Results of a study conducted at the Los Angeles LGBT Center indicate that gay/bisexual men who use smartphone applications such as Grindr, Scruff and Recon to seek sexual partners are at higher risk of contracting common sexually transmitted infections.
The results of the study, published in the scientific journal “Sexually Transmitted Infections,” were announced in a press release by the Center.
Previous research has suggested that gay and bisexual men who meet online are more likely to indulge in unprotected sex and to have more sexual partners than men who meet potential partners in other ways, such as in bars and clubs, the Center said.
Since 2009 smartphone apps have become increasingly popular methods of meeting potential sexual partners. These apps allow registered users to use their smartphones’ global positioning system (GPS) to locate and network with other users in the vicinity. Grindr, which was one of the first such apps, accumulated 2.5 million new users in 2012; in 2013, the app reported having six million users in 192 countries worldwide.
The research authors — Matthew R. Beymer, Robert K. Bolan, Linda B. Bourque, Donald E. Morisky, Ellen T. Rudy and Robert E. Weiss — wanted to discover whether these apps altered men’s behaviors and infection risks. They collected data from HIV-negative gay and bisexual men who sought services from the Center’s dedicated sexual health clinic from 2011 to 2013.
A total of 7,184 men were tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), and they provided information about their recreational drug use and social networking methods to find potential sexual partners. One-third (34 percent) of the respondents met sexual partners in person only; a slightly smaller proportion (30 percent) used a combination of person-to-person or online dating; and a slightly larger proportion (36 percent) used smartphone apps and/or a combination of previously mentioned methods.
According to the authors, smartphone apps were favored by younger, well-educated men under the age of 40 and by men of white or Asian ethnic backgrounds. App users were also more likely to use recreational drugs, including cocaine and Ecstasy.
Their analysis further showed that men who used smartphone apps to meet other men for sex were more likely to have common STIs than those who met their partners in clubs and bars. They were 25 percent more likely to be infected with gonorrhea and 37 percent more likely to be infected with chlamydia. However, there was no difference in their likelihood of infection with either HIV or syphilis.
The authors suggest that smartphone apps make it easier to meet potential partners more quickly than online or traditional methods, thereby boosting the chances of anonymous and riskier encounters and of contracting STIs. In additional, they point out their findings may not be applicable to gay/bisexual men in other areas or to those not attending a dedicated sexual health clinic.
“Technological advances which improve the efficiency of meeting anonymous sexual partners may have the unintended effect of creating networks of individuals where users may be more likely to have sexually transmissible infections than other, relatively less efficient social networking methods,” the studies authors write. “Technology is redefining sex on demand; prevention programs must learn how to effectively exploit the same technology, and keep pace with changing contemporary risk factors for STI and HIV transmission.”
The study’s authors note that “as personal computing and social networking software developed in the 1990s, methods for meeting anonymous partners slowly shifted from interactions at physical locations to interactions over the internet. By the late 1990s, (men who have sex with men) were increasingly using internet sites such as Gay.com and Craigslist to network with potential sex partners. Sites including Manhunt, Dudesnude and Adam4Adam were developed in the early 2000s to cater specifically to those who wanted to use the internet as a medium for meeting sexual partners.”
“From 2009 to 2013, geosocial networking applications including Grind, Scruff and Recon havebeen used increasingly among the (gay/bisexual) community to meet anonymous partners.”