longer the question of whether there’d be any roommates around that I’d have to justify my actions, schedule, or company to.

It’s nice to feel comfortable in your own weirdness; it’s maybe even the most important thing. It’s easier without witnesses.

I’ll be moving away soon, so I had to abandon my beloved apartment in the summer to find a temporary room in a house with some friends. It’s the best thing I could have found for my circumstances, but I feel myself backsliding—between having housemates and existing in a more or less transient state, I’m cooking less, avoiding my own home, and living more messily and less healthily.

In short, I feel less like an adult living here. But I now know what to look for so I can get back on track when I arrive in my new home.

One more reader, who prefers to remain anonymous:

When I was a child, I thought adulthood was when you went to college. You were “completely on your own.” You took the classes that you wanted, you made the friends that you wanted, you ate what you wanted. You were the only agent in your successes and infrequent failures. Besides, you were 18 years old—that was pretty old to a 9 year old. You had to have been smart and mature and nice at that point. You had to have been “grown up.”

When I entered college, I realized how woefully naive that idea was. I was supported by my parents since they paid my tuition as well as room and board. Without them, I would have nothing.

With that, I mentally crossed off the sole agent bit. The other bits would be crossed off one by one, as I met many people who weren’t very smart or mature or nice or “grown up” and I came to realize that doing whatever you wanted did not equate a sense of adulthood. Eating Subway sandwiches at 4 AM on a Tuesday night, drunk out of your mind, when you have an 8 AM class is not a roaring affirmation of your maturation.

When I was in graduate school, still being supported by my parents, I thought that having a job and living on your own made you an adult. Actually being responsible for your own day-to-day life had to have meant something. You truly were on your own. How much more grown up is that?

Now that I have a job and am getting closer to moving out of my parents’ house, I am coming to realize that there is closer of a truth in that idea. I do feel better and more “grown up” about myself handling the finances in my life. Except that there are all these technicalities that come with that sense of financial independence.

For example, the cellphone plan. Adults pay for their cellphone plan. Except … do adults stay in their family plan? By doing so, I pay $44 a month as opposed to about $100 for unlimited data, talking, and text.  That’s some financial responsibility right there! Especially since it makes my parents’ cell phone plans cheaper as well. But after I pat myself on the back, I find it hard to ignore the feeling of embarrassment that my mommy takes money out of my checking account to pay for my cell phone every month. Is it better to pay more to get rid of my hot cheeks?

I know that it is a very Millennial thing to say (and thus unfashionable in certain circles), but I also don’t want my identity to be tied to money so closely. I had hoped my sense of adulthood would be connected to feelings rather than decimal points and commas in an online statement.

Am I an adult now? Who am I? I am 23 years old. I have a job. I am moving out soon to live with a significant other of nearly three years. I have two degrees and I am hoping to pursue a third. On paper, I am on the cusp of maturation. But I still am insecure. I over-analyze things to death and, while I argue that I am a realist, I am probably enormously pessimistic. I am anxious about small things and large things, and the gaps in my knowledge about basic things (still have not learned how to change a tire, how do I do taxes without an accountant, how do I know if I want children one day-oh God, the list is endless) deeply troubles me.

On a good day, I would say I am 60 percent of an adult. Since today is an okay day, so I am about 40-50 percent of the way there. At least I am making progress.

Is Legalizing Prostitution the Best Way to Tackle Sex Trafficking? Cont’d

That seems to be the consensus among readers of our new piece on trafficking in the U.S. The most up-voted comment:

Over the course of his tenure, [Detective Bill Woolf with the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force has] interviewed over 300 victims. In many cases, those who have been exploited believe that they are offenders, Woolf told me. “They fear law enforcement…because they’re technically committing a crime and that is prostitution,” he said.

Which is one reason why prostitution should not be a crime, and laws against prostitution play into the hands of the traffickers. Just as with drug laws, and prohibition laws about alcohol, all laws forbidding consensual sex for pay should be struck down. The prostitute needs to be able to get help from the police, and should not be subject to criminal penalties.

