Sexual Orientation and Personality Traits

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The use of online dating applications by young adults has become increasingly popular and more socially accepted. The internet has dramatically evolved into an important platform for initiating contact with potential romantic or sexual partners (Rosenfeld and Thomas, 2012). It serves as a space where individuals can quickly locate others with similar interests and relationship preferences. This change in technology landscape has particularly impacted LGBTQ individuals. A 2009 survey of LGBTQ individuals revealed that over 70% of respondents, while exploring their sexuality and desires, reported using the internet as their primary source of information (Bond, Hefner, & Drognos).

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The study found that the internet played a significant role in helping LGBTQ participants understand their sexual identities and desires. It offers an opportunity for online communities to flourish, where isolated or marginalized individuals can engage in discussions on sexual topics of shared interest (Cooper, McLoughlin, & Campbell, 2000). The limited number of potential partners for LGBTQ individuals, a result of their minority status, may push them towards online dating applications rather than traditional dating methods. New social networking apps have made casual, non-relational sex more accessible, especially for individuals in the LGBTQ community who may have had difficulty forming personal relationships before the advent of online dating apps.

Most past studies focused on individuals’ usage of dating apps, but overlooked the fact that reasons for using these applications can vary among individuals (Chan, 2017). While previous studies have examined if differences in gender, age, or personality affect one’s motivation to use online dating applications, they have not explored the differences in motivations or dating preferences between heterosexual and homosexual individuals with diverse personality traits. Many LGBTQ studies concerning internet use have specifically focused on risky sexual behavior, but have largely ignored how LGBTQ individuals search for intimacy or romance on online dating apps. At present, there is minimal research investigating differences in online dating application use based on sexual orientation, especially with regards to the motivations of heterosexuals and homosexuals in using online dating applications to find casual sex or romantic relationships. Further research is needed to understand how and why sexual orientation influences online dating usage among young adults.

Understanding the motivations behind young adults’ use of online dating applications can have important implications, particularly for LGBTQ individuals dealing with limited dating markets. Previous research has shown that internet usage rates among people in LGBTQ communities are significantly higher than among heterosexuals (Rosenfeld & Thomas, 2012). Given that these dating apps promise privacy and discretion, individuals who have experienced limited dating markets or who have been traditionally marginalized might benefit the most from using online dating apps. These applications enable the creation of a safe space for connecting with like-minded individuals, significantly transforming the way LGBTQ individuals find personal or sexual partners.

By understanding what motivates an individual’s use of online dating applications and the effects on their motivation, creators of these applications can study this data to comprehend why individuals choose to utilize a particular platform. This will allow for improvements to more effectively serve their target audience’s needs. Similar to how an individual’s sexual preference might influence their motivations to use online dating applications, personality traits can also significantly impact app use. However, these influences can differ depending on an individual’s sexual orientation. While this study examines the effect of sexual orientation on dating app usage, it also investigates whether an individual’s self-esteem level and sensation-seeking tendency can ultimately impact their desire to use dating applications in search of a romantic relationship or casual sex partner. Previous studies have shown that individuals with low self-esteem often use dating applications in an attempt to boost self-confidence and explore available options rather than forming relationships (Kim, Kwon, & Lee, 2009). Similarly, it has been found that high sensation-seekers date more frequently, have more sex partners, and partake in a wider range of sexually risky activities than low sensation-seekers (Peter & Valkenburg, 2007). As such, personality traits can serve as another predictor in understanding why and how individuals use online dating applications.

This study’s purpose is to fill the gap in literature that does not address the differences between sexual orientation groups with varying personality traits. It aims to investigate whether an individual’s sexual orientation and personality traits can potentially affect their motivations for using online dating applications, either for casual sex or romantic relationships. Studying this is important because significant differences in dating preferences and personality traits between homosexual and heterosexual individuals that have not been previously investigated might exist. The following section explores related literature in an effort to test several hypotheses.

