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Public health officials say hookup apps are to blame for syphilis spike

This isn’t the first time a gay hookup app has been linked to a public health threat.


EJ Dickson


Syphilis infections are on the rise in New York’s Onondaga County —and public health officials are blaming the spike on gay hookup apps like Grindr, which they say encourage promiscuity by making it easier for men to find casual sex partners.

According to, the number of syphilis infections in the Syracuse area nearly doubled in the past year, from 15 cases in 2012 to 29 in 2013. The total number of syphilis cases in New York state also increased by an estimated 30 percent.

To combat the spread of infection, state and county health departments are urging health providers to screen their patients. They’re particularly focusing on men who have sex with men, who accounted for more than 70 percent of the syphilis cases in New York last year.

“It is alarming to see the number of people who use these apps,” said Dr. Cynthia Morrow, the health commissioner of Onondaga County. “They are significantly contributing to the spread of sexually transmitted disease.”

Morrow also pointed out that apps like Grindr make it more difficult for public health investigators to track down an infected person’s former partners. Because part of Grindr’s appeal is the relative anonymity it provides users, it’s often impossible for investigators to find a patient’s former sexual partners to tell them to get tested, which is crucial to containing the spread of infection.

This is far from the first time that Grindr has been deemed a public health threat. Moral outrage over the gay hookup app has been brewing since its launch, with experts warning that the app attracts “sexually compulsive men…[who] are not likely to be too concerned with their, or anyone else’s, safety” and fosters “a set of unhealthy and risky behaviours among gay men.” While similar concerns have been voiced about Grindr’s heterosexual equivalents, Tinder and the less successful Blendr, the conversation surrounding straight hookup apps tend to focus less on how they pose a threat to public health, and more on how they pose a threat to traditional hetero dating culture.

Because society has traditionally viewed the gay community as promiscuous and highly prone to risky sexual behaviors, there’s more than a whiff of slut-shaming—not to mention a touch of homophobia—to the implication that apps like Grindr pose a significant health risk to the community at large. If someone is going to engage in risky behavior, it seems they can do so with or without the assistance of a hookup app. Perhaps local health departments would do better to promote safe sex no matter how you find your partner, rather than targeting apps in particular.

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