Another reader emails a long piece published in The Washington Post by Maggie McNeill, a former call girl and blogger: “This essay seems like a good place to start a discussion on fuzzy and conflated definitions, as well as shoddy research and misrepresented findings, found in alarmist articles about commercial sex work and sex trafficking.” Here’s McNeill:

Sex-work prohibitionists have long seen trafficking and sex slavery as a useful Trojan horse. In its 2010 “national action plan,” for example, the activist group Demand Abolition writes,“Framing the Campaign’s key target as sexual slavery might garner more support and less resistance, while framing the Campaign as combating prostitution may be less likely to mobilize similar levels of support and to stimulate stronger opposition.” But as sex worker rights organizations have repeatedly pointed out (as have organizations like UNAIDS, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International), those who are truly interested in decreasing exploitation in the sex industry would be better off supporting decriminalization of prostitution.

New South Wales, Australia, decriminalized sex work in 1995, and a subsequent government-sponsored 2012 study found “ . . . no evidence of recent trafficking of female sex workers . . . in marked contrast to the 1990s when contacted women from Thailand were common in Sydney . . . ” New Zealand legalized prostitution in 2003. A study by the New Zealand Ministry of Justice five years later found “no incidence of trafficking,” and sex worker advocates say the law has made it easier for sex workers to report abuse, and for law enforcement to make arrests for crimes against sex workers.  

McNeill also insists that “most of the scary articles about sex trafficking are larded with inflated figures and phony statistics that don’t survive any serious analysis.” A few of her examples:

Another common claim is that there are 100,000 to 300,000 children locked in sex slavery in the U.S. (For just a few examples, see here, here, here, here, and here. ) That number is a distortion of a figure from a 2001 study by Richard Estes and Neil Weiner of the University of Pennsylvania, which estimated that number of “children, adolescents and youth (up to 21) at risk of sexual exploitation.” (Emphasis added.)  “Sex trafficking” was the least prevalent form of “exploitation” in their definition. Other forms included stripping, consensual homosexual relations, and merely viewing porn. Moreover, two of the so-called “risk factors” were access to a car and proximity to the Canadian or Mexican border. In a 2011 interview, Estes himself estimated the number of legal minors actually abducted into “sex slavery” was ” very small . . . {w}e’re talking about a few hundred people.”

Yet the myth persists. The Dallas Morning News recently took the figure to new levels of preposterousness, claiming in an editorial last November that, “In Houston alone, about 300,000 sex trafficking cases are prosecuted each year.” As defense attorney Mark Bennett pointed out on his blog, the actual figure was two. Not 200,000. Just two.  The paper did print a correction, though the correction simply deleted the original 300,000 figure from the editorial. The paper still didn’t bother to mention the actual number, perhaps it didn’t support the alarmism in the rest of the editorial.

One of the most prolific skeptics of the new crusade against sex trafficking is Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown. In a November piece for her magazine, she makes a direct parallel to the disastrous War on Drugs:

The tactics employed to “get tough” on drugs ended up entangling millions in the criminal justice system, sanctioning increasingly intrusive and violent policing practices, worsening tensions between law enforcement and marginalized communities, and degrading the constitutional rights of all Americans. Yet even as the drug war’s failures and costs become more apparent, the Land of the Free is enthusiastically repeating the same mistakes when it comes to sex trafficking. This new “epidemic” inspires the same panicked rhetoric and punitive policies the war on drugs did—often for activity that’s every bit as victimless.

Forcing others into sex or any sort of labor is abhorrent, and it deserves to be treated like the serious violation it is. But the activity now targeted under anti-trafficking efforts includes everything from offering or soliciting paid sex, to living with a sex worker, to running a classified advertising website.

What’s more, these new laws aren’t organic responses by legislators in the face of an uptick in human trafficking activity or inadequate current statutes. They are in large part the result of a decades-long anti-prostitution crusade from Christian “abolitionists” and anti-sex feminists, pushed along by officials who know a good political opportunity when they see it and by media that never met a moral panic they didn’t like.

What do you think? Are skeptics like McNeill and E.N.B. misguided? Drop us an email and we’ll post the strongest counterpoints.