Cartoon graphic of a person on a dating app.

Hookup culture has become an accepted style of human connection. The desire to have sex without strings attached has always been a thing, but proudly searching for just that is just way less taboo than it was when your parents were dating.

Is casual sex bad for you?

Just because casual sex has not only been legitimized in recent years, but veritably been made the social standard, doesn’t mean that it’s always super healthy. The ubiquity of porn, media examples, and above all, the swiping model of dating apps have all contributed to a society where hookup culture can be the default — “If having sex was once taboo, not having it is today,” says Washington Post columnist Christine Emba in her book Rethinking Sex: A Provocation. This pressure to hook up can lead to having — and even seeking out — sex when you don’t really, genuinely want it.

But that isn’t to say that casual sex is itself a problem — approached properly, if anything, it can be and is empowering, liberating, and most importantly, pleasurable. The key is knowing that you’re in it because you want to be (pun not intended), and you’re aware of and prepared against potential consequences, like catching something (be it feelings or STDs). So long as that’s true, you should go forth and get laid.

The dedicated hookup app is the horny person’s vessel for hot instant gratification. But the cool thing is that most dating apps can be used for sex purposes these days. Where you decide to go to find your casual fling really just depends on how much you’d like to know about the person in your bed. The butterflies of meeting someone new are still there — they just might be happening in a different region of the body.

The online hookup atmosphere is full of horny anxious people

All things considered, it may seem like the ideal time for a mass release of all that pent-up sexual tension. But in reality, people are, of course, still nervous.

Hinge actually coined the term Fear of Dating Again to encompass people’s uneasiness to get back in the dating scene. Many feel like they have lost their game during isolation, and there’s a hump that many online daters still need to get over. Time feels more valuable, and even those who are DTF may be more closely considering the authenticity and personality of prospects. If anything, surveys have found that this long period of isolation has made more people want to find a long-term partner.

Still, this pandemic hasn’t meant the death of hookup culture. Just like literally every other part of life, it’s merely had to evolve and change with the times. Tinder and Hinge are still crawling with users, but baby steps between messaging for the first time and arranging a booty call may be the norm for now. The good news is that being upfront and honest about what you’re looking for has become more of the norm over the past two years, so people are more likely to appreciate you coming right out and saying you want something light and fun.

Staying safe while using hookup apps

The pandemic has also brought on a whole new meaning to having safe sex with strangers. Some dating apps have added vaccination status as a section to their profiles, so you can tell if someone’s going to be a safer hookup or not without having to waste time chatting with someone you won’t feel comfortable seeing IRL. Badge or not, if you have any hesitations being direct and asking people outright about their vaccination status and what they’re comfortable with is a good way to make an informed decision.

Taking precautions doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. Over the past year, people have been learning how to be safe while exploring new desires and kinks.

What makes a good hookup app?

A good hookup doesn’t have to be a one-and-done situation. Sure, things can be kept as anonymous as taking a nameless person home from the bar, but there’s also nothing wrong with ensuring that the person getting to see you naked doesn’t have the world’s worst sense of humor. Plus, getting along well with a hookup, even if you’re not looking for anything serious or exclusive, can help if you are looking for a regular friends with benefits situation. Though many of these apps make it obvious that people are looking for *that,* people on more generalized dating apps can avoid a lot of messiness if a head’s up about intentions is given within the first few DMs. You’ll want an app that skips the 10-minute questionnaire about romance and future families and you’ll probably also want to avoid any that require expensive subscriptions because they’re designed for people looking for long-term relationships. However, you should choose an app that has ample space to showcase what you’re looking for — and maybe turn a few people on with your sense of humor.

Photos are also a huge factor in good hookup apps. Some apps and dating sites hide people’s pics unless you have a paid subscription, and we don’t really love that — for physical attraction reasons and safety reasons. Apps that show the full view of someone’s profile are the way to go.

Whether you want to pay for a hookup app or not is totally up to you, but we will say Tinder and Hinge have great free versions of the app. You can likely find a hookup by the weekend without paying a cent.

Whether you’re looking for casual sex or are simply looking to exchange nudes, here are our picks for the best hookup apps right now:

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