Case Studies

Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) adults in the United States are avid users of online dating sites and apps, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. LGB online daters generally report that their experiences with online dating have been positive – even more so than straight online daters. At the same time, they are more likely than their straight counterparts to experience a range of negative behaviors on dating platforms – from name-calling to physical threats.

One of the advantages of online dating is that it can help people with a small pool of potential partners – such as those seeking same-sex partners – to find a match. To that end, the survey finds that a majority of LGB adults (55%) report that they have used an online dating site or app at some point, roughly twice the share of straight adults (28%) who say the same. Among LGB adults who are married, living with a partner, or in a committed relationship, 28% say they met their current partner online, compared with 11% of partnered straight adults. And among LGB people who are now single and looking for a relationship or dates, 37% are currently online dating (vs. 24% of straight people who are single and looking).

Harassment on dating sites and apps is fairly common among LGB online daters

Relatively large shares of lesbian, gay or bisexual online daters – that is, those who have ever used an online dating site or app – report that they have experienced at least one of the forms of harassment measured in this survey on those sites and apps (69%, compared with 52% of their straight counterparts):

  • More than half of LGB online daters (56%) say they have received a sexually explicit message or image they did not ask for, compared with 32% of straight online daters who say the same.
  • Roughly half of LGB online daters (48%) say that someone has continued to contact them after they said they weren’t interested, compared with 35% of their straight counterparts.
  • About four-in-ten LGB online daters (41%) say someone has called them an offensive name on one of these sites or apps – 16 percentage points higher than the share of straight online daters (25%) who say the same. And while a smaller share of LGB online daters (17%) say that someone on a dating site or app has threatened to physically harm them, this is roughly twice the share of straight online daters who say this has happened to them (7%).
  • LGB adults who have ever online dated are also more likely than straight online daters to think harassment and bullying is a common problem on dating sites and apps, but majorities of both groups say this is the case (70% vs. 61%).
  • Those who have personally experienced at least one of these harassing behaviors on dating sites and apps are particularly likely to say harassment is a common problem. This is true among both LGB and straight adults who have used online dating.
  • LGB online daters almost universally think it’s common for people to receive sexually explicit messages or images they did not ask for (90% say it’s at least somewhat common). A slightly lower, but still high, share of straight online daters say the same (80%). This view is common even among online daters who report that they have never received an unasked-for explicit image or message themselves: 82% of LGB and 73% of straight online daters who have not experienced this themselves say it’s very or somewhat common on dating sites and apps.

It’s important to note that while we refer to these behaviors as “harassment,” the survey questions themselves did not use this word. A 2017 survey of U.S. adults found that many people who had experienced a number of harassing behaviors online, even severe ones such as physical threats, did not think of their experiences as “online harassment,” and only a minority said that they stopped using an online platform because of it.