As individuals, we all have different expectations when it comes to dating, romance and relationships. What works for one may not work for another. Because relationships are such an important area of our lives, it's important to find the right person for us. Dating websites are designed to facilitate this process, but they do so in different ways. This means that to get the most out of what's out there on the web, we need to be able to make informed decisions. That's why we're here to help you. This guide will take you through some of the basic features of gay dating websites and offer some pointers to get you going.
Online dating websites have grown tremendously in popularity over recent years. In fact, the US online dating market alone is set to reach $932 million in 2011. People use gay dating websites for many reasons, including to search for companionship, friendship, no-strings relationships, as well as long term relationships and love.
On many gay dating sites, especially those aimed at males, sexual promiscuity is often emphasised. However, it's important to state that sexual promiscuity does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with a gay male lifestyle. Likewise, people who consider themeselves bisexual or transgender are sometimes marginalised by those sites that only allow members to register as male (looking for a male) or female (looking for a female).
Whilst dating sites are now as firmly established as they are in the mainstream, certain problems remain, including how to incorporate the wide variety of identities, interests and lifestyle issues constituted by what can only very loosely be described as a 'gay community'.
Whilst you'll find a tremendous range of different sites out there, there are a number of terms that are common to most.. These are designed to help you manage your dating life online and it's useful to know what each means.
- Member profiles:
More or less all online gay dating sites will feature member profiles. A profile is an online representation of an individual member. When you register with a site, one of the first thing that you will be required to do is create a profile. This is usually done automatically by answering questions and writing something about yourself, which is then uploaded and displayed on the site for others to view. It's basically you on the screen! You'll also have the option of uploading photos and sometimes even video content. This all helps other people on the site to get the best possible idea about you, your interests and what you are looking for in a relationship. It works the other way too, introducing you to other people on the site.
- Search tools:
The biggest dating sites typically host thousands of members. This can make searching for a potential partner like looking for a needle in a haystack. To help direct you to the kind of person you're looking for, most sites feature their own search engines. By specifiying member variables such as age, hobbies, hair color, or any one of a number of criteria, search tools make it possible to find only those profiles that match the things you're looking for as efficiently as possible. Most sites feature a number of different types of search depending on how basic or detailed you want your search to be.
- Instant messaging (IM):
This is a feature provided on an increasing number of sites, that allows you to communicate in 'real time'. What this does is to make communication more like the natural flow of conversation in which your messages are sent and received instantaneously, as opposed to having to send and retrieve messages individually via email.
- Video chat:
Video chat allows members registered with an online dating site to communicate using their webcams. This means that the people they are chatting with can both see them and hear them (and vice versa). It's a fun way of meeting new people and the interactive element is much more exciting than sending emails. You'll need to provide your own webcam though.
- Forums and chat rooms:
Online dating sites often host forums and chat rooms, which are alternative ways in which people can interact. A forum consists of pre-existing topics, issues or questions (or you can often start your own) to which people post their responses. Whilst you'll find plenty of forums dedicated to relationships, dating and gay-interest issues, you'll also find more general forums that are unrelated to online gay dating. Chat rooms function in a similar way, except that you are 'present' in the chat room, along with other members and can communicate in real time with everybody in the room by using text.
- FAQs and technical support
All sites should have some form of support, just in case you have any questions or problems. In such an eventuality, your first port of call is likely to be the FAQs section, in which a comprehensive guide to using the site (as well as troubleshooting) is provided. If you're unable to resolve your query by looking through the FAQs section of the site, there should be an email address, email support form, chat room or telephone number to contact somebody who can help you.
The basic rule most people assume is that the more members an online dating site has, the better it is. Whilst there's some truth to this, it's not quite so simple. First of all, it's often difficult to ascertain exactly how many 'active' members a site has registered. The sites may try to impress you by telling you how many thousand people have registered, but you need to look a little deeper. If the site is free to join, you're bound to find many profiles created by timewasters, jokers or simply memberships that have lapsed. The best search tools will allow you to filter your findings by screening out inactive profiles. In many ways, the number of members online is a better measure of the popularity of a site. You need to also think about where you are. On most of the sites reviewed, the majority of members come from the USA, Canada and UK. It's important that you check to see if there are members in your area before you sign up. For those sites that require a subscription, it's more likely that members will be genuine and serious. However, do look out for free sites that allow you to 'verify' or authenticate your membership to show that your profile is genuine.
- Niche gay dating sites
Whilst most gay dating sites will cater to a general audience of men and women looking for same-sex or bisexual partners, a number dedicate themselves to particular 'types' or 'subgroups' from within the larger gay community. The more popular tend to be those that cater to specific body types (e.g. muscular or athletic men) and gay subgroups (e.g. 'twinks' or 'bears'). It should also be noted that on an increasing number of more general gay dating sites, it's possible to search for specific body types or gay subtypes without having to find a niche dating site.
- Bisexual and transsexual dating:
Quite often, bisexual and transsexual people looking for relationships are not well catered for. For example, a lot of sites only give you the option of taking the position of a 'man looking for a man' or a 'woman looking for a woman'. Similarly, transsexual identities are also somewhat neglected.
- Membership pricing:
Most gay dating sites will attempt to draw you in by offering 'free membership'. Unfortunately, this can cover a multitude of sins and it's a shame that such sites can't be more upfront about their pricing. What usually happens is that the prospective member will complete will pick a username, give their email address and provide some brief details to create a basic profile. With some sites, this is pretty much all you get, so in order to actually communicate with other members you're required to take out a subscription. Therefore, without the ability to reach and be reached by other members your newly created membership is obsolete. There are some sites that allow you limited commuication with members. Conversely, there are those sites that are completely free, though these are rare. The same applies to other features on the site. So, what you see advertised isn't usually what you'll get, at least not unless you pay to upgrade your membership. By reading our individual reviews, you'll learn all about what you get for free and what you'll have to pay for to access, so you don't end up wasting your time or money.
- Compatibility matching:
Sites can be placed along a continuum from those that don't match their members (relying on members to find potential partners themselves) to those that scientifically match you with only those most compatible. If you're looking for a long-term relationship it makes a lot of sense to be carefully matched with a select few. In contrast, if you're looking to have no-strings fun then you'll probably be less stringent and more keen to get to know more people. It's important to think about what you want out of a relationship before you sign up. Thankfully, our individual reviews explain which sites are best, depending on whether you're looking for something serious or casual.
- Gay community sites and mainstream spin-offs:
There are a number of gay dating sites that have simply been translated from the mainstream to the gay dating market and are more or less the same. In contrast, there are those sites that not only specialise in gay dating, but do their utmost to foster a sense of community and friendship amongst its members. These sites often advertise gay-friendly events, opportunities, holidays, news, jobs and services, as well as offering specific health and relationship advice for gay people. Quite a lot of gay men and women have expressed the opinion that many gay dating sites put them off because of their sexual frankness and explicit themes and images. In our reviews we have endeavoured to warn readers of sites that may cause offence, as well as doing our best to feature gay dating sites that operate under different codes of online conduct.
Finding the gay dating site that's right for you is no mean feat, which is why we have worked hard to help guide you with our reviews. Take a look before you shop around and be better informed with Number1Reviews.com.