In 2003, Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg developed Facebook in a fevered attempt to virtually assess the relative hotness of his peers. Ten years later, it has evolved into a place where your extended family members and former co-workers convene to complain about each other and compare photographs of infants. But today, you can revert the social network back to its initial purpose: Just log into the new hook-up application Bang With Friends and discreetly inform your Facebook contacts whether or not you would like to have sex with them. If the feeling is mutual, you’re both notified that you’re virtually creeping on one another.
Bang With Friends is the latest attempt to mount a viable casual-sex app for straight people (the application’s logo, which features a male silhouette entering a lady silhouette from behind, illustrates the app’s target demo). But so far, no one has come close to translating the cultural relevance of Grindr—the wildly successful location-based hook-up app for gay men—to the hetero population. Even Grindr itself, which launched its own straight app called Blendr in 2011, has failed to recreate the magic for straights.
The conventional wisdom is that women are to blame. Straight ladies just don’t have the appetite for one-night stands, we’re told. Or they fear the physical risks of heading to bed with a stranger they’ve met only online. Or they have too many willing sex partners in the real world to bother with fielding virtual ones. For whatever reason, women just aren’t signing up. When I logged onto Blendr in the middle of Los Angeles this morning, I found about one female user for every 20 men.
And yet, in college dormitories and crowded bars across the country, men and women are managing to arrange casual sexual encounters with one another, no dinner reservations necessary. So here’s another possibility for why you won’t find many women on hook-up apps: You don’t find many women behind them, either. Blendr is the brainchild of Grindr’s Joel Simkhai. Bang With Friends is the product of three anonymous California dudes. Even Brenda, the lesbian hook-up app, was developed by a man (he’s also responsible for the male-oriented Grindr clone Bender).
The male dominance of hook-up apps is an extension of the gender split in the programming world at large, where women make up just 18 percent of computer science grads and 19 percent of career programmers. At many prominent firms, their representation dwindles to the single digits. A very select few make their way to the top. That’s a problem for virtual hook-up pioneers, who would be smart to heavily favor the female perspective in order to recruit enough women to level the playing field. After Blendr’s 2011 release, Ann Friedman outlined a few ways developers could actually make hook-up apps more appealing to hetero women, like putting the messaging power solely in the hands of female users, or allowing women to publicly endorse their male friends—not to rep their prowess in bed, but to vouch for their capability to treat women like people.
Bang With Friends, crude as it seems, looks to be a step in this direction. (Not into online hook-ups? Have sex with people you actually know!) In its current form, however, it’s too intimate to actually be helpful—if you haven’t made a move on your favorite Facebook friend yet, it’s probably not because you lacked the technology to make your interest known. (The dating startup Hinge, which leverages networks of friends-of-friends, seems like a better bet.) But even if Bang With Friends expands its network, it will have to deal with its brogramming problem. The trio behind the app claims to have “made this in two hours” with the help of “a lot of Red Bull and vodka.” Its official email contact is email@example.com. And the doggy-style logo doesn’t exactly scream “this one’s for the ladies.” One of the application’s core bros told Daily Beast that he plans to block his younger sister from utilizing the app’s services in order to protect her innocence. Sorry, guys—if you don’t want to let women play along, good luck getting laid.