STDs and Dating Apps: Could Tinder, Grindr, and the Like Do Better?

For decades, the transmission rates for most sexually transmitted diseases were on a decline thanks to greater public awareness and sex education programs. Then, in 2016, the CDC found that STD transmission rates were suddenly approaching an all-time high. Public awareness had not changed, and sex education programs in most states have only become more comprehensive. So, what changed?

Dating Apps and Hook-Up Culture

Rising rates of STD transmission are likely caused by numerous factors. However, many health experts are pointing the finger at dating apps and the hook-up culture they foster. While some use dating apps to search for long-term partners and meaningful relationships, many are more focused on fast connections and hookups. Tinder and Grindr are often called out as being the biggest culprits.

How significant is the threat posed by dating apps? According to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, it is as significant as the threats once posed by bathhouses and sex clubs. However, others are claiming that the apps are not to blame for greater rates of STDs, claiming this is a case of correlation rather than causation. Which side of the date is in the right?

Why Hook-Up Culture Increases STD Transmission Rates

Dating apps aside, there is a clear trend in the United States and many other countries of favoring hookups and casual flings over monogamous, long-term relationships, especially amongst people in the 18-30 range. Many people are putting off marriage and having children, and rather than spending the intervening years in serious couplings, they often stick to casual sex.

While this might seem like a better fit for many young adult’s lifestyles, hookups and flings are dangerous. The more partners a person has, the greater their chances are of contracting an STD, even if they are monogamous with each partner. In the absence of monogamy, the risk increases.

Additionally, it is harder to find out if a fling is clean than it is to determine if a partner is. When there is a relationship established, the people within the relationship have the comfort level needed to ask for testing as well as the time available for the testing to be completed. If the plan is merely to hook up with someone, asking for testing is likely to put them off following through with the encounter. Also, the time needed for testing may not be available.

How Dating Apps Promote Hookup Culture

Casual sex is nothing new, but dating apps have changed the game. Rather than having to go to specific locations to meet people, and often striking out, individuals on dating apps can communicate with multiple people at a time without ever leaving their home. As such, making a match is significantly easier, leading people to have more sexual partners.

It is important to note that not all dating apps directly promote hookup culture and the risks that come with it. Many dating sites are geared towards serious relationships. But casual dating apps, such as Tinder and Grindr, can easily be considered the digital home of hookups.

Ways Dating Apps Could Do Better

It is easy to say that dating apps are blameless in the rise of STDs. Yes, they facilitate meetings that result in casual sex, which leads to the spread of STDs. But the sites are not making anyone engage in risky sexual behaviors.

While that may be true, the apps are not doing as much as they could to reduce STD transmission rates amongst their users. There are ways they could encourage safer sex and STD testing without stigmatizing those with sexually transmitted diseases. For example, they could offer users badges certifying them as clean if they provide testing results every so many months. Dating apps could partner with STD testing companies to offer discounts on at-home testing kits. They could also incorporate shopping elements into the app, making it easier to order items such as condoms or dental dams.

Of course, dating app users should also have the agency to take responsibility on their own. Anyone who is sexually active should be tested at least once a year, and those who frequently sleep with new partners or engage in unprotected sex should be tested every three months. To make the process simple, look into at-home STD testing kits.