Sexual Orientation and Personality Traits

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Young adults use of online dating applications has become increasingly popular and more socially accepted. The internet has dramatically changed into an important platform to initiate contact with potential romantic or sexual partners (Rosenfeld and Thomas, 2012). It serves as a place where individuals can quickly locate others with compatible interests and similar relationship preferences. Technology has changed the social landscape for LGBTQ individuals especially. A 2009 survey of LGBTQ individuals showcased over 70% of individuals, while exploring their sexuality and sexual desires, reported using the internet as a main means of information seeking (Bond, Hefner, & Drognos). This study found that LGBTQ participants felt that the internet was one of the most important factors in allowing them to learn about their sexual identities and desires. The internet offers the opportunity for the formation of online communities in which isolated or marginalized individuals can communicate with each other about sexual topics of shared interest (Cooper, McLoughlin, & Campbell, 2000). Simply because LGBTQ individuals are a minority group, they have a limited number of potential partners, which may steer them towards online dating applications instead of traditional ways of dating. New social networking applications have made casual, non-relational sex more accessible, especially for individuals in the LGBTQ community who may have experienced a difficult time forming personal relationships prior to the creation of online dating apps.

The majority of past studies have focused on explaining individual’s use of dating apps and ignore the fact that individuals can differ in reasons for using dating applications (Chan, 2017). Past studies have tested whether differences in gender, age, or personality may affect one’s motivation to use an online dating application. However, these studies have not examined dating app motivations or dating preferences between heterosexual and homosexual individuals with different personality traits. Many LGBTQ studies regarding internet use have concentrated specifically on sexual risky behavior, but hardly focused on how LGBTQ individuals look for intimacy or romance on online dating apps. Currently, there is little research investigating sexual orientation differences in online dating application use, especially comparing heterosexuals’ and homosexual’s motivations of online dating app usage to find casual sex or romantic relationships. More research is needed to study how and why sexual orientation may influence online dating usage among young adults.

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Understanding the motivations behind young adults use of online dating applications can have important implications, especially for LGBTQ individuals dealing with thin dating markets. It has been shown in previous research that internet use rates are significantly higher among people in LGBTQ communities than among heterosexuals (Rosenfeld & Thomas, 2012). Since these dating applications promise privacy and discretion, individuals who have experienced thin dating markets or who have been traditionally marginalized may benefit most from using online dating apps. These applications allow for the creation of a safe place to connect with other similar individuals, therefore transforming the way LGBTQ individuals can find personal or sexual partners.

By learning what motivates an individual’s use of online dating applications and what impacts their motivation, creators of dating applications can learn from this data to understand why individuals choose to utilize a particular platform and improve these applications to ultimately serve their target audience’s needs. Similar to how an individual’s sexual preference might influence their motivations to use online dating applications, an individual’s personality traits can affect one’s app use as well and may differ depending on an individual’s sexual orientation. Although this study examines the effect of sexual orientation on dating app usage, it also aims to discover if an individual’s level of self-esteem and sensation seeking tendency can ultimate affect one’s desire to use dating applications in search of a romantic relationship or casual sex partner. It has been shown in previous studies that individuals with low self-esteem use dating applications in an attempt to boost their self-confidence and determine what their options are rather than to form relationships (Kim, Kwon, & Lee, 2009). Additionally, it has been discovered that high sensation seekers date more frequently, have more sex partners, and have a broader range of sexually-risky activities than low sensation-seekers (Peter & Valkenburg, 2007). Personality traits can serve as another predictor in understanding why and how individuals use online dating applications.

