Could dating apps like Tinder be responsible for an increase in sexually-transmitted diseases? The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV warns these apps could start an “explosion” of STDs and insists they have a duty “to invest more time in pushing a safe sex message.”
Last month, the US AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) put up a number of billboards partly blaming Tinder and Grindr for the spread of STDs. The foundation suggests there is a strong enough correlation to justify their ads, pointing to a Rhode Island Department of Health report as well as 2014 study that concluded gay men meeting on dating apps “are at greater risk for gonorrhoea and chlamydia” than men who meet in person.
But researchers admit there are numerous limitations to the study. For one, the data was obtained from a sexual health clinic, which may have created a selection bias towards participants who engaged in more risky behavior.
A spokesperson from the Family Planning Association (FPA), one of the UK’s leading sexual health charities, tells Quartz that they have yet to see any big studies conclusively linking an increase in the transmission of STDs with dating apps. “It’s more anecdotal than anything,” she says, adding, “The overall rates for sexually-transmitted infections have been fairly steady in the last couple of years.”
Figures released by Public Health England this year showed the total number of new cases of STDs in England decreased by 0.3% in 2014. But rates of syphilis and gonorrhea have increased by 33% and 19%, respectively. “Gonorrhea is more of a concern because we’re starting to see more strains that are resistant to antibiotics,” the spokesperson explains.
While the links between dating apps and sexual-disease transmission are “complex,” the FPA is beginning to consider how information on STDs can be effectively advertised on these apps. So people swiping through Tinder are reminded to be safe and get tested.