When Estizer Smith logged into her dating accounts, she expected coffee date invites from other women.
But instead, her inbox was filled with men — more specifically, men asking her for threesomes.
Smith, a bisexual senior at Pitt, used Tinder for a year and Bumble for eight months before growing tired of men’s reactions to her sexual identity.
“Had that been … less creepy, I might have been inclined to stay,” Smith said.
Although dating apps, such as Tinder and Grindr, have become cultural phenomena, apps for LGBTQ+ women are struggling to gain popularity — and if few people use a dating app, it loses its entire purpose.
According to user reviews, most apps for LGBTQ+ women are riddled with bugs and attract few users, making it difficult for women to connect with other women. Mainstream apps don’t make it any easier — they often make users feel isolated and unvalidated because of limited gender identity and sexual orientation options.
Most popular dating apps like Tinder, Hinge and Bumble only offer two or three gender identity and sexual orientations options, but a few, such as OkCupid, Her and Wing Ma’am represent a larger spectrum.
OkCupid, a mainstream match-making app, includes 22 possible gender identities and 12 sexual orientations. Her, an app marketed toward women who like women, has 14 sexual orientation options. Wing Ma’am, one of the first LGBTQ+ dating apps, launched in 2012, allows users to identify with 13 sexualities.
Smith used mainstream apps because of the low usership on alternative apps, but said the rigid gender binary leads the larger apps to offer only two or three options for sexuality — straight, bisexual or gay.
“If someone has taken the time and done the work to discover that their sexual orientation and gender identities lie somewhere else on the spectrum,” Smith said, “they should be able to have enough options such that they can identify in a way that reflects how they see themselves, how they want others to see them and that’s just generally true to who they are.”
Julie Beaulieu, a visiting lecturer at Pitt’s gender, sexuality and women’s studies department, said all dating apps should include a spectrum of gender identity and sexual orientation options.
“One of the clear limits to mainstream — non-LGBTQIA+ — apps is their lack of diversity,” Beaulieu said in an email. “Inclusivity sends a clear message that all of our desires and identities are valid.”
Despite the lack of options, many LGBTQ+ singles still gravitate toward mainstream apps because they have a better chance of meeting someone, according to Mariella Mosthof, a sex and relationships contributor for news website Bustle.
“Niche dating apps for queer women and trans folks are great. But if they have a tiny usership, then it’s impossible to meet people on them,” Mosthof said in an email.
In Community Marketing and Insights 2015 ninth annual LGBTQ+ Community Survey, a total of 20 percent of the more than 3,200 lesbian and bisexual women used a dating app dedicated to lesbians at least once a week in the past month. Twenty percent used a general dating app during the same time frame.
The number of downloads for women-seeking-women apps accounts for the small percentage of lesbian and bisexual women using dating apps. Compared to the millions of Tinder users, dating apps for women settle around 500,000 installations overall, according to Google Play, Android’s app store.
“People gravitate toward apps and networks that everyone else is already on, because those are the most useful to connect on,” Mosthof said in an email.
Though relatively young, dating apps for women seeking women have been on the market for a few years.
After Tinder came out in 2012, Wing Ma’am was released a month later for LGBTQ+ women.
Her, which originally launched in 2013 under the name Dattch, offers global and local feeds for users to post statuses and read LGBTQ+ news. In the Apple App store, Her has four stars out of more than 2,000 ratings.
In 2014, another lesbian dating app called Scissr facilitated hook-ups, relationships and friendships. Only Women, launched in 2015, displays recently online and newly added users.
“It seems obvious that the market is there, and yet I’m not surprised that developers aren’t focused on this community,” Beaulieu said.
Beaulieu said this likely has to do with assumptions of what LGBTQ+ women want, such as thinking women aren’t as interested in hook-ups as men.
“We shouldn’t assume that women are more ‘relationship-oriented’ and thus less likely to want to use apps that allow you to ‘swipe’ or ‘hook-up,’” she said. “There’s really no one-to-one relationship between sex category and dating habits, or gender identity and romantic and sexual practices, even if people are socialized in really different ways.”
Location also plays a role in dating apps.
While using Her, Smith had “infinitely more people” available to view on the app when she was near her home in New York, compared to the number of people she could view in the Pittsburgh area.
Only 3 percent of Pittsburgh’s population identifies as LGBTQ+, making Pittsburgh one of the nation’s metropolitan areas with the lowest rate of LGBTQ+ people, according to a March 2015 Gallup poll.
Although Smith said it’s possible that she’s just not great at online dating, she still checks Her once or twice a week, holding out hope to find friendships rather than relationships.
“I guess, since I haven’t deleted it entirely, I’m still kind of hoping something good will come of it,” Smith said.