Bumble to users: You need sex. Users to Bumble: Get lost.


“You know there’s a certain reputation for certain apps to have hookup culture. We all know that. I did not consider Bumble one of those.”

A phone with an App Store selection of the dating app Bumble.
A phone with an App Store selection of the dating app Bumble is pictured Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Oklahoma City. AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File

When the dating app Bumble received backlash over the weekend for an ad campaign telling women that “a vow of celibacy is not the answer,” the anger came as no surprise.

Resisting sex for reasons personal, political or somewhere in between may feel as if it has been gaining steam recently, but it’s not a new concept. In Aristophanes’ classic Greek comedy “Lysistrata,” the title character sets off on a mission to end the Peloponnesian War through the strategic denial of sex. She also persuades women in other Greek cities to withhold physical intimacy from their husbands and lovers as a way to negotiate peace.

Today, abstaining from sex may not be a common strategy used to broker treaties, but sex is still a powerful tool. More recently, the trend of choosing to abstain from sex, decentering men or going “boy sober” has made inroads with women. Perhaps it’s one way women are searching for peace within themselves after one too many situationships, ghostings and other romantic hardships.

On Monday, Bumble said in a statement that it was in the process of removing the ads from its global campaign and would be making donations to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and other organizations, offering those groups the billboard spaces.

“We made a mistake,” the company said. “Our ads referencing celibacy were an attempt to lean into a community frustrated by modern dating, and instead of bringing joy and humor, we unintentionally did the opposite.”

Videos and photos of Bumble billboards in Los Angeles quickly spread on social media and were flooded with replies criticizing the company.

“The fact that @bumble released all these ads that are low key coming at women for our decision to either not be on the apps, not date, be celibate but aren’t addressing the behavior of men on these apps speaks volumes,” one user wrote on the social platform X.

Even model and actress Julia Fox commented under one post on TikTok, revealing that she’s also celibate and is enjoying it: “2.5 years of celibacy and never been better tbh,” she wrote.

Jordan Emanuel, a DJ living in New York currently starring on Bravo’s “Summer House: Martha’s Vineyard,” said her first reaction to the advertisement was shock and confusion. She felt that the statement was “anti-choice.”

“You know there’s a certain reputation for certain apps to have hookup culture. We all know that. I did not consider Bumble one of those,” she said in a phone interview. “So unless that is where they’re headed, I don’t see how even referencing sex at all, frankly, makes sense if you’re trying to actually find a serious relationship.”

Emanuel, 32, said she had been celibate for about two years until about three weeks ago, after deciding she was ready to become intimate with somebody else.

“I would say it’s made it easier in that now I know exactly what I want,” she said. “Now I know exactly what I will tolerate. Now I know exactly what boundaries feel safe for me and what do not.”

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This recent effort by Bumble to lure back its users is part of a larger rebrand by the company. Last month, it rolled out a new visual identity and debuted new features, including “Opening Moves,” which allows men to make the first move on an app that had long placed that ball in female users’ court.

Match Group and Bumble — whose market share make up nearly the entire industry — have lost more than $40 billion since 2021, a sign that dating apps have lost their luster. Other dating apps, like Hinge and Tinder, have also debuted marketing campaigns in the past year to encourage more downloads, emphasizing a shift.

Framing celibacy and abstinence from sex as a negative isn’t all that different from framing promiscuity and sexual freedom as shameful. After the backlash, it’s evident that what women want is autonomy over their bodies.

For Tobi Ijitoye, a program manager who lives in London, the campaign felt similar to societal pressures women feel with dating or settling down in a relationship.

“It’s like, ‘Oh no, you have to engage in dating, you have to try and find a man or else you’re going to end up with cats.’ And I’m like, Why is that a threat?” Ijitoye said in a phone interview. “You want me to use the app, but you’re threatening me by telling me that the choices that I’ve made as an adult human being is going to make me miserable?”

Ijitoye, 32, has been off dating apps since January, opting, she said, to seek more meaningful real-life connections instead of being on apps, receiving requests for random hookups and limping through shallow conversations.

“I think that was the thing that annoyed me: I was just getting super sexually explicit messages,” she said. “I’m like, You could just be normal?”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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