Are Dating Apps to Blame in the Rise of STDs?

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Popular dating apps like Tinder and Grindr have a reputation of being so-called "hook-up" apps. While more and more people are turning to dating apps to meet singles for long-term love and/ or a casual affair, this trend appears to coincide with a rise in the rates of syphilis and HIV, too.

Public health officials in Rhode Island released a health report last week stating that there has been a 79% rise in syphilis cases in the state between 2013 and 2014, and that it’s attributable in part to the use of social media and dating apps to arrange casual or anonymous hookups. People having unprotected sex, multiple sex partners, and having sex under the influence of drugs and alcohol were also cited as reasons for the increase in STDs.

“These new data underscore the importance of encouraging young people to begin talking to a doctor, nurse, or health educator about sexual health before becoming sexually active and especially after becoming sexually active,” Rosemary Reilly-Chamma of the Rhode Island Department of Education said in the report.

A rise in STDs, particularly HIV and syphilis, were also reported in New York, Utah, and Texas, where officials have warned of increased risk of transmission. The New York City Health Department announced earlier this year that men in the neighborhood of Chelsea had the highest infection rate of syphilis in the country.

Anindya Ghose, co-author of a study that monitored the rise of STDs along with the launch of Craiglist personals ads, believes that online dating apps have had a similar effect. "Basically what the Internet does is makes it a lot easier to find a casual partner," he told VICE News. "Without the Internet you'd have to put effort into casual relationships, chatting with someone at the bar or hanging out in places, but these platforms make it a lot more convenient and easy. That's essentially what the primary driver is."

Others disagree, citing a lack of education and resources, especially for young people, the largest group at risk. They argue that community health providers, doctors, and even schools should educate people about the risks of not using condoms and other protection when engaging in casual sex. Access to condoms and affordable healthcare are two big concerns.

Social media and dating apps make it easier to meet people, but they didn’t create the problem of STD risk. They magnified a problem that already existed – casual sexual encounters without adequate knowledge of safety and protection leave people vulnerable to risk.