Should Lying on Dating Apps to Get Sex Be Illegal?

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Law school professor Irina Manta has proposed that lying on dating apps like Tinder in order to make sex more likely should be criminalized.

In both a Washington Post op-ed and a law journal article, Manta says that such lying undermines others’ ability to truly consent to sex. In doing so she redefines adulthood, dating, sexuality, and communication.

Anyone who dates or hooks up online knows how it works:

* More than half of all profiles include deliberate lies;
* Many profiles contain outdated photos;
* People often describe themselves using glowing superlatives (“world’s best cook”; “delightful to be with”) that, um, do not quite match how they really are;
* Many men and women say they’re interested in love, romance, and commitment—when they actually want, or are open to, casual sex after barely meeting.

These are the facts. If you date online and have never experienced any of these, you certainly know someone else who has (including, likely, the person you just met online). I wonder why people don’t adjust their expectations and decision-making accordingly.

If you’ve never dated online but use social media, there shouldn’t be any surprises anyway. Social media were apparently invented so people could misrepresent themselves, could express themselves without the normal consequences of face-to-face life, and could manipulate each other—whether by aggression, seduction, or omission.

Professor Manta’s suggestion points up some serious problems with society’s current approach to dating, courtship, and sex. It’s clearly part of a larger trend that’s just getting more extreme.

Manta’s concept of “sexual fraud” removes the expectation that people are responsible for their own sexual interactions. I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT BLAMING RAPE VICTIMS—Manta is clearly NOT talking about sexual violence.

Rather, Manta’s proposal attempts to protect people from the rhythms of courtship rather than encouraging them to develop and use their internal resources. Infantilizing the dating population instead of empowering them is a big mistake.

Besides, criminalizing lying-to-get-sex demonizes sex. It reinforces the idea that sleeping with someone you wish you hadn’t is much different—and worse—than buying something you shouldn’t, playing a sport you shouldn’t (there are millions of strained hamstrings every year), or sharing gossip you shouldn’t.

True enough, social media makes it easier than ever for people to meet other people they may have sex with. If sex is trivial (which is fine with me), that isn’t a problem. And while most people say that sex is “intimate,” “special,” and “very personal,” many men and women behaviorally treat it as trivial.

But if people claim that sex is grand (which is fine with me), than they should pay more attention to whom they sleep with, and under what circumstances.

Historically, most cultures around the world have encouraged people to know each other (or commit to each other) before having sex. I wouldn’t make this mandatory (the cult of virginity-until-marriage continues to damage people and marriages around the world), but neither would I discard the idea that if people are prone to regret certain sexual interactions, they need to get better at sniffing out those potential interactions ahead of time.

On the one hand, preventing people from lying to each other won’t accomplish this. On the other hand, there’s no substitute for people developing their own judgement about who to trust in which situation.

It’s easy to see our smartphone culture as a culprit in this. As people spend less and less time communicating face-to-face, we are arguably developing less and less skill in evaluating other people. Look at the common new idea that you can know someone and communicate effectively and completely via digital tools. This illusion carries over into sex—we texted a few times, therefore I know the person well enough to judge whether or not to have sex with them.

Professor Manta suggests that complaints of being victimized by a lying Tinder-ite or Grindr-ite be handled in small claims court. But once lying-to-get-laid is criminalized even a tiny bit, it won’t be hard to increase the penalties, or create sub-categories of lying and even-worse lying.

Ultimately, those convicted of lying-to-get-laid might even end up on the sex offender registry. Sounds absurd? The Registry was never intended to be a punishment (or public safety resource) for convictions of public urination or exhibitionism—but the Registry is filled with just such non-violent convictions. And it was never intended to punish teenagers—but over 200,000 people on it were placed there as minors.

An online dating profile is not a binding contract, it’s an advertisement. And as with all ads, caveat emptor. Anyone who doesn’t approach dating apps that way has no business using a dating app. Of course, those same people were vulnerable to seduction or manipulation in the dating marketplace before the internet. The coming-of-age film Saturday Night Fever shows just how this worked back in the ‘70s.

And anyone who thinks that people interested in people who are interested in sex need protection is really saying that dating is too dangerous to allow adults to do it unsupervised.

No one likes being manipulated, feeling used, or getting their heart broken. And yet if someone is completely protected from these things—or is too walled off to risk such outcomes—they can’t experience adulthood, they can’t grow, and they can’t be passionate.

For people who crave one, two, or all three of these, government protection and personal walls are just too expensive.

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