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Constructing mobile dating apps: How do heterosexual adults understand, create meaning and make use of this modern phenomenon?

School of Health and Social Care

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Dr D Whiteley , Dr Carol Gray Brunton , Dr Sally Brown Applications accepted all year round Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Online platforms for initiating sexual and romantic relationships have become a significant feature of the dating scene over the last decade. The internet offers many advantages over ‘traditional’ venues such as bars and clubs, presenting a larger pool of potential partners unbound by geographic or temporal constraints. In recent years, mobile dating apps have brought online dating out of the home and into the pocket, with built-in GPS technology and instant messaging offering a convenient, spontaneous and portable gateway to potential sexual and romantic partners. Further, the popularity of dating apps is growing, with apps such as Tinder reporting increased traffic globally and millions of registered users worldwide.

Whilst the internet and dating apps have expanded partner-seeking possibilities, an emerging body of research correlates their use with risky sexual behaviours, non-consensual sex, sexual abuse and problematic drug and alcohol use. To date, the bulk of this research has focused on populations of men who have sex with men, with little exploration of how individuals who engage in heterosexual sex perceive and use these apps. It is therefore essential to gain a deeper understanding of this modern phenomenon to inform the development of effective and acceptable public health interventions.

This is where your study begins. You’ll conduct qualitative research exploring how mobile dating apps are understood and used by heterosexual adults. You’ll engage with societal and cultural narratives which surround these digital spaces, and delve into the construction of online personas. Your study will also seek to understand perceptions of risk, and provide insight into the intersectional nature of risky sexual behaviours and negative sexual outcomes. The precise methodology will be determined in discussion with the supervisory team, but you’ll be supported to explore innovative and novel approaches to achieve your aims.

As your supervisors, we bring together many years of subject, methodological, theoretical and analytical expertise. Our backgrounds encompass psychology, medical sociology and nursing, and we span both the School of Health and Social Care and the School of Applied Sciences within Edinburgh Napier University. Our collective experience will ensure your study remains focused, robust and significant. If you’re interested in the evolution of online dating and the implications this has for sexual health and wellbeing, we’d be very interested to hear from you.

Applications for part-time study are welcomed.

Academic qualifications
A first degree (at least a 2.1) ideally in sociology, psychology or a health-related discipline with a good fundamental knowledge of qualitative research methodologies.

English language requirement
IELTS score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 6.0 in each of the four components). Other, equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University’s policy are available online.

Essential attributes:
• Experience of fundamental and common qualitative research approaches
• Competent in understanding sociological perspectives on health and illness
• Knowledge of current challenges, trends and debates in sexual health and wellbeing
• Good written and oral communication skills
• Strong motivation, with evidence of independent research skills relevant to the project
• Good time management

Funding Notes

This is an unfunded position


Anzani A, Di Sarno M & Prunas A (2018) Using smartphone apps to find
sexual partners: A review of the literature. Sexologies, 27(3), e61-65
Tsai J, Sussman S, Pickering T & Rohrbach LA (2019) Is online partner-seeking
associated with increased risk of condomless sex and sexually transmitted
infections among individuals who engage in heterosexual sex?
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