01/12/2012 05:25 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Love Grind (Part 1)

Social dating apps are changing the way we find sex partners and fall in love. In a two-part article, Scott Alexander Hess (author of Diary of a Sex Addict) and I explore the implications of these handy little widgets, both on traditional dating options and the psyche of those addicted to social apps.

In an interview with a long-time bar owner in Sydney, Australia, we quickly learned that Grindr and company are the work of the devil: "They are destroying the gay scene. Pubs are disappearing everywhere." On the other side of the world, in the famous 18th-century sauna Kaiserbrundl (which served as the blueprint for the Turkish bath in Bendetto Casanova: The Memoirs), we talked to Markus, 31, who has been going there for sex for seven years: "This is my last time. I won't come again. There are no more young guys here, only old men. All the hot young guys are on GayRomeo." (GayRomeo is Europe's answer to online dating.)

If gay bars and saunas are a way to meet people, then social apps are indeed the competition. The whole purpose of a gay bar is to identify those of us susceptible to the charms of the same sex. What's left of a gay bar, once the identification function is gone? "Nothing," a patron at the Savoy in Vienna explains. "It's just a bar. We'll all become like Copenhagen."

What's in Copenhagen? you ask. Well, the Danish gays and lesbians are known to mingle anywhere. Society is very open, and gays hang out in normal clubs. If you like boys, you hit on boys, that simple. No risk of a bar brawl. If only all countries were that progressive.

In Vienna, we moved on to a leather bar around the corner. It was empty, the darkroom deserted. Online, we counted 150 horny souls in a radius of 1 kilometer, all waiting in their heated living rooms to be visited by broad-chested strangers. "Going out is expensive. And people don't want to meet 'strangers' anymore. They want to know all your stats and see all your pics before you drop your trousers."

Standing in WeHo in line with my publicist, Mike, to get into Micky's, the whole talk of disappearing gay bars that has gripped Australia and Europe seems nonsense: there are hot guys everywhere. Some even without a phone in their hands. Until you talk to bar owners. They increasingly have to rely on live entertainment (strip shows, sex shows, etc.) to attract customers. "You should have seen the Friday night crowd five, 10 years ago!"

New places are popping up, with the help of Scruff and friends. Some coffee shops and book stores (those too threatened by the Internet) have become casual meeting places where the Grindrati "check in."

"The fears are overdone," explains Peter, a friend and sociology major. "If social apps are to replace bars, most people must be identifiable, i.e. have face pics. If they do, they are out. If they are out -- and more and more young people are -- then that's a good thing. We won't need gay bars to hide in anymore. We'll be able to be gay in any bar. Yes, we'll all be Danish! It's a good thing."

Perhaps. But does the social app change the way we date, too? What happens to people who grow up cyber-dating, making life choices based on a handful of pics rather than the impression gathered from a whole person: the smell, the way he talks...? What about those wonderful chance encounters with totally unexpected people whose online profile you would never, ever click on? How does online dating change the daters?

We'll explore that in part 2.