Mindful Swiping: Using Tinder in Southeast Asia

Tinder Featured ImageOver the past four years, Tinder has been one of the most popular dating apps among Millennials in the United States, and now, throughout the world. I had no clue there would be so many local people using the app when I arrived in Southeast Asia. Having traveled through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand so far, I see Tinder being widely used in every country. Although, the way it is used here is not the same as back home.

Tinder in Southeast Asia vs. Tinder in America

After a few years of using the app in California, the difference in how it is used in Southeast Asia (SEA) took me by surprise. Back in America, the vast majority of Tinder users are looking for one thing – sexual partners. Whether that is in the form of a long-term relationship, dating, love, a one-night stand, or a consistent hook-up might vary. But, it is all generally under the same category. A small number of users are looking for friends and to meet new people.

In SEA, there are three main differences that create an unconventional (and I think lower quality) Tinder experience, at least for a male user in his mid-twenties.

1. Tinder as a Platform for Businesses

Tinder has evolved to become a communication vehicle for all sorts of businesses in SEA. The most prevalent one (not surprisingly) being prostitution. You can normally guess which profiles are soliciting sex by the revealing photos and erotic taglines, but sometimes it is the least suspecting ones that end up being prostitutes. Be careful! A lot of them will ask to hang out without even mentioning money. Luckily, I am not above bluntly asking if they are looking for money and they all seem to answer truthfully.

Apart from prostitution, I have seen profiles soliciting tours, massages, haircuts, and more. It is an easy way for local businesses to force their messages and products into the hands of tourists and travelers. All a business has to do is create a somewhat realistic profile with an attractive person and then it has direct lines of communication with its target customers. That first message from a new match on Tinder nearly always gets read.

Where else can you get that exposure at a cost of $0? It blows traditional mobile advertising out of the water. Imagine if American wealth managers or real estate brokers reached millennials geographically close to them for free like this.

As beneficial as it is for these local businesses, it is equally as damaging to the Tinder experience. These “fake” matches waste the time and swipes of a user, while simultaneously lowering the excitement tied to getting a new match.

2. Tinder with Transgender Women

The most notable difference for me between using Tinder in the US and using it in SEA, especially Thailand and Cambodia, is the number of transgender women on the app. I can’t give any accurate numbers, yet it feels like 10-15% of all local female profiles (not including travelers or ex-pats) are transgender.

I will be the first to say that these women look fantastic in their profile pictures. Most of them are very fit, have pretty faces, and aren’t afraid to show off their breast implants. It is extremely difficult to know who is transgender just from the images. For the benefit of both parties, a high percentage of the transgender women will mention in their Tinder description that that they are a ladyboy, a term they self-identify with. In addition, the transgender women tend to have much more revealing photos and are much more aggressive in messages. So, you don’t need to worry about being tricked or hooking up with a trans woman on accident, at least in my experience.

It is so common in Thailand, that women who are not transgender actually state that they are not a ladyboy on their profiles. This stems from hundreds and hundreds of men asking women if they are transgender because they simply can’t tell the difference from profile to profile. I asked some Thai girls and they said it is annoying to constantly be asked if they have a penis.

This is not a negative remark against the transgender community and the girls I asked don’t seem to have any animosity against them; it is just something that happens. If girls in California had to constantly ask if I had a vagina before they would talk to me, I would feel much less confident about my masculinity. In Thailand though, it seems to be part of the culture, even offline. When meeting a girl at a bar or club, it’s difficult to be certain whether or not she is transgender without asking.

In regards to the Tinder experience, I do think there is an issue here. Transgender women are using Tinder to meet men. Fair enough. However, a low percentage of men are downloading and using Tinder with the goal of meeting a transgender woman. So, from the start, there is a misalignment of some parties using the app.

This leads to misunderstandings, rude conversations, and bad experiences on both ends. Specifically, some men using the app might get frustrated or angry and are very disrespectful to the transgender women. You can see this in the profile descriptions of the women that commonly include things like “please be nice”, “I am ladyboy don’t be mean”, “don’t talk to me if you don’t have an open mind”, and so on.

I don’t know what the solution is to create a better experience for everyone (apart from a more accepting and forward thinking society), but hopefully the minds at Tinder will think of something.

3. Tinder for Non-sexual Relationships

Thirdly, there are a decent chunk of users on Tinder in Southeast Asia seeking non-sexual relationships – much more than in America. Asian girls in general appear to be a little more sexually reserved. Profiles will frequently indicate they are not interested in hooking up or sex. For the local population, the common interests and reasons girls are using Tinder include:

  • to practice English with travelers;
  • to make new friends only; and
  • to get followers on social media platforms.

For western travelers using Tinder, the common reasons girls are using the app, apart from sexual rendezvous, include:

  • to make international friends;
  • to get travel tips; and
  • to find travel companions for specific tours/trips.

It is easy to tell what somebody is looking for because it is blatantly stated in profiles. I have been offered a few times to be shown popular cafes or restaurants in a city by a girl who just wants to practice English, which is a great trade! These alternative types of relationships are growing and could be a whole new segment of Tinder. Maybe in a few years, guys can find pick up basketball games in a certain city or students at a university can find a study group for a specific class. The possibilities are endless.

Takeaways for Using Tinder in Southeast Asia

Tinder doesn’t work perfectly across all cultures. It was created in America and is fine-tuned to suit American culture. While it is used across the globe, there are some speed bumps with the app, especially in Southeast Asia.

As a western guy, the number of matches and conversations you have on Tinder are much higher than back in America. This is due to a combination of Asian girls being interested in foreign guys and a ton of matches with prostitutes, businesses, and transgender women.

The advice I can give to any guys using Tinder in Southeast Asia is:

  1. If you think a girl is a prostitute or is transgender and that isn’t what you are looking for, don’t be afraid to ask;
  2. Try to be clear in your profile about what you are looking for and actually read the profiles you are swiping on to avoid pointless matches; and
  3. Be respectful to everyone.

It’s an amazing mobile tool abroad to meet friends, more than friends, get travel advice, and a whole lot more. Just remember to be aware that you are in a different country with different values and different norms. Oh yeah, and if all you say is “Hey” to a woman and she replies asking if you want to hang out tonight, that is 100% a prostitute. You are not that attractive.

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Disclaimer: In this article, I use the term “transgender woman” to refer to a woman who was assigned male at birth but identifies as a woman. While most of the transgender women I have talked to in Asia use the term “ladyboy” or “shemale” themselves, I am under the impression transgender woman is the preferred general term. Please message me privately if this is incorrect.

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