Literature Review

Role of Sexual Orientation

An individual’s sexual orientation shapes one’s romantic relationship preferences and dictates one’s sexual behaviors (Rosenfeld & Thomas, 2012). One of the advantages of using online dating apps is the ability to connect with others who share similar sexual preferences and interests. It has been shown that LGBTQ individuals use the internet more frequently than their heterosexual counterparts for “networking, communication, and the expression of a variety of sexual behaviors” (Cooper, McLoughlin, & Campbell, 2000, p. 525). For many individuals, using dating applications seems like a fun activity, but for members of the LGBTQ community who have experienced thin dating markets and marginalization, they can serve a more significant, essential purpose in finding potential partners. In the past, individuals who are attracted to the same sex have been isolated from peer contact and support, causing them to feel unsafe when searching for relationships for fear of negative ramifications (Clemens, Atkin, & Krishnan, 2015, p.122). These applications can provide a sense of safety and community LGBTQ individuals might not have otherwise, which is something heterosexuals may take for granted.

Meeting online has not only become the predominant way that same-sex couples meet in the United States, but “meeting online is now dramatically more common among same-sex couples than any way of meeting has ever been for heterosexual or same-sex couples in the past” (Rosenfeld & Thomas, 2012, p. 532). This finding showcases how popular online dating has become, especially for LGBTQ individuals who may struggle to find potential partners with similar sexual or relational interests. It has been shown that LGBTQ adults are three times more likely to have met online than heterosexual couples (Rosenfeld & Thomas, 2012). When examining how heterosexual and homosexual individuals differ in their use of the internet, it has been revealed that “44% of gay and bisexual men said they used the internet to seek sex, whereas fewer heterosexual men (26%) and women (21%) reported this use of the internet” (Seal et al., 2015, p. 6). LGBTQ individuals may feel more comfortable engaging in sexual communication online rather than in person because it’s easier to find individuals of the same sexual orientation with similar sexual interests. A study aimed at understanding differences in dating preferences as a function of sexual orientation discovered the same result showing that more homosexual than heterosexual men report and seek casual sex. A possible explanation for this finding is that “gay men are seeking other gay men who also report and seek more casual sex, so it may be less stigmatized within gay culture than it is within heterosexual culture” (Gobrogge, Perkins, Baker, Balcer, Breedlove, & Klump, 2007, p. 722).

On the other hand, it has also been found that LGBTQ individuals initiate romantic relationships online at a higher rate than non-LGBTQ individuals (Korchmaros, Ybarra, & Mitchell, 2015). Being able to communicate online may attract LGBTQ adults who are not open about their sexual orientation or who may struggle to locate potential romantic partners due to limited social venues. Past research has also revealed that LGBTQ adults are more likely to create a profile on a dating site than their heterosexual counterparts (Lever, Grove, Royce, & Gillespie, 2008). Lever et al. discovered that the creation of a dating profile “resulted in having more sexual encounters and also increased the chances of finding a romantic partner” (Lever et al., 2008, p. 9). Due to these inconsistent, contradictory findings, the current study will test two competing hypotheses to discover whether LGBTQ individuals use online dating applications more often in search for casual sex or romantic relationships than their heterosexual counterparts. Therefore, it is hypothesized that:

Online Dating and Motivation to Use

The creation of online dating applications has changed the way young individuals interact with others online. Many could not have imagined using an application to meet a potential romantic or sexual partner. Compared to traditional dating methods, online dating applications have made it easier and faster to find individuals with similar interests. Simply by contacting someone they are interested in, one can immediately start a conversation. The development of dating applications has significantly expedited the dating process. According to the Pew Research Center, 11% of American adults and 38% of those who are currently “single and looking” for a partner have used online dating apps (Smith, 2016). Online dating can be defined as “a form of interpersonal relationship that is initiated in a computer-mediated communication (CMC) context and may transition to a more intimate communication channel, i.e., telephone or face-to-face interaction” (Clemens, Atkin, & Krishnan, 2015, p. 120). As technology is continually evolving and changing the way people utilize online dating applications, the significance of these applications is increasingly profound. With the impact technology has on the communication process, studying this subject will remain important as new dating applications provide insight into how individuals use technology to forge relationships. This study will consider all dating applications as having potential for users to seek a romantic or casual sexual relationship.

An individual’s motivation for using an online dating application can vary based on personal interest. Previous research shows that there are six primary motives for using online dating platforms: seeking a loving relationship, pursuing an uncommitted sexual relationship, finding comfort in online communication over offline interactions, mitigating feelings of loneliness, finding excitement in using a dating app, or using the app because others are (Sumter & Vandenbosch, 2016). However, earlier research did not examine differences in dating app motivations or preferences as a reflection of sexual orientation, which is why this current study will focus on individual motivations for seeking either a romantic relationship or casual sex as distinct behaviors. A romantic relationship is defined as “a serious, meaningful, and long-term oriented relationship”; meanwhile, a casual sexual relationship is described as “a purely sexual encounter that is not intended to be serious, meaningful, or long-term” (Chan, 2017, p. 247).

