The Rebirth of Queer Cruising Apps

One night this past February, over drinks and moody bar lighting, Eric Green and his friends were swapping stories of their recent hookups when one mentioned they’d used the app Sniffies to have public sex. A 30-year-old tattoo artist who works in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Green identifies as a bottom, is a frequent user of dating apps, and has an active sex life—only, he’d never heard of Sniffies.

It wasn’t long after that night out, Green was overtaken by “complete and total horniness” while at home, and decided to sign up himself. When he opened the app he was reminded of Google Maps, only instead of restaurants and shopping recommendations, he was inundated with nudes and suggestions for the nearest pump-and-dump. “I expected it to be like Grindr and Jack’d, but after I checked it out I realized it was super accessible,” Green says, referencing two other popular queer hookup platforms. “More accessible than any other app.”

Access is Sniffies’ main selling point. A map-based cruising platform for men of all sexual identifications (gay, bi, DL, and straight-curious—yes, you read that right), Sniffies has become something like an adults-only Disneyland for queer men interested in sex-positive, no-strings-attached casual encounters. “We really focus on in-the-moment connections,” says Eli Martin, the company’s chief marketing officer and creative director. “On other apps, it’s not always clear what people’s intentions are—some people want to find a boyfriend, others just want to look around—but on Sniffies, we try to make it clear that people are fulfilling their sexual desires and fetishes.”

Sniffies is not your typical dating app, or a dating app at all, really. In lieu of the standard song and dance on Tinder or Bumble, where conversations are bogged down in endless chatter that often never lead to an IRL meeting, on Sniffies you can anonymously browse a map of men searching for sex with other men. Along with web-apps BKDR (short for backdoor), Motto, and Doublelist (think a more streamlined Craigslist personals), it has reignited an appeal in cruising culture that for so long had been taboo, even among certain queer circles. More recently, however, men cruising for sex with other men in public spaces, and the need to be discreet about doing so, was no longer seen as the polarizing issue it once was thanks to a wider acceptance of LGBTQ+ rights and the popularity of hookup apps, which facilitated all manner of connection.

“Destigmatizing casual sex has been our biggest hurdle in general,” says Martin. “It’s been ingrained in us to be monogamous, but we should have this sexual freedom. Cruising doesn’t have to be seedy or something that only happens in back alleys.” Thankfully, he says, that’s changing. “In the last couple of years, we’ve been able to enjoy it more without as much judgment, but it was still hard on day one, because I was like, how do we create an app that’s [not only cool] but going to continually push people to engage in?”

Launched in 2018, Sniffies was the brainchild of former Seattle-based architect Blake Gallagher. A problem-solver by nature, Gallagher was fascinated by the way urban environments influence sexual interactions. He wanted to better augment natural human connection in public spaces, and decided to implement a map feature and geolocation technology as the basis for Sniffies—tapping into what author Jack Parlett calls “the democratic potential of cruising.” Gallagher first tested his idea in Seattle and, with the help of his brother Grant, a programmer, slowly built Sniffies into what it is today—a “cruising app for the curious” with an increasing global reach.