Do dating apps increase STI rates? We asked Twitter.

Are rates of STIs increased by dating apps? It seems at the moment there’s an almost monthly accusation levelled at the apps, the most recent was published on the BBC’s newsbeat website. We put it to a yes or no public vote using the rather neat new, anonymous twitter polls. The poll was seen around 5,000 times on Twitter, and we had over 150 votes. Thank you! Respondents have been almost split on the issue but y’all tended a little more towards ‘No, they don’t’, which nudged ahead with 53% of the vote.

So why are people kind of polarised on this issue? And if apps like Grindr, Tinder and Happn aren’t the reason more STI diagnoses are being made, what is? When people think dating apps are to blame, why is that? Are some apps worse than others? We decided this couldn’t be answered by a straight yes or no poll (actually, you decided that for us in the vote - you fencesitters!) so we found two people from either camp and asked them why they believe what they do:

Yes, dating apps are increasing STI rates (47% of votes in poll)

“I’d been using Tinder very tentatively for a few days when I got the first in a string of messages from guys who were only interested in a hook-up. “What are you up to?” “Just going to meet some friends, you?” “I’m in bed. Lol. Want to come and tuck me in, I bet you’d...” AND.. UNMATCH. That’s just not what I’m looking for, good luck to those that do. It’s quite easy for me to see how STIs can be passed on more easily if people are meeting through dating apps solely for sex. I have gay and bisexual friends who use apps like Grindr, Growlr and Scruff and they say the apps make it so easy to meet people just for sex. I know people who have similar experiences with Tinder, OkCupid and Happn as well.

STIs can be passed on easily, and many don’t have symptoms; people might think there’s no problem when in fact, they are passing infections on to new partners. For me, it’s easy to see how the dating apps are increasing the rates of STIs. I don’t think that changing sex partners often spreads STIs but apps could facilitate risky sex. They (the apps) could do more to help people find good advice about protection and where to get tested” (Female, 27 - Streatham)

No, dating apps don’t increase STI rates (53% of votes in poll)

“When you hear about STI rates increasing, no one ever mentions bars or clubs as being responsible for the rises. Even though often, when people have unprotected sex with a new partner there might have been alcohol involved. In the days before dating apps people still had sex, only they met at coffee shops, bus stops or in the street. It feels a bit knee jerk to me to blame dating apps. I know lots of people who meet people through dating apps and then only have sex when a person becomes their partner. Or don’t even have sex with the people they meet at all. If people have risky sex without protection, can you blame that on the dating app, or is that personal behaviour and choice?

There’s also a lot to be said for the fact that more people test these days. The factors surrounding human infection and its detection are more complex than dating apps alone.

"Did anyone think that perhaps fewer public health campaigns about safe sex and the lack of consistency in sex education over the last few years could be contributing to increases in STI rates?"

There is still lots to be done to inform people about the importance of safe sex and how STIs can affect anyone who is active. And making people feel bad about their choices by stigmatising dating apps doesn’t help anyone.” (Female, 22 - Whitechapel)

Whether dating apps are directly responsible for rises in STIs is yet to be proven however there is no denying that internet technologies are making the world a more connected place. And more connections can lead to more opportunities to pass on infections. On the flip side of this though, we can use the same internet technologies to help people connect with information and support that’s more immediate, usable and accessible than what they may have been available in the past. By empowering people to self-manage their sexual health they can have better, more informed conversations with partners. We’d like to see a world where people don’t feel embarrassed to insist upon protection or suggest that new partners get tested with them before sex; where they make informed choices together with the people they have sex with and know how to access support when things don’t go as planned. If you would too, please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and help keep the conversations going!