opinion

Edge Of Gay: No Signs of Slowing

Alex Henderson

Barack Obama recently made history when he became the first U.S. president to openly voice his support for gay marriage, but before gay relationships progress to the marital or civil union stage, they will start at the dating stage — and gay dating websites continue to be a profitable part of the online dating world. In 2012, numerous Internet dating companies are targeting gay consumers; even companies that have had mostly heterosexual-oriented dating sites recognize the profitability of gay consumers. And while the gay side of online dating can yield considerable profits, it is also highly competitive.

RentMen.com (which specializes in escorts), Online Buddies’ Manhunt.net and the Infinity Network’s Manplay.com are among the gay dating sites that have huge followings in 2012. Infinity’s SexSearch.com, a major dating site specializing in hookups, offers both heterosexual and gay options. And GayFriendFinder.com continues to be a popular part of FriendFinder’s empire of dating sites.

Companies that have traditionally shied away from the gay market are starting to make attempts to cater to it.

“The market for gay online dating has grown exponentially in the last 10 years, thanks to new technology such as smartphones and changing consumer perceptions of online dating in general,” explained Candace Lovett, sales and marketing spokesperson for the Infinity Network. “Gay online dating is much more popular than it was five or 10 years ago because it has moved from being a niche inside traditional dating sites to having its own customized gay dating networks such as Manplay.com.”

Infinity’s involvement with online dating has a 16-year history. Lovett said that the company’s considerable expansion in the gay market reflects the importance of gay consumers. “All of the dating sites connected to our network theDatingNetwork.com are gay-friendly and have a significant following (among) gay users,” Lovett noted. “Since the forefront — our dating sites have been around since 1996 — we have sought out to ensure equal opportunity for all users, (including) gay men, straight men, lesbians, couples and transsexuals. Starting with dating sites geared to everyone such as XXXMatch.com, we saw a need for a dedicated gay network—which is where Manplay.com came to fruition.”

Ivan Peña, online marketing manager for Planet-LoveMatch.com, estimated that the gay market now accounts for “at least 15-20 percent” of online dating. Peña observed: “As with all other online dating sites, the market for gay sites has grown considerably. Ten years ago, online dating sites were considered taboo. Now, it is a common part of singledom.”

Peña added: “From our research, gay men are good customers because they tend to be educated, technologically advanced and have well-paying jobs. This makes for a perfect customer.” And Lovett commented: “Gay users are great customers because they know what they want, and they are willing to pay for products if they see that the member value is good. They tend to be highly educated, open-minded and risk-takers. They are great at word-of-mouth marketing. The gay community is tight-knit and has remarkable influence through community groups, websites and gay-specific media.”

As gay online dating has grown in popularity, it has also become increasingly diverse. A wide variety of gay dating sites can be found online in 2012, and they range from sites catering to twinks (young, boyish gay men) to sites catering to bears (hairy gay men) and daddies (older gay men). There are gay sites catering specifically to Latinos, African-Americans or Asians, and there are gay sites catering specifically to BDSM leathermen. Some gay dating sites are targeting men who are interested in casual encounters, while others are mainly designed for men seeking committed relationships. A representative for the gay/lesbian-oriented PrideDating.com noted: “PrideDating is all-inclusive but is focused primarily on relationships, not just hooking up like GuyFinders.com, for example.”

Sarah Jayne Anderson, affiliate manager for the well-known DatingGold.com, pointed out that while the gay dating market can be quite lucrative, the fact that gay consumers are as savvy as they are means that any companies seeking to expand in that market need to do their research thoroughly. “I’m not even sure why any adult company would debate whether or not it was good to have gay men as customers,” Anderson commented. “Even if somebody in the adult industry managed to make it to 2012 still possessing homophobic views, then surely they understand the language of money. Ignoring an entire and vast market is done only at the cost of profit. Of course, the real trick that many companies will miss is treating the gay market with the respect it deserves. Those I have heard complain about not being able to turn a profit in the gay market also tend to be those that haven’t done research or (become) involved with the gay webmaster community at all.”

The fact that the president of the U.S. has voiced his support for gay marriage is not lost on Internet dating companies. Anderson’s colleague Tofu de la Moore, who serves as network manager for DatingGold.com, said that President Obama’s position should be viewed not only in political terms, but also, in business and economic terms.

“Companies that have traditionally shied away from the gay market are starting to make attempts to cater to it,” de la Moore reflected. “I believe this is necessary for company growth, as times progress and the minds of the general public expand. Even in America, gay marriage is a hot topic. Our current president has taken a stand against the banning of same-sex marriage. I think companies that do not provide a same-sex solution will eventually be coerced into providing one to keep up with these progressive times.”

Gay online dating is showing no signs of slowing down. And as Internet dating maintains its popularity, gay dating will continue to be a viable and lucrative part of that market.

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