TIME LGBT

Study Links Smartphone Apps for Gay and Bisexual Men to STI Risk

Smartphone app man
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Apps like Grindr and SCRUFF can lead to riskier behavior, researchers say

Gay and bisexual men who use location-based smartphone apps like Grindr to meet sexual partners are at an increased risk for some sexually transmitted infections, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, says that men who used the apps were more likely to be diagnosed with gonorrhea and chlamydia than men who met partners in person or on browser-based dating sites. Men who used apps to meet other men were about 25% more likely to be diagnosed with gonorrhea compared to men who first met their partners in person. App users were also 37% more likely to test positive for chlamydia.

The study showed no difference in the rate of HIV or syphilis among men who met partners through apps, online, or in person. However, the study’s lead author, Matthew Beymer, told Reuters there may not have been enough cases of HIV or syphilis diagnosed during the study to establish a correlation.

The study’s researchers interviewed 7,184 self-identifying gay and bi-curious men who were tested for sexually transmitted infections at the Los Angeles LGBT Center between 2011 and 2013. The men provided information about drug use and using social networking to find potential sexual partners. About 34% said they only met sexual partners in person, at places such as bars and clubs. Another 22% said they only connected with men on browser-based dating sites, while 17% said they met men only through apps. The rest used a combination of methods.

Apps such as Grindr and SCRUFF have become increasingly popular among LGBT communities since they were first introduced several years ago. The apps allow users to find potential sexual partners currently nearby who are using the same programs.

Beymer told Reuters that the researchers would like to see the apps used as education tools to teach users about safe sex practices.

“Technological advances which improve the efficiency of meeting anonymous sexual partners may have the unintended effect of creating networks of individuals where users may be more likely to have sexually transmissible infections than other, relatively less efficient social networking methods,” the study’s researchers wrote.

Some apps already make efforts to remind users about sexual health — Grindr has a website (www.grindr.com/health) with information about STI testing options and says that it partners with HIV-prevention organizations to raise awareness about safe sex. SCRUFF has included a link to public health resources since 2011.

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