If you’ve been on dating or hook-up apps like Grindr or Scruff for more than a minute, then you might have come across some cryptic language, coded and abbreviated to make the most of communicating sexual preferences. Because we all love efficiency when it comes to flirting and sex, right?
But to understand some of these gay hieroglyphics, you may need a little help deciphering them. So, we’ve put together a list of some frequently used phrases, acronyms, and other words you might encounter on the apps.
What are you into?
Asking what a person is into, or ‘into?’ is often the first thing sent between people when negotiating sex on a hookup app. This could include any sexual positions or sexual acts you prefer and other kinks that might interest you. When people ask this question, they might offer their own “intos”, including some of the language below!
Assume the position! Ahem, we mean, what’s your sexual position? Some people can find language like this limiting, as there is usually a great deal more to sex and hooking up than deciding who is going to be giving and who’s receiving during anal sex or neither. However, it’s almost always in use – so it’s good to know regardless.
Top (🍆 or ⬆)
Tops are the penetrative partner during sex; this usually means they use their dick or strap-on to have sex with their receptive partners. This can be considered a more active role and sometimes dominant role. However, it’s not a rule!
Bottom (🍑 or ⬇)
Bottoms are the receptive partner during sex; this usually means they receive their partner’s dick or strap-on, and while it can be considered a more passive or sometimes submissive role, it’s also not a rule!
Vers (versatile or ↕)
Versatile, or as it’s usually referred to as ‘vers’, is a person that both enjoys topping and bottoming during sex. Sometimes, a vers person may choose a single role for sex, and other times, they may switch between the two during sex. How often they decide to either top or bottom is entirely up to the individual and is usually informed by their partner. However, some like to use vers-top (↗) or vers-bottom (↘) to signify a preference for either topping or bottoming while indicating they still enjoy both.
A side is a person who enjoys sexual acts to the exclusion of anal penetration. This could include kissing, mutual masturbation, oral sex, or massage, to name a few. Coined in 2013 by US sex therapist Dr Joe Kort, side is a relatively new term – though it doesn’t take much experience to discover there are plenty of guys who are looking to hook up but aren’t interested in anal sex.
Dom/sub (dominant and submissive)
Dom and sub are short for dominant and submissive, and it’s a common relationship dynamic between partners during sex. For some, it acts as a formal dynamic between partners, a kink that involves a consensual exchange of power, which can enhance sexual desire. For others, it’s less formalised but stated as a preference to let their partner know they either like to be in control and lead the action during sex (dom) or those that react and are generally more passive during sex (sub).
Some people conflate all tops as doms and all bottoms as subs, though it’s not always the case. You can consider a power bottom to be a dominant role during sex, while a service top is a submissive role that follows the direction of the bottom that they’re servicing.
So how do I know if a person is looking as well? Not everyone who’s on the app at the time is always ready to meet… And for that matter, where will you meet? The following terms will help here.
If they’ve put ‘looking’ in their profile, it’s to show they’re currently looking for sex.
Good news: if they say ‘host’, they are happy to have you come to their place to hook up.
Not everyone can host, which means if they want sex, they need to ‘travel’, usually meaning they’ll be headed to a person who’s hosting. Or two people who can only travel might meet up at a gay sauna or sex-on-premises venue.
Sometimes, neither party can host, and that means they might look for a public place to hook up. Public means they want to have sex in a public space, like an outdoor beat (a place gay men go to hook up, usually parks, public toilets, or nightclubs).
Common acronyms and other words
Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, the following are several more specialised terms.
They’re not saying baby! BB usually refers to ‘bareback’, which means sex without a condom. Another word used to describe this is ‘raw’.
BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism)
This stands for bondage, discipline (or domination), sadism, and masochism, which can otherwise be thought of as a collection of sex acts that use some or all of the following: physical restraints, the granting or relinquishing of control, and the infliction of pain (for pleasure).
CD is short for a cross-dresser, which is a person who sometimes wears clothing of another gender. In the context of dating apps like Grindr, this is usually a person who wears clothing, lingerie, makeup or jewellery traditionally worn by women.
Cut and uncut
Cut and uncut refer to people who are respectively circumcised or uncircumcised.
A discreet person wants to keep their private life to themselves – usually meaning they want to keep the amount of information shared about their lives to a minimum. This can include people who are not out about their LGBTQ identity or sex lives. DL or ‘down low’ is another term for discreet.
FWB (friend with benefits) or fuckbuddy
Friends with benefits or fuckbuddies are people who have a casual but ongoing engagement involving sex without any romantic attachment. FWBs might hang out socially as friends or keep to sexual encounters; each arrangement is unique.
Masc4Masc or M4M (masculine for masculine)
Masc4Masc or M4M are abbreviations of masculine for masculine, which describes a person who self-identifies as having masculine traits and is looking for a partner who shares them.
In the gay community, femme-presenting people are often overlooked or shamed for the way they present, and in extreme cases, masc guys even voice disgust towards femme people. Because of this, writing Masc4Masc in a profile might be problematic, and you should consider leaving it out.
NPNC (no picture, no chat)
No picture, no chat is quite literal. This profile doesn’t want to talk with people who don’t have any images, particularly a picture of your face. Sending pictures upon chatting is usually okay if you’re not keen to have pictures always visible on your profile.
NSA (no strings attached)
No strings attached means that this person only wants to engage in casual hook-ups and is not interested in any potential for dating or other type of commitment.
PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis)
PrEP is an acronym that stands for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, meaning it’s a medication that’s taken before sex to prevent an HIV infection – and it’s extremely effective! There are also different options to suit everyone, so why not find out which type of PrEP suits you?
PNP (party and play)
PNP, short for party and play, is the combination of sex and drugs like crystal methamphetamine (💎 or ❄) or GHB. There is an abundance of words used to describe the PNP scene; another popular term is chemsex, while others might mention it as wired fun, high fun or partying. If you ever want to chat about the PNP scene or your drug use with a peer, you might like to check out the M3THOD service.
T4T (trans for trans)
T4T is an abbreviation of trans for trans, which means a trans person who’s looking for another trans person as their partner.
[+u] and U=U (positive and undetectable, and undetectable equals untransmittable)
[+u] stands for positive and undetectable, which refers to persons identifying that they’re HIV positive and have an undetectable viral load. Multiple studies have proven that people with an undetectable viral load are at no risk of transmitting HIV to their partners.
More recently, a new term U=U, which is short for Undetectable equals Untransmittable, entered the scene. It similarly aimed to let people know about the protective benefits of being on HIV treatment and maintaining an undetectable viral load.
Words and phrases to avoid
HIV stigma, racism, transphobia and body shaming are unfortunately still a part of many people’s dating app experiences. So, we each need to pay special attention to the language we use on these apps when chatting with new potential partners. Here are some terms and phrases to avoid:
Don’t use language including clean or DDF (drug and disease free)
Put simply, language like clean or DDF is stigmatising, especially towards people living with HIV and those who use drugs. Judging people on their HIV status or drug use is not on – and there are far better ways to talk about your own HIV and STI testing. Some people like to list when they were last tested; others might write, ‘I test regularly, and hopefully you do too’ in their bio.
Avoid writing about any preferences for or against people because of their racial backgrounds, certain body types, or genders on app profiles
As an example, writing statements like ‘no Asians, no fats, no femmes’ is very discriminatory and harmful, both to the members of the groups mentioned and to our community as a whole. Sharing statements like these normalises prejudice and enforces a hierarchy that promotes masculine cisgender white bodies above all others.
Similarly, expressing interest in a particular race or ethnicity can contribute to fetishisation. Fetishisation is the act of making someone an object of sexual desire based on some aspect of their identity. Though some may think that expressing a desire for someone’s race or associated features is flattering, it can enforce stereotypes and dehumanise the individual. We all want to be seen as people and not objects!
Each person’s journey to sexual attraction is different, and while it’s okay to understand that you might be more attracted to a certain type of partner, you still need to share that in a way that isn’t going to harm others.
So, if you’re into a person, you can totally let them know – but there’s no need to broadcast it. If someone’s expressed their interest in you on an app, and the feeling is not mutual, be gracious and let them know you’re not interested.
Finally, remember to stay safe!
Of course, knowing all these terms is just as important as knowing how to protect yourself! Condoms, PrEP, undetectable or a combination of these strategies are all great at preventing HIV – so what will you choose? Be sure to mention it to your partner ahead of time so that you’re prepared and neither of you has to make a late-night chemist run to get condoms or lube!
We hope this language guide has been helpful. For more tips and info, check out the rest that the Ending HIV blog has to offer!