The Uses and Gratifications Theory may explain why adults are such avid users of online dating applications. Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch’s (1973) theory focuses on the idea that individuals use certain types of mass media to fulfill specific needs and desires. One of the strengths of the U&G Theory is its applicability to a diverse range of media contexts. Although the U&G theory was created to study mass media, it has been successfully applied in past studies to understand why people use social media platforms, specifically dating applications and websites. This theory suggests that physical, social, and psychosocial motivations impact users’ consumption of online dating applications. As mentioned in the U&G theory, “Physical gratifications sought in media content may relate to sexual pleasure, whereas social gratifications may relate to needs such as finding a romantic partner” (Sumter & Vandenbosch, 2016, p. 5). Research studying the congruency between motivations of dating app use and sexual orientation differences is largely lacking. Past studies have yet to examine how homosexuals and heterosexuals differ in their dating preferences and motivations for dating app use. Understanding what influences an individual’s motivation to find a casual sex partner or romantic partner through online dating applications is the aim of this current study.

Role of Self-Esteem

Similar to how an individual’s sexual orientation may influence their motivation for dating app usage, personality traits can also affect their motivation. This may vary depending on one’s sexual orientation. Past research has demonstrated the influence of personality traits on media use. However, few studies have tested to see if personality traits differ by sexual orientation and whether it affects one’s motivation for using dating apps. Rosenberg defines self-esteem as “the positive or negative attitudes one holds about him or herself” (Bryant & Sheldon, 2017, p. 5). An individual’s level of self-esteem can affect how they treat others and perceive themselves. Studies have shown that individuals who base their self-esteem on others’ approval tend to have poor relationships and act in ways that exacerbate those relationships over time (Crocker & Park, 2004, p. 395). Various factors that may differ depending on an individual’s sexual orientation affect self-esteem. Social rejection has been shown to lower self-esteem (Crocker & Park, 2004, p. 395). Homosexuals and bisexuals who experience rejection or identity devaluation may have lower self-esteem than heterosexual individuals who do not face these challenges. Sexual orientation has been linked to self-esteem, with “LGBTQ individuals scoring lower than heterosexual individuals” (Sumter & Vandenbosch, 2018, p. 7).

An individual’s self-esteem can affect their use of online dating applications. Past research has shown that individuals with high self-esteem are less motivated to use dating apps for casual reasons. This suggests that individuals with high self-esteem may view themselves as “too valuable to engage in a ‘one-night-stand’ or the occasional ‘hook up'” and may therefore use dating app platforms for more serious reasons than merely having fun (Bryant & Sheldon, 2017, p. 11). Additionally, sociable individuals with high self-esteem are “more likely to use mobile dating apps than sociable people with low self-esteem when they consider romantic relationships to be important” (Kim, Kwon, & Lee, 2009, p. 446). This implies that individuals with higher self-esteem may have more confidence in their ability to find a romantic partner through online dating applications. Those with high self-esteem may feel more comfortable and find it easier to present themselves to strangers online than those with low self-esteem. Given these differences in self-esteem, the influence of personality traits on dating app use may vary according to sexual orientation. Therefore, it is hypothesized that:

Role of Sensation Seeking

Individuals may differ drastically from one another in their need for excitement. These differences in levels of desired stimulation or arousal involve a personality trait known as sensation seeking. Sensation seeking includes “risk-taking, which typically satisfies the high sensation seeking individual’s desire for novel and intense experiences” (Weisskirch & Murphy, 2004, p. 189). Sensation seeking can be understood as “a trait defined by the need for varied, novel, and complex sensations and experiences and the willingness to take physical and social risks to gain such experiences” (Sumter & Vandenbosch, 2018, p. 6).

