The gay news sites are nervously buzzing today at the results of a new study, just out from the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and UCLA, which finds that users of “hookup apps” like Grindr and Scruff are more likely than old-fashioned bar-trawlers to come home with sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia. Specifically, geo-social app users were 25 percent more likely than their bar hopping comrades to contract gonorrhea, and 37 percent more likely to have picked up chlamydia. Interestingly, HIV and syphilis infection rates did not significantly differ between the groups.
More details on the study can be found in an unpacking over at the Advocate or in the paper itself. But as this headline bounces around, it’s important to note the study’s limitations, which the authors clearly express but can sometimes get lost in media reports. For starters, the 7,184 men included in the analysis are all drawn from West Hollywood and Long Beach, California, noted gay enclaves in which one would expect STI transmission to exist at somewhat higher rates due to population density. Also, as the study authors note, “the data were obtained from an organization whose primary mission is to test and treat STIs, and there may be a substantial selection bias towards [men who have sex with men] with risky sexual experience because those experiences may have promoted initiation of screening services.” Furthermore, the study rightly acknowledges that use patterns for these apps may differ greatly in areas with populations and social mores distinct from urban gay centers.
While many are no doubt interpreting this study as a kind of scold against digitally assisted promiscuity, it’s worth noting that the authors are far more interested in using these apps as a means of promoting sexual health rather than in chastising anyone: “Given that mobile technologies allow for a variety of functions beyond locating anonymous sexual partners, the feasibility and effectiveness of various culturally competent, electronic applications that emphasize wellness through testing promotion, prevention and education should be explored.”