An increase in sexually transmitted diseases over the last four years has some people pointing fingers at popular dating apps like Tinder. Health officials have seen a 45 percent jump in STDs in California alone, with 300,000 cases reported last year.
"It makes it easier for people to meet people they don't already know to have sex," Dr. James Watt, chief of the division of communicable disease control for the California Department of Health told the San Francisco Chronicle. "The internet allows for a broadening of sexual networks, and the broader that gets the more opportunity you have for sexually transmitted diseases to spread."
Doctors worry that users finding hookups through apps like Tinder (Android, iOS), Bumble (Android, iOS), Grindr (Android, iOS), and the like could be going unprotected. If one or the other contracts something during the encounter, it can be difficult or impossible to contact the other person afterward because profiles can be deleted.
Apps are taking the heat for STD upticks in the US and overseas. England reported 420,000 Sexually Transmitted Infection cases in 2016 according to Public Health England. Sexual infections expert Peter Greenhouse called the situation "apocalyptic" with some cases being resistant to antibiotics.
It's likely not fair to lay all the blame on smartphone apps, though. STDs and STIs have been around as long as people have been having sex. The history of condoms, interestingly enough, can be traced back to cave paintings and Egyptian hieroglyphics. Women's contraception lagged behind a few millenia, to say the least. In fact, they didn't even get FDA approval until 1960.
But if people have had access on some level to protection for so long, why are STDs on the rise again and is it accurate to pin the cause on apps? Let's look at the data. The CDC tracks the number and rate of cases STD cases (syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and chancroid) from the 1940s to present day.
The CDC data shows that the number STD cases can fluctuate by hundreds every year. If we look at syphilis cases, for example, we see the numbers hitting all-time lows around the year 2000 with 31,618, and then increasing every year since then. The increases have paralleled the growth of the internet and its spread to more people via computers and now smartphones.
Scientists blame the various spikes on a number of factors, but it really comes down to how many people are practicing safe sex or not.
As soon as the internet took off, it was only a few years before Match.com and Craigslist appeared. But, Match wasn't even the first online dating site. Back in the 60s, Operation Match ran on a five-ton computer and tried to pair people up.
E-Harmony followed a few years later and a myriad of other sites for people to try to meet their true love (or next fling).
The desire to meet someone hasn't changed, but apps have made it faster and easier than ever. To accuse dating apps for the increase of STDs, is similar to blaming Facebook for an increase in bullying. Bullying has been around for as long as humanity has; likewise for sex and related diseases.
The power of the internet--and now apps to use it in a million different ways--means that a greater level of responsibility and maturity is required as technology advances, or else phenomenon like the jump in STDs can be one of the unintended consequences.
The latest phenomenon of dating through apps and possible health risks is being examined in an upcoming HBO documentary "Swiped: Hooking Up in the Digital Age." The film premieres on September 10.
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- Health officials are seeing dramatically high rates of STDs and say social media and dating apps are partially to blame.
- The apps make it easier to have casual encounters, but the responsibility ultimately falls with each person to take responsibility for safe sex.
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- Tinder lets college kids swipe their way across campus (CNET)
- Snoopers could eavesdrop on Tinder photos and swipes says security company (ZDNet)
- How machine learning helps prevent online daters from getting scammed (TechRepublic)