Public Health: The Effect of Dating Apps on STI Rates among University Students

Illustration by Caitlyn Harris


It’s a typical Friday night. You’re browsing aimlessly through the selection that Tinder has to offer. Left. Right. Left. Left. Ew definitely left. Right. Right – it’s a match! And so on. You scroll through your messages which range from the basic – hey baby/what’s up/I love ur eyes – to the more complex and witty (cheesy or otherwise) – you know what’s beautiful? Read the first word/Can I follow you? Cause my mum told me to follow my dreams.

Some you reply to, some you don’t. And eventually you arrange to meet up with a handful. All these new relationships you have made, no matter how long or short they last all began by a simple swipe on your phone. But do you ever wonder that in swiping right to a potential hot hook-up, you’ve just swiped right to a potential STI? In an age where meeting new people and making connections is as easy as clicking “accept” on a friend request or swiping right on hot singles in your area, it is a given that dating and hooking up has been made so much easier and accessible. But with the rise in using dating apps such as Tinder, Happn, Bumble, Grindr, concern for an increase in the rates of STIs has risen too.

Sex and the internet are both prone to risk and uncertainty, and thus the combinations of both in the use of mobile phone apps for sexual hook-ups or dating have been brought to the attention of sexual health researchers and promotors. One long-time sexual health campaigner, Dr Wendell Rosevear, has voiced his concern that people have jumped on internet dating and apps, to have frequent and often anonymous encounters, all more instant and accessible than before. Dr Rosevear expresses concern that this rise in sexual activity is directly correlated with the rise in STIs in his patients – some of which have sex with up to 10 people a day – and in the broader population of Australia. According to the 2015 Annual Surveillance Report of HIV viral hepatitis and STIs, there has been a rise in new diagnoses of STIs in Australia (including chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea) totaling 122,258 new cases in 2014, the highest rates of infection found in groups aged 20-29. This was almost a rise in 10,000 new cases annually from 2012 (when Tinder was released).

Of course, that’s not to say that using dating apps are a one way trip to gonorrhea city, but it is important to proceed with caution. As with any sexual partner, no matter if you found them through a mutual friend, dating app or off a street corner, communication is essential in order to eliminate any uncertainty or anything that could potentially affect your sexual health. No matter if you have one, three or an entire harem of sexual encounters and partners, make sure to always communicate with your partner. Ask about their sexual history, tell them about yours, no matter how awkward a conversation about STIs with a potential partner is, contracting an STI is far worse. And always remember to practice safe sex – use condoms, dental dams or any other form of barrier methods! Even if other contraceptives are used, only barriers such as condoms protect against STIs, and remember that some STIs can be contracted orally, not just through penetrative sex (sorry to sound like your sexual health teacher from the seventh grade).

The take away from this article is not to scare you away and boycott all dating apps and technologies forever, they’re a fun, innovative and easy way to meet, chat to and screen through potential partners. Just be careful, have fun and continue swiping.  

Joanