Kinky, Vanilla, Sex-Positive, GGG — What’s My Label?

Dating apps have completely transformed the way we meet each other — but anyone diving into them for the first time may find themselves confronting a range of terms and phrases that feel bewildering. Sex education definitely didn’t teach you these! Even if you don’t use apps, much of the app-based terminology has bled into our life IRL, making for a confusing experience. Here’s how to decode what others are saying — and how to choose how to describe yourself if you’re making the foray into the world of apps.

What you are:

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There are a huge range of identity-based terms that someone might use to quickly and conveniently identify themselves to potential dates — key information about who they are and how they like to date or have sexual experiences.

ENM: This acronym stands for “ethically non-monogamous” — you might also see it as “consensually non-monogamous” or just non-monogamous. People may also use terms like polyamorous, relationship anarchist, or “open relationship,” which all fall under the umbrella of non-monogamy. In short, a person who uses this term is likely looking for more than one relationship with more than one partner, albeit perhaps of different kinds, and may already have a partner(s).

GGG: You’ve probably been wondering, “what is GGG?” A term coined by Dan Savage, it stands for “good, giving, game.” While GGG doesn’t align with any specific sex practices or activities, it’s a designation that someone approaches sex in a way that might be described as part of the sex-positive movement.

Top: Someone who prefers to “do,” or take an active role in sex, rather than be “done to.” If it’s penetrative sex, they prefer to be the penetrating partner. It’s a term generally used within gay and queer communities. This person may or may not also be kinky, and may or may not be open to being on the receiving end of any sexual activities.

Bottom: Someone who prefers to be “done to” rather than “do to” others in sex. If it’s penetrative sex, they prefer being penetrated by their partner. This person may or may not also be kinky, and may or may not be open to being the “giver” or “doer” of any sexual activities.

Switch: Someone who enjoys both “doing” and being “done to” during sex. There may be specific situations or dynamics where this person prefers one over the other. They may or may not be interested in kink or power dynamics.

Dominant: A term from kink or BDSM culture, this refers to someone who prefers to have some control over their partner as part of a consensual, agreed-upon power dynamic during sex. This term is often capitalized, ex. “Sharon is a Dominant,” and may also be shortened to dom (masculine) or domme (feminine).

Submissive: Someone in the kinky or BDSM lifestyle who prefers their partner to have some control over them during sex as part of a consensual power dynamic.

Bisexual: Someone who is attracted to both their own gender and other genders, and is generally open to dating/relationships with people of various genders.

Lesbian: A woman who’s attracted to women, and is looking for dating/a relationship with another woman.

Gay: Someone attracted to their own gender; may also use another identity term, like “lesbian.” 

Queer: An umbrella term that indicates someone generally isn’t straight; this person could be gay, bisexual, lesbian, etc, or may feel that their identity doesn’t strictly hew to any of these categories.

Trans: The commonly used abbreviated term for “transgender,” someone who identifies with a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. Could include terms like “transmasc,” “transmasculine” and FTM,  or “transfem”/”transfeminine/MTF.” People who use this term may or may not have undergone medical transition, which includes things like taking hormones or gender affirming surgery.

Nonbinary: This term refers to someone who doesn’t identify as either male or female; generally falls under the trans umbrella. Many nonbinary people use they/them pronouns, though not all. Nonbinary people may have any sexual orientation; you’ll have to refer to other information in a dating app bio to see what gender(s) a nonbinary person is interested in dating.

Demisexual: Someone who only experiences sexual attraction once they have a strong emotional connection with someone. Often, demisexual people are not interested in casual sex or hookups, and may prefer to “go slow” in relationships.

Asexual: Someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction or desire. Variations on this term you might see include “grey-ace,” “greysexual,” “grey-a”, meaning they experience something on the spectrum of asexuality, or experience sexual feelings in some contexts and not others. People who identify as “aromantic” don’t experience romantic feelings, although this may be separate from sexual desire.

Sapiosexual: Someone who is strongly attracted to intelligence — intellect may be their primary priority when choosing a partner.

Sober: Someone who doesn’t use alcohol or substances. Some people may be sober from specifically alcohol while still using other recreational drugs, like marijuana — “california sober” — and some may be sober from all substances. Some sober people may be “in recovery” in a program like AA or identify as alcholics/addicts; some may simply choose not to use alcohol, or have other reasons, like religious principles. Sober people may also indicate in their profiles whether it’s important to them that their date/partner also be sober.

