Smartphone apps like Grindr linked to increased STI risk

appsGay and bisexual men using smartphone apps to seek out potential partners for casual sex are putting themselves at a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), according to the findings of a new study.

Those accessing and using the apps to meet other men were found to be more likely to later diagnosed with gonorrhoea and Chlamydia compared to men who found potential partners in other ways, such as in nightclubs or online, researchers say.

The study was carried out by the Los Angeles LGBT Center, a non-profit organisation in Los Angeles, California and published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections. It involved an analysis of the STI testing results of 7,184 men between 2011 and 2013, in addition to the answers the provided to a questionnaire about their sex lives and recreational drug use.

It was found that 34% of the men who participated in the study had found sexual partners through in-person social networking only, 30% had met their partners through a mix of both the Internet and in-person social networking, whilst the remaining 36% met partners using a combination of all the three methods.

Contrasted against men who had met their sexual partners online first or in person, those using the social apps were found to be 25% more likely of contracting gonorrhoea and at a 37% higher risk of being infected with chlamydia. The study discovered there did not appear to be any major difference between the groups with regards to syphilis or HIV.

“As technology has benefits, it also has certain risks,” said Matt Beymer, the lead researcher and an epidemiologist at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. “We want to educate gay and bisexual men about the potential risks that they may face with these apps.”

Beymer’s study also found the social app users were usually either white or Asian, well-educated and under the age of 40. The primary focus of the study was not meant to be about drug use, but those using social apps were probably more likely to use recreational drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy.

“Our ultimate goal is not to stigmatize these apps or stigmatize in general,” Beymer says. “We just really want gay and bisexual men to love carefully and love safely.”

Social apps such the hugely popular Grindr and SCRUFF utilise the GPS (global positioning system) technology of smartphones to help users find people nearby who are also using the app. Grindr in particularly has become immensely popular amongst the gay and bisexual community since its launch in 2009, boasting more than 10 million user downloads, Whilst the apps can be used for a variety of purposes, the majority of people use them to seek out potential sexual partners.

Commenting on the study findings, Justin Harbottle, a health promotion specialist at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “However good the sex is, it’s not worth contracting a long-term condition. Gay men today have more opportunities to meet for sex than ever before. Part of the problem is that communication on dating apps can be brief, making it easy to cut corners on important discussions like safe sex”

He added that condoms are still the best method of protecting yourself against sexually transmitted infections.

However, Grindr defended their service and spoke to the BBC, saying: “Grindr is highly committed to promoting safe sex within the community and strongly encourages our users to engage in safe sex practices, get tested and know their HIV status.”

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