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Sex Apps & STI Risk for Gay Men

By on June 13, 2014

You might have guessed, but now a study says gay and bisexual men who use smartphone apps to meet other men for sex are at an increased risk of some sexually transmitted infections.

Men who used the apps were more likely to be diagnosed with gonorrhea and Chlamydia than men who met potential partners in other ways, researchers report in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.

“We want to make people aware of the risks and benefits with any new technology,”  lead author and epidemiologist Matthew Beymer,  said. “We just want gay and bisexual men to love safely and love carefully.”

He and his colleagues write that apps such as Grindr and SCRUFF have become increasingly popular among members of the gay and bisexual community since their introduction in 2009.

The apps, which are marketed toward men who have sex with men, use the GPS capabilities of smartphones to find other people nearby using the same apps. Similar products exist for people seeking opposite-sex partners, and for women looking for other women. While people may use the apps for various purposes, many use them to find sexual partners.

In August 2011, the Los Angeles LGBT Center began asking its clients – specifically men who have sex with men – about their use of these types of apps on health questionnaires.

For the new study, the researchers compared rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among men who reported different types of networking, such as with apps, websites and in-person meetings. They had data on 7,184 men who visited the clinic between August 2011 and January 2013.

grindr-phone-manAbout 34% of the men said they only met sexual partners through in-person methods, such as at bars or the gym. About 22% said they only connected with men over the Internet and 17% said they met men only through apps. The rest used a combination of methods.

Men who used apps to meet other men were about 25% more likely to test positive for gonorrhea, compared with men who only met other men through in-person interactions.

They were 42% more likely to be diagnosed with gonorrhea, compared to those who used in-person methods and the Internet.

App users were also about 37% more likely than men who met other men in person to be diagnosed with Chlamydia.

If you or someone you know thinks they are at risk for an sexually transmitted infection, contact your local health department for testing or call the toll free CDC STD Hotline at 1-800-232-4636 for information and resources.