The purpose of this study is to fill the gap in literature that does not address differences between sexual orientation groups with varying personality traits. The current study aims to investigate whether an individual’s sexual orientation and personality traits can potentially influence their motivations to use online dating applications for either casual sex or romantic relationships. This is important to study because there may be significant differences in dating preferences and personality traits between homosexual and heterosexual individuals that have not been examined previously. The following section explores related literature in an effect 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, it can serve as a larger, essential purpose in finding a potential partner. 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 have three times higher of a chance 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 showcasing 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 (Korchmarso, 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 do (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 of a romantic partner” (Lever et al., 2008, p. 9). Due to these inconsistent, contradictory findings, the current study will test two competing hypothesis 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 how young individuals interact with others online. One may never have imagined the idea of using an application to meet a possible romantic or sexual partner. In comparison to the traditional ways of dating, online dating applications have made it easier and faster to find individuals seeking similar interests. One can simply contact an individual they are interested in and immediately start a conversation. The formation of dating applications has made dating a lot easier and happen a lot quicker. 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 constantly developing and changing the way individuals utilize online dating applications, the role of these applications will continue to grow in importance. Due to the influences of technology on the communication process, this topic of study will remain of high significance as new dating applications allow us to better understand how individual use technology to form relationships with others. This current study will focus on all dating applications as having some potential for its users to look for a romantic relationship or a casual sexual relationship.

An individual’s motivation to utilize an online dating application can vary depending on the interest of the individual. It has been shown in past research that there are six main motives for using online dating sites: searching for a loving relationship, uncommitted sexual relationship, feeling more comfortable communicating online than offline, feeling less lonely, excitement in using a dating app or using the app because other individuals are (Sumter & Vandenbosch, 2016). However, past research has not examined differences in dating app motivations or dating preferences as a function of sexual orientation, which is why this current study will focus on an individual’s motivation in search of romantic relationships or casual sex as two distinct behaviors. A romantic relationship is defined as “a relationship that is serious, meaningful, and long-term oriented” and a casual sexual relationship is defined as “a purely sexual encounter that is not intended to be a serious, meaningful, and long-term relationship” (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, as well as psychosocial motivations impacts 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 affect their motivation as well and may differ depending on one’s sexual orientation. Past research has showcased the influence of personality traits in media use, however, very few studies have tested to see if personality traits differ by sexual orientation and whether it affects one’s motivation of dating app usage. 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 how they perceive themselves. It has been shown that individuals who base their self-esteem on others approval tend to have poor relationships and behave in ways that make those relationships worse over time (Crocker & Park, 2004, p. 395). Self-esteem is affected by a variety of factors that may differ depending on an individual’s sexual orientation. Being rejected from social groups has been shown to lower self-esteem (Crocker & Park, 2004, p. 395). Homosexuals and bisexuals who experience rejection or identity devaluation may result in them showcasing lower self-esteem than heterosexual individuals who do not experience these struggles. Sexual orientation has been related to self-esteem with “LGBTQ individuals scoring lower than heterosexual individuals” (Sumter & Vandenbosch, 2018, p. 7).

An individual’s self-esteem can have an effect on one’s use of online dating applications. Past research has revealed that individuals with high self-esteem are less motivated to use dating apps for casual reasons. This finding suggests that individuals with high self-esteem may view themselves “too highly to engage in a ‘one-night-stand’ or the occasional ‘hook up’” and may use dating app platforms for more serious reasons than simply having fun (Bryant & Sheldon, 2017, p. 11). It has also been shown that sociable people 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 finding indicates 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 be more comfortable and find it easier presenting themselves to anonymous people online than those with low self-esteem. Due to these differences in self-esteem, it can be assumed that the influence of personality traits on dating app use may differ 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 stimulations or arousals involve a personality trait known as sensation seeking. Sensation seeking includes “risk-taking, which typically satisfies the high sensation seeking individuals 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 fulfill 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 for 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 did not gain support as well. If the current study included a larger group of LGBTQ individuals, these hypotheses may 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 toward casual sex and engage more often in sexually oriented online behavior (Peter & Valkenburg, 2007). Consistent with this previous 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 an individuals’ level of sensation seeking, which is a dispositional attribute not associated with sexual orientation. Lastly, H5, which tested if LGBTQ individuals are more oriented toward sensation seeking than heterosexual individuals did not gain support. This study aimed to contribute to literature suggesting the probability of sexual orientation as an important 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, especially 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 those differences are and if for what reasons they are different. The need to understand the role of emerging social and/or dating applications used for 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 with one another in order to gain an understanding of younger generations and the changing landscape we live in.

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