Tinder is the night: the sex lives of young Cambodians


Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post, 21 August 2015

Fascinating article in the Phnom Penh Post about the impact of dating apps on Cambodian boy-meets girl. Every kid in PP has a smart-phone, social death not to have one. So what impact is Tinder having? (“Tinder is how people meet, it’s like real life, but better. Get it for free on iPhone and Android” – so says their google lead).

Short answer: not much. It’s in English, which sort of limits the market penetration. But now someone’s brought out a Khmer version. It’s called Matchstix, it was launched 1 August, and already it has maybe 10,000 users.

In the West, Tinder is being blamed for the death of romance – any boy wanting a girl for consensual nooky can forget chocolates and movies and just open his phone. Girls too, presumably. But in Cambodia?

Cambodia is different. Boy is it different. Not that I’m into Tinder, or even into dating Cambodian girls, but I do know, for example, that Khmer girls have the mentality of 12 year olds even when their 20. Fluffy bunnies and romance is where it’s at for them.

Trude Jacobsen, a history professor at Northern Illinois University who researches Cambodian gender and sexuality, said she wasn’t surprised that Tinder hadn’t taken off amongst Cambodians.

Sex outside of wedlock tended to be something that men engaged in with sex workers at specific times in their lives, she said. Usually, these activities were undertaken with a friend or group.

“So it’s not really the notion of an app for sex that is problematic, it’s the notion of hooking up for sex that is not a commercial transaction.”

Unmarried young women, in contrast, were supposed to be asexual.

Cambodian kids use Facebook and other social media in a Cambodian way – making friends, swapping stuffed animals, getting highly emotional. But no sex.

“An app like Tinder would be handy for young people looking to meet someone special that they can then identify as their boyfriend or girlfriend, in that sense; but it would not be used for sex.

“In fact, I can see a lot of cultural confusion occurring as Westerners used to the overt hookup culture of Tinder get on it in Cambodia and are dismayed to find their ‘acceptable swipes’ suddenly sending them emojis of teddy bears and hearts!”

The girls, presumably, live lives of Victorian rectitude. But what about the boys?

“…men would not only have sex with sex workers but anyone who was willing. “Why do they do this? Because they have their male friends who always say: ‘How can you have sex with your wife when you don’t know anything about sex? You have to try it.’ And this is a cause of gang rape in town as well. Then they want to find a virginal wife…”