Since 2009, smartphone dating apps have become increasingly popular among gay men. These apps use GPS to locate any user within a given area. But this easy access may come with serious consequences.
A recent study found that gay men who used smartphone dating apps, such as Grindr, to meet sexual partners had a higher risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) than gay men who met sexual partners online or in-person at a club or bar.
The researchers suggested that dating apps increased the risk of sexually transmitted disease because apps make it easier to find potential partners quicker, therefore increasing the chance of having a risky, anonymous sexual encounter.
The lead author of this study was Matthew R. Beymer from the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The study included 7,184 self-identified HIV-negative men who have sex with men (MSM) who were tested for sexually transmitted diseases between August 2011 and January 2013 at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.
An MSM was defined as a person whose biological sex and gender were male-identified, and who either identified as gay or bisexual or had sex with another man during the year prior to being tested.
The researchers asked the men to report what type of social networking they typically used to meet sexual partners:
- MSM who exclusively networked in-person to meet sexual partners
- MSM who networked with sexual partners via the Internet only or a combination of in-person and the Internet
- MSM who used at least one smartphone dating app, regardless of whether they also met partners in person or on the internet
The men also reported on their use of ecstasy, methamphetamines, inhaled nitrates (popularly called “poppers”) and cocaine in the past year.
The findings showed that 34 percent of the men exclusively used in-person methods for meeting partners, 30 percent of the men exclusively used the internet or a combination of the internet and in-person methods, and 36 percent of the men reported using dating apps either exclusively or in combination with in-person and online methods.
App users tended to be under 40 years old, well-educated and either white or Asian. App users also were more likely to report using cocaine and ecstasy.
The researchers determined that the men who used apps were 23 percent more likely to test positive for gonorrhea than men who used in-person methods, online methods or both.
App users were also 35 percent more likely to test positive for chlamydia than those who used in-person and online methods.
The method of networking did not significantly affect the men’s risk of testing positive for syphilis or HIV.
Grindr was one of the first geosocial networking apps (social networking via GPS). In 2012 alone, 2.5 million users joined the network, and in 2013, the app had a reported six million users across 192 countries around the world.
"Technology is redefining sex on demand," Dr. Beymer and team wrote. "Prevention programs must learn how to effectively exploit the same technology, and keep pace with changing contemporary risk factors for STI and HIV transmission."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that MSM with multiple partners should be tested for sexually transmitted diseases quarterly.
One possible limitation of this study was that the researchers did not consider the many dating websites for gay men that also have smartphone apps. In addition, the findings may not be applicable to MSM in places other than Los Angeles, or to MSM not attending a dedicated sexual health clinic.
This study was published on June 12 in Sexually Transmitted Infections.
The Center for HIV Identification, Prevention and Treatment Services, the UCLA Center for AIDS Research and the UCLA AIDS Institute provided funding.