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Study links gay hookup apps to STIs—again

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A new study has linked the use of gay geo-locating hookup (GSN) apps with gonorrhea and chlamydia diagnoses. The research, conducted by a team at Los Angeles LGBT Center and published in Sexually Transmitted Infections, found that men who used those apps to meet men for sex were more likely than non-users to be diagnosed with gonorrhea and chlamydia.

Matthew Beymer, one of the study’s authors, told the Daily Dot, “We want the apps’ companies and users alike to be cognizant of the risks associated with using these apps.”

The study used the data from 7,184 men attending an L.A. clinic between August 2011 and January 2013. Only 17 percent of men said they met sexual partners solely through apps. Other methods were in-person, over the Internet, and a “combination.”

Men who used apps to meet other men were 42 percent more likely to test positive for gonorrhea than men if they used other methods. They were 25 percent more likely to be diagnosed with gonorrhea than if they used in-person methods alone (meeting at the gym, for instance, or at a bar).

App users were around 37 percent more likely to be diagnosed with chlamydia than men who used in-person methods alone. There was no difference between app users diagnosed with HIV or syphilis with men who used websites, in-person or otherwise, to meet men. (This could be because those diagnoses are rarer.)

Beymer said this study was not an attempt to deter men from app use. “We are not putting blame on either the apps themselves or the users. Ultimately, we want gay and bisexual men globally to be empowered about their sexual health, to love safely, and to love carefully.”

In a statement, the app Grindr—by far the most popular, with 10 million downloads—responded, “Grindr is highly committed to promoting safe sex within the community and strongly encourages our users to engage in safe sex practices.” There is even a website for this: grindr.com/health.

This wasn’t the first study to suggest GSN apps might be responsible for rising HIV rates. A syphilis spike in Syracuse, N.Y., was partly blamed on GSN apps.

Sex researcher and blogger Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, speaking on the issue of apps, casual sex and STI infection, believes that app use is actually less likely to result in STI infection, not more. She said: “Studies have shown that people are much more likely to use condoms when they have casual sex. They’re aware they don’t know this person and they have to try to protect themselves. With the apps, that’s even more the case.”