We've all heard the expression "There's an app for that." It refers to the insane number of easily downloadable applications that can be used on smartphones. There are apps that help users discover a new restaurant, locate the perfect hairdresser ... or find a compatible stranger in your immediate area who's DTF. Wait, what? That's right, DTF means down to um…fornicate. And you can totally find that with apps like Tinder, Bang with Friends (now called "Down"), and Mixxxer. While some folks think these apps represent the future of dating, others insist that they're responsible for the rise in STIs, particularly among young men. So are sites like this responsible for more irresponsible sexual choices? Let's take a look.
Hookup Apps and the Rise of STIs
So what happens on these apps? Well, Tinder, one of the most popular hookup apps, looks like any other dating platform: full of pics and profiles of participating singles. Users sign up with a pic and a short profile. Then, they use the app to look at other users within their chosen distance range. Swiping left gets an undesirable candidate off of your Tinder forever. Swiping right means you're potentially interested. If you swipe right on someone, and they swipe right on you, it's a match! You can chat with that person and decide if you want to meet. What happens after that is between consenting adults ... we hope.
And while apps like Tinder certainly make a casual hookup easier, do they really make it less safe? In May 2015, a report released by health officials in Rhode Island found that rates of syphilis, gonorrhea and HIV had risen sharply between 2013 and 2014. They speculated that similar increases were occurring nationwide, and that some of the increase could be attributed to the high-risk sexual behaviors perpetuated by sites like Tinder and Grindr. Official figures in the U.K. report that cases of gonorrhea have spiked 15% since Tinder's launch in 2012. This has led doctors all over England and Scotland to declare that apps are a huge part of the STI problem. Public Heath England determined that as many as six syphilis outbreaks across Britain were at least partially caused by apps. And all this time, I thought unprotected sex was the cause of spreading a sexually transmitted disease. Should I bleach my phone?
A representative from British Association for Sexual Health and HIV told the Daily Mail that, "You don't have to be a genius to work out that these sort of apps make having casual sex a damn sight easier. You can find, down to a meter or two, the nearest available person who is interested. This is something that just hasn't been available before." Except for pick-up bars, hooker strolls, porno theaters, sex clubs, swinger events, and all the other places people go when they're seeking random, anonymous sex.
Dr. Simms, a representative of Public Health England, asserts that, "Outbreaks that would once have been confined to one area [are now] spreading to other towns and cities." If that's true, maybe people should shorten their distance filters. Oh, and buy some damn condoms already. (Need more tips? Check out 11 Rules for Smart, Safe and Sexy Hookups.)
Do Hookup Apps Cause the Spread of STIs?
Are health officials right? Are hookup apps really the cause of a spike in diagnosed STIs? First, let's just point out that correlation does not equal causation. Just because rates of STIs have changed, doesn't mean apps are to blame. In fact, Rhode Island's health officials mentioned more and better testing as part of the reason for the larger numbers. Plus, national figures from the CDC found that while cases of syphilis were up 10% from 2012, cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea were down.
Personal Responsibility and Dating Apps
It should also be noted that the sole purpose of apps like Tinder may not be hookups. Many people use Tinder like any other dating site to try to find people they find attractive and have a few things in common with. Cuddlr, for example, is a similar site, but its goal is to help people find platonic cuddling rather than romantic entanglement or simple giggity.
Should hookup based apps bear some responsibility for a rise in STIs? Might it be a good idea for sites to also direct people to the nearest drug store or condom vending machine? Are smartphone apps obligated to protect users from themselves? I have to say no - no more than a restaurant should advise against the cheesecake or a theater should deny you a ticket to spare you from having nightmares.
As someone who met their husband on an Internet dating site (I'm not telling which one), I'm very much in favor of using sites and apps to find potential partners. Whether "potential partner" means marriage-bound dating or wedding night role-play isn't really any of my business. There are all sorts of ways to avoid STIs. Staying off your phone probably isn't among the most effective.