An individual’s sensation-seeking tendency can ultimately influence their motivations for dating app usage. It has been shown that high sensation seekers are more positive towards casual sex and engage more often in sexually oriented online behavior (Peter & Valkenburg, 2007). This finding suggests that these individuals look more often for sexually-explicit online material than low sensation seekers. Past research has also discovered that high sensation seekers value the anonymity of online communication platforms more strongly than sexually-restrictive and low sensation seekers (Peter & Valkenburg, 2007, p. 471). Online dating applications allow individuals the opportunity to easily lie about who they really are and what they actually look like, which may attract high sensation seekers towards using online dating apps.

Comparatively, past research has demonstrated that there is a direct association between sensation seeking and the behavioral intent in both romance and sex seeking (Chan, 2017). Using online dating apps can serve as a sensation-fulfilling activity, making it very likely that people with higher levels of sensation seeking will be more likely to use dating apps. It has been discovered that dating app users with high sensation seeking feel more capable of looking for romantic and casual sex partners than users with low sensation seeking (Chan, 2017). This implies that the sensation-seeking trait predisposes individuals with a higher level of self-efficacy to carry out exciting adventures. Research on how sexual orientation influences sensation seeking is lacking, thus no expectations can be formulated based on existing literature. This current study aims to fill this gap in literature by testing the interaction between an individual’s sensation-seeking trait and the influence of their sexual orientation on dating app use. Therefore, it is hypothesized that:

This current study examined whether sexual orientation and personality traits affect an individual’s motivation to use online dating applications in search of either casual sex or a romantic relationship. The results in this study did not showcase significant differences between LGBTQ and heterosexual individuals in their personality traits or motivation to use dating apps. Past studies showcased inconsistent findings in regard to what motivates LGBTQ individuals to utilize online dating applications. Previous literature demonstrated that more homosexual than heterosexual men report and seek casual sex (Gobrogge et al., 2007, p. 722). Similarly, previous literature also showed that LGBTQ individuals initiate romantic relationships online at a higher rate than non-LGBTQ individuals (Korchmarso, Ybarra, & Mitchell, 2015). The competing hypotheses, H1A and H1B, testing whether LGBTQ individuals utilize online dating applications more than heterosexuals for romantic relationships or casual sex, was not supported. This may have occurred because of an insufficient sample size of LGBTQ participants.

In addition, previous studies found that individuals with high self-esteem are less motivated to use dating applications for casual reasons (Bryant & Sheldon, 2017, p. 11). Conversely, H2, which stated that self-esteem is positively associated with the motive to use dating applications for romantic relationships, did not gain support. Past researchers also found that LGBTQ individuals score lower on self-esteem than non-LGBTQ individuals (Sumter & Vandenbosch, 2018, p. 7). H3, which tested if LGBTQ individuals have lower self-esteem than heterosexual individuals, also did not gain support. If the current study included a larger group of LGBTQ individuals, these hypotheses might have been supported.

However, the study provided support for H4, which tested whether sensation seeking is positively associated with the motive to use online dating applications for casual sex. Previous literature concluded that high sensation seekers are more positive towards casual sex and engage more often in sexually oriented online behavior (Peter & Valkenburg, 2007). Consistent with this preceding finding on sensation seeking and casual sex, results in this study provide additional evidence that the motive to use dating applications for casual sex is primarily driven by a person’s level of sensation seeking, which is a dispositional attribute not associated with sexual orientation. Lastly, H5, which tested if LGBTQ individuals are more oriented towards sensation seeking than heterosexual individuals, did not gain support. This study aimed to contribute to literature suggesting the probability of sexual orientation as an essential variable in the topic of dating app usage. The participant sample size posed a major constraint for detecting significant differences, which can be recognized as a limitation in this study.

Furthermore, this current study is only based on 67 participants, which makes it difficult to generalize these results to all young adults utilizing online dating applications, particularly LGBTQ individuals. For future research, scholars should replicate and improve this study with a larger sample size of LGBTQ individuals in different contexts so that the findings can showcase significant differences between sexual orientation and motivation for dating app usage. If differences exist, it would be interesting to see where they are and for what reasons they are different. The need to understand the role of emerging social and/or dating applications in forming relationships has never been more immediate. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender individuals have received little attention in literature examining dating app usage as a shaping force in relationship and identity formation. In today’s society, dating applications have become a popular component of youth culture that continues to grow. It is important to continue studying the changing ways in which young adults are communicating to gain an understanding of younger generations and the changing landscape in which we live.

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Sexual Orientation and Personality Traits. (2021, Mar 08). Retrieved from