Kinky: Someone who’s interested in a power dynamic in sex or a relationship — this could be someone invested in the BDSM lifestyle who sees it as a core part of a potential relationship, or someone who is interested in occasionally adding kink practices to sex but doesn’t experience it as a core part of their identity. Someone who’s kinky as a lifestyle may be a dominant, submissive, or switch.

What you’re looking for (or not):

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While it was once assumed we were all looking to find “the one” and settle down as soon as possible. In the 21st century, there are almost infinite options for what any one of us could be searching for when it comes to love, sex and dating.

LTR: Long-term relationship — also known as looking for something serious, or “the real thing.” 

ONS: One-night stand.

NSA: Stands for “no strings attached” — just sex, without the expectation of a commitment or strong emotional connection, whether you see each other once or repeatedly.

Threesome/third: An established couple looking for a third person to join them for sex and/or dating, either for a one-time encounter (a threesome) or an ongoing non-monogamous relationship (a third). 

Unicorn: A “unicorn” is a term used for a single bisexual woman who joins an established male/female couple either for a one-time threesome or an ongoing relationship. 

T4T: “Trans for trans;” this term is for trans people indicating they’d prefer to prioritize other trans people for dating and sex.

D/s: Stands for “Dominant/submissive;” is usually used as a modifier, as in “looking for a D/s relationship.” Used by kinky people to indicate that they’re looking for a BDSM-oriented relationship partner where the relationship includes a consensual power dynamic. 

Primary partner: A term used by non-monogamous/polyamorous people to describe a relationship that takes some kind of precedence among multiple relationships they may have. Someone may or may not live with a primary partner or share any specific material commitments with them. 

Anchor/nesting partner: A term some non-monogamous/polyamorous people prefer over “primary partner” — an anchor partner is a long-term, serious partnership that a polyamorous person sees as constant or central to their life, without necessarily taking precedence over other partners. A nesting partner carries these connotations while also being a partner one lives with.

Comet connection: A term used by non-monogamous/polyamorous people to refer to a relationship that’s intermittent, though not necessarily brief. This might be someone who lives in a different area and who one only sees occasionally, or who one only makes plans with for special occasions rather than seeing each other consistently.

Situationship: A term for a connection that’s ongoing, but doesn’t progress toward a serious relationship — it could have an unclear status or its participants might feel confused about its future. For some people, it has a negative connotation — the implication being that at least one party wants a full relationship, but is being relegated to a situationship instead.

Hookup: An encounter for casual sex, or sex outside an established relationship; could also refer to a person with whom you have this arrangement. A person might post “looking for a fun, consistent regular hookup.”

What you value:

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In addition to determining whether any potential date is compatible with us romantically and sexually, we’re also motivated to make sure that people we date share our basic values — many of us choose to identify some of those important values in our dating app bios to attract those who share our values and to save time by weeding out those who don’t.

RACK: A term used by kinky people or BDSM practitioners; it stands for “risk-aware consensual kink.” Someone using this term indicates that they practice an “informed consent” model with their sexual practices, understanding that some activities are risky and that everyone involved has educated themselves on the risks and is participating consensually with that in mind. 

BLM: The acronym for “Black Lives Matter” — indicates that racial justice is an important value to this person, and are likely looking to meet people who share this value. 

No TERFs: TERF means “trans-exclusionary radical feminist;” someone using this means they aren’t open to meeting people who don’t believe trans women are women, identify as “gender critical” or oppose gender-affirming care for trans people.

No SWERFs: SWERF means “sex-worker-exclusionary radical feminist” — someone using this means that they aren’t open to meeting people who believe in abolishing sex work.

Vaxxed status: Many people will choose to indicate their COVID-19 vaccination status in one way or another on their profile, generally preferring partners who share the same outlook on public health as them.

Recommended Books:

Savage Love from A to Z: Advice on Sex and Relationships, Dating and Mating, Exes and Extras by Dan Savage

Playing Well with Others: Your Field Guide to Discovering, Exploring and Navigating the Kink, Leather and Bdsm Communities by Lee Harrington

The Ethical Slut, Third Edition: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Freedoms in Sex and Love (Revised) by Janet Hardy

The New Topping Book by Janet Hardy & Dossie Easton

The New Bottoming Book by Janet Hardy & Dossie Easton



For More Articles Check Out These Recent Posts:

What Is Sex Positivity?

What Does it Mean to be a Top in Sex & Dating?

What Does it Mean to be a Bottom in Sex & Dating?


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