Grindr and other gay dating apps have taken a lot of heat recently for their effect on rising STI rates.
However, many people forget to acknowledge how these dating apps have helped build a more cohesive community. How they have helped gay people find others like them in a world that is largely revolved around being straight.
Even though users on gay dating apps report more sexual risk behavior and more sex partners, they are more likely to either be using pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or willing to do so. They also had a lower rate of HIV diagnosis!
Also, the argument that dating apps have increased sex rates and unsafe sex is largely unfounded. No data exists to show people are having more sex because they are matching with prospective partners, or that they’re having more unsafesex sex with these partners.
In fact, the data shows thats millennials and Gen Z members are having less sex than previous generations. In 2018, the percentage of Americans who said “they didn’t have sex for a whole year” was actually the highest on record. This suggests that dating apps do not lead to more sex.
It is very possible that the impersonal nature of dating apps has increased rates of unprotected sex, since people may be less willing to openly discuss their STI and HIV status with a stranger. However, the notion that apps directly play a role in rising STI’s is truly just a theory. Phew.
Although one study conducted in 2014 suggest that gay and bisexual male dating app-users were more likely to have STD’s than people who did not use such apps, they were having more sex overall (even without dating apps). The study’s author, Justin J. Lehmiller writes:
“What this suggests is that those who use the apps would probably still be having more sex even if apps weren’t around. In other words, there’s a selection effect at play here, which means that app users’ higher rates of STDs don’t seem to be a pure function of the technology they’re using.”
Unfortunately, many stories disproportionately emphasize the “swipe for syphilis” narrative, which minimizes the complex cultural and political issues driving the crisis.
There is a tendency in cultural conversation and the media to attribute promiscuity to technological innovation empowering people to have sex. This “sex panic” is similar to past criticism of birth control and sexual education in the school system.
Equating STD’s with individual promiscuity is NOT GOOD. It creates the perception of STD’s as something that arises when you have more sex, which very false if you have the right resources and use condoms regularly. We should be a sex positive society that focuses on safe-sex practices and criticizes gaps in health infrastructure.
Sure dating apps may play a role in the way people have sex and, more importantly, increase the network size of those who are having sex. But it’s not enabling a behavior that humans would not do otherwise.
Although there may be a partial association with an increase in STD rates and dating apps, other factors, such as STDS spreading to populations that haven’t been traditionally affected and lack of education and resources for sexual health, may contribute to this phenomenon.
Grindr, along with other dating apps, have created spaces in which users can disclose their HIV status and PrEP usage without stigma. Grindr has normalized the use of PrEP by introducing a blue pill emoji and getting STD tests by frequently displaying ads and notifications to do so.
So crack on. Get those swipes. Message those shirtless torsos. But do so safely!