Having documented my own online dating horrors with apps like Tinder, OKCupid, and the like, I need little convincing that the risks of gamified romance outweigh the rewards. And now, the emerging risks are of the health variety, as Rhode Island’s Department of Health reports that apps like Tinder have contributed to the rise of sexually transmitted diseases in the state. Swipe left.
The increases are significant — according to Rhode Island’s data, the number of syphilis cases grew by 79 percent, whereas HIV infections and gonorrhea cases jumped 33 and 30 percent, respectively. And the vast majority of these new cases are being reported among younger demographics — those between the ages of 15 and 24 were most at risk, and as it would happen, the average age of Tinder users is between 18 and 24.
This is no coincidence, the Health Department insists. Rather, with the hook-up nature of apps like Tinder, Grindr, and the like, “high-risk behaviors have become more common” the department says, especially with individuals “using social media to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters.”
Rhode Island certainly isn’t alone in the rise of STD’s and STI’s, particularly when it comes to minority populations and young adults. There has been a national uptick in the number of reported cases that has coincided suspiciously with the rise in popularity of dating apps, which have certainly made casual sex all the more convenient.
And this isn’t the first time that tech-driven dating tactics have been tied to health issues — in 2013, CNN reports, researchers at New York University found that using Craigslist to set up sexual encounters was tied to a 16 percent increase in HIV cases from 1999 to 2008 in 33 states. And in New Zealand in 2012, Grindr was blamed for the occurrence of more than half of all syphilis cases in the country.
So what is to be done? While no one is suggesting a boycott of these apps, health officials are urging people everywhere to be more vigilant in practicing safe sex. Said Rosemary Reilly-Chammat, an HIV/AIDS sexuality specialist with the Rhode Island Department of Education, “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.”
And as Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director Designee at HEALTH said in a statement, “We are fortunate in Rhode Island to have great partnerships among state agencies, community-based organizations, and healthcare providers to continue to educate, test, and treat for sexually transmitted diseases. This trend reminds us that we cannot become complacent.”