Terminology Timeline: The Ultimate Guide to Modern-Day Sex and Dating
on Feb 28, 2023
From negging to breadcrumbing, what do these red flag terms mean and when did they first enter the world of sex and dating?
The rise of social media and dating apps has opened up a new world of opportunity when it comes to meeting people you could form romantic and sexual relationships with. However, with it has come a whole host of new terms and phrases we have to keep up with to ensure we don’t end up falling into toxic relationships.
For this reason, we’ve scrolled our way through TikTok, and read all of the relationship advice columns we can get our hands on, to collate a comprehensive list of sex and dating terms we should all be on the lookout for and to find out when they first came to our attention.
We also then surveyed 2,000 people over the age of 18 to see which of these phrases they’ve had experience with the most (spoiler alert, it’s love bombing), and shared insight on how we can stay empowered in this new realm of sex and dating.
From negging and breadcrumbing to fleabagging, there are a lot of terms we need to wrap our heads around to make sure we don’t end up in a potentially negative romantic, or sexual, experience. We’ve looked into the terms that have been featured the most in the online press in the past few years to track exactly when they were first used - and the definitions behind them.
2023’s Dating Dictionary
Now we’ve gotten to grips with the sex and dating terms used the most in the press, there were a whole host of phrases we came across that aren’t yet as common. We turned to certified dating and relationship expert Callisto Adams (Ph.D.), who explained exactly what these mean, helping us create the ultimate dating dictionary so we know what to be looking out for…
#beigeflag + #beigeflags = 4,706,681 views on TikTok
Have you ever scrolled through someone’s dating profile and struggled to pull out one defining feature of their personality? Like an NPC (non-player character), their interests are either generic, cliche or non-existent and probably fit most of the profiles you’ve already swiped left on. These are beige flags. If your Hinge profile features the words ‘The best way to ask me out is to just ask’ or attempts to start a debate on whether pineapple belongs on pizza, it might be time to rethink how you can make yourself stand out from the crowd and put some more thought in.
Callisto defines breezing as: “Not obeying the traditional rules of dating in order to stay authentic to yourself by gently but clearly communicating your feelings to your partner”. In heterosexual relationships specifically, men are expected to make the first move. An example of breezing would be where a woman makes the first move, letting a man know how she feels about him with no pressure.
#consciouslysingle = 2,800,000 views on TikTok
As it says on the tin, if you’re consciously single you’re deliberately choosing not to be in a relationship. You’re prioritizing yourself and your needs, and are being more intentional about the kind of person you want in a future relationship.
#cookiejarring = 30,600 views on Tiktok
Cookie jarring is the super-unethical practice of stringing someone along to keep them as a backup plan in case things don’t work out with the person you really want. Instead of setting them free, you’re keeping them locked up in a metaphorical cookie jar in case the cake you want doesn’t want you back and you have to settle for cookies instead.
#cyberflashing = 1,600,000 views on TikTok
Cyberflashing involves sharing explicit photos to a stranger on the internet, without consent. It can be done via AirDrop, social media and other digital platforms, and it’s a criminal offense in some places.
#dawndating = 66,000 views on TikTok
Dawn dating is for all the early birds out there. Instead of date night, you have date morning. You might meet up for breakfast before work or share a coffee on a Sunday morning walk. Whether you’d be willing to cut your beauty sleep short or not, this is a fun trend that turns long-established ideas of ‘what counts as a date’ on their head.
#drydating = 86,400 views on TikTok
Dry dating is simply dating without alcohol and is a trend that rose in popularity during the height of the pandemic. With classic date options like taking someone out for a drink being off the table, singles were forced to look at romance without liquid courage and found themselves more engaged and making more meaningful connections.
#ecodumping = 1,237 views on TikTok
Eco-dumping involves breaking things off with someone because their environmental impact doesn’t align with your values. For example, if they’re a frequent flier, live a wasteful lifestyle, buy from harmful fast-fashion brands, or eat too much red meat.
#goldenretrieverboy + #goldenretrievergirl = 81,300,000 views on TikTok
Loving, loyal, extroverted, and keen to please - if your partner shares their best qualities with man’s best friend, you have yourself a golden retriever. Dating someone with golden retriever energy is a breeze: they’re easygoing, sweet and can be a much-needed breath of fresh air from the perils of modern dating.
Hoovering is how we define the slimy behavior of an abusive ex who uses emotional manipulation tactics to suck someone back into a toxic relationship - sometimes through ‘kind’ gestures and gifts.
#kittenfishing = 118,400 views on TikTok
Think of kittenfishing as catfishing’s younger sibling. Instead of creating an entirely new persona online like a catfish would, a kittenfish sprinkles little white lies across their online profiles to make themselves appear more attractive. This could be anything from uploading old photos to make themselves seem younger or lying about their height to embellishing their job title or using photos that give a false impression of a high-flying lifestyle.
#masochist = 98,800,000 views on TikTok
According to Callisto, a masochist is: “A person obtaining sexual pleasure by feeling physical pain, humiliation, or degradation (a practice on their own or a partner). Someone who enjoys being hit, called names, and in general controlled in the relationship, and also during sex.”
#narcissistdating = 245,000 views on TikTok
Callisto defines a narcissist as: “A person who sees themselves as superior, special and entitled in rapport with other people. They focus on the superficial and have tendencies to exploit people to establish their goals.” So, if you think your partner is only priotizing their own sexual needs, or they’re being hyper-sensitive to any feedback you’re trying to give them about your sex life, there’s a strong likelihood you’re in bed with a narcissist.
#orbiting = 10,700,000 views on TikTok
Previously reserved for stargazers and space enthusiasts, this is another word that’s been stolen and put to use in a new context. It essentially describes that one person in your life who ghosted you or told you they weren’t interested a while back but still lingers around in your social orbit, replying to your stories and liking your posts. It’s a way of keeping the connection alive for just that little bit longer. Orbiting is one of the two terms that Callisto thinks will skyrocket in popularity through 2023, thanks to “the rise of the ‘I want to explore’ mindset among people through the internet”.
A sadist is “a person obtaining pleasure (more notably sexual pleasure) by imposing physical pain, humiliation, or degradation on another person (their partner, or else). Someone who enjoys hitting, calling names, and being controlling in the relationship, and also during sex.”
#slowfade = 2,100,000 views on TikTok
A slow fade is pretty similar to ghosting, except it happens more gradually over time. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make things any less painful, it just gives you more time to overthink and dwell, while keeping the hope alive that it’s not really the end. The telltale signs are: It takes longer and longer for them to reply to your texts, they’re less enthusiastic in their responses, and you’re always the one that reaches out to them.
#untyping = 3,836 views on TikTok
If you’re someone who exclusively dates people within your ‘type’ but it’s never worked out for you, you might try untyping. It’s basically finding the common traits in your dating history and then deviating from the type of person you usually seek out. The trend is helping people break out of their heartbreak cycle and make their dating decisions more intentional - work smarter, not harder, right?
#voicefishing = 93,100 views on TikTok
Guys who deepen their voice when using the voice note feature on Hinge, this one’s for you! Voice fishing is another variation of catfishing where people essentially manipulate their tone, dialect, or accent to make themselves sound sexier online.
#wokefishing = 51,900 views on TikTok
A person pretending to share the same progressive social or political views as someone they’re interested in to try and gain their favor. It’s one of the latest in a long line of manipulation tactics used by unsavory characters lurking online.
#zombeing = 51,100 views on Tiktok
As you might be able to guess from the name, zombeing is when an old flame who ghosted you suddenly comes back from nowhere and rises like the living (digital) dead. Out of nowhere, they’ve reached out from beyond the bad-dates-graveyard, usually just as you’ve started to get over them - what a coincidence!
How many of us are experiencing these behaviors? The truth behind the TikToks
Social media is constantly bombarding us with new ways to define and categorise our modern sex and dating experiences, but how well do all of these terms apply to real life? To find out we asked 2,000 adults over the age of 18 whether they’d experienced some of the red flag terms, both while dating and in a relationship.
Our survey found that, when it comes to relationships, love bombing (the pesky red flag where your partner intensely showers you with love to win your trust) has been the most commonly experienced, with almost half (44%) of all respondents saying they’ve had this happen to them. While dating, it unfortunately comes as no shock that ghosting is the trait we experience the most, with 41% saying they’ve had it happen to them. Over a third (36%) of those surveyed also said they’ve experienced getting ghosted whilst in a relationship - ouch!
Why is it important to stay up to date with new dating trends and terms?
Spotting red flags and potentially toxic behavior isn’t always easy, especially if you’re new to dating, or if you’re back playing the field after a long-term commitment. But it can be helpful to keep up to date with new dating trends and terms. The more of these you know, the better you’ll be able to identify behavior that could be damaging - in a partner and potentially even yourself.
Callisto says awareness is a key element of empowering yourself in today’s modern dating world.
“Being aware of the sex and dating terminology makes you empowered with knowledge and information due to the fact that you’ll know what’s the right thing to do when you encounter a particular situation. That, in turn, makes you prone to look and practice healthy behaviors and seek or have more positive experiences because you’re already dodging the negative ones.”
So now we’ve run through some of the most popular dating terminology being used on TikTok, how do we remove negative behaviors from a relationship? And how can we know when it’s time to call it quits? Callisto says:
“Open and transparent communication can tremendously help two (or more) partners in a relationship recover and remove negative behaviors from their relationship. It allows them to pinpoint those behaviors and be willing to work them out so that they can establish a healthier foundation for their relationship.
“If open communication, attempts to establish a healthier behavioral pattern with each other, and therapy doesn’t work, you might still find yourself emotionally exhausted. If you’re continuing to have your boundaries crossed and feel like you’re losing your sense of self, then it might be time to leave that relationship.”
Sources & methodology:
We created a seedlist of over 80 sex and dating terms. We then crawled the "Sex and Relationships" sections of six popular news sites, including Glamour, Cosmopolitan and Refinery 29, to find when these terms were first used within this section - either the headline or body of the text - and the amount of times it has been used.
In addition, we used TikTok to reveal the amount of views videos with hashtags related to the terms were used. Please note some of these were removed if the intent behind the videos was incorrect.
Expert commentary provided by:
- Callisto Adams (Ph.D.), certified dating and relationship expert
A survey of 2,003 adults over the age of 18, collected between 11.10.2022 - 13.10.2022.