It may be time to start swiping left more often.
According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, there’s been an alarming spike in cases of sexually transmitted diseases, and it places the blame in part on social media applications such as Tinder and Grindr. From 2013 to 2014, the number of syphilis cases in the state increased 79% and the number of gonorrhea cases 30%, while newly diagnosed cases of HIV increased 33%.
Online dating apps have become increasingly popular, and it’s becoming more socially acceptable to use those apps to find casual sex partners.
“The recent uptick in STDs in Rhode Island follows a national trend,” the state health department said. “The increase has been attributed to better testing by providers and to high-risk behaviors that have become more common in recent years. High-risk behaviors include using social media to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters, having sex without a condom, having multiple sex partners, and having sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”
The Ocean State isn’t the only state to call out hook up apps. Last month, Utah also blamed social media as one of the reasons for a large increase in venereal diseases from 2011 to 2014. Gonorrhea was the most common contracted STD in the state, with infections rising 700% in a three-year period.
The recent increase in STDs did not affect all groups equally. People aged 15 to 24 years were most likely to be infected with chlamydia and gonorrhea, whereas men who have sex with men made up 75% of those with syphilis.
Despite the rise in STDs, officials are not advocating against the use of the apps. Instead, they are urging people to be more careful and to take more preventative actions when engaging in sex.
“We need to talk more about condom use,” said Lynn Beltran, epidemiologist at the Salt Lake County STD clinic. “We need to fight to keep up with what social media has done to sexual activity in our communities.”
The surge of venereal diseases has also led to the development of apps that help people provide proof that they are STD-free. Healthvana is an app that allows users to access their test results online and share those results with potential sexual partners. For example, some people take screen shots of their Healthvana results and use them as one of the photos on their profile. Hornet, a gay dating app, prompts users every three months to update their HIV status.
However, Brian Mustanski, a professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, believes that Rhode Island’s health department are wrong about attributing social media to the uptick in STDs.
He said, “men who engage in high-risk sex with other men use the Internet as a tool for meeting sexual partners, not that meeting partners online causes high-risk sex.” But he does believe that dating apps should take better action when it comes to providing preventative information.
Research shows that when it comes to their health, people are more likely to get help when directly pointed to a specific resource.
- Firger J. Should dating apps help promote safe sex? Newsweek. May 30, 2015. http://www.newsweek.com/should-dating-apps-help-promote-safe-sex-337635.
- Gabbatt A. Popularity of ‘hookup apps’ blamed for surge in sexually transmitted infections. The Guardian. May 28, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/may/28/hookup-apps-stds-tinder-grindr.
- Lebeau J. Rhode Island officials blame apps like Tinder for spike in STDs. Boston. June 1, 2015. http://www.boston.com/news/local/2015/06/01/rhode-island-officials-blame-apps-like-tinder-for-spike-stds/jMpoV4Ul5ncGr5gYpsaOWJ/story.html.