Hookup apps & STDs: Health experts see a connection and potential solutions

- In some ways, dating has never been easier. In the words of one U.C. Berkeley student, "Hookup culture is real!"

With dating apps like tinder and Grindr, Mr. or Ms. right may be just a few clicks away; or at least Mr. or Ms. right now.

But now, certain sexually transmitted disease rates are on the rise across California at the same time use of causal dating apps is increasing.

Some health experts see a connection and at the time, a potential solution. Health experts warn that the sexually transmitted diseases Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are all up dramatically across California.

Last year, those three diseases reached the highest rates that the health department has recorded in 30 years.

For example, 218,728 Chlamydia cases reported in 2017 was the highest number since reporting began in 1990. 75,372 gonorrhea cases reported in 2017 was highest number since 1988. 13,719 early syphilis cases reported in 2017 (6,672 primary/secondary and 7,047 early latent) was highest number since 1987.

Some experts are pointing to the proliferation of dating apps, saying it may be no coincidence they exploded in popularity at the same time infection rates spiked.

"So the internet and mobile phone have changed a lot about lives, including our sex lives, and dating apps make it easier to meet sex partners," said Nicholas Moss the HIV STD Section Director for Alameda County Health Department.

Many apps don't reveal their user numbers publicly. But, according to datingsitereviews.com Grindr has 27 million overall members, three million of whom are active. Tinder clocks in with 46 million total members, with 3.8 million paid subscribers. 

That college student who said hookup culture is real, says she knows friends who've used the apps, for casual relationships.  "For example, my one friend, she met this guy they were really vibing, whatever," said UC Berkeley student Emily Fregoso

After the date, that friend came down with troubling symptoms.  "Turns out she had gonorrhea, and it was transmitted to her. "She says the friend in question tracked down her partner who then ignored her.

"Dating apps may contribute to rising STD rates, but they also give us a great opportunity reach people and educate them about making healthy sex choices," said Moss.

Dan Wohlfeiler is the director of building healthy online communities and says some dating apps, particularly in the LGBTQ community, are working to adapt their technology to notify sexual partners of the potential for exposure. "What we do know is that we can leverage a lot of the tools that this kind of technology provides," said Wohlfeiler. "To help educate people, to help them make informed choices, to get tested regularly."

Wohlfeiler himself is working on developing a platform that would let users retain their anonymity while notifying sexual partners they had been exposed to a sexually transmitted diseases.

We tried repeatedly to contact two of the most popular dating apps, Tinder and Grindr which are reportedly working on notification features, but never heard back with details.

Medical and technology experts say this is a case where technology can help the very problem to which it may have contributed.

Our health and technology experts say the best way to protect against the spread of sexually transmitted infections is regular checkups, every 3 to 6 months, and frank and open conversations with all sexual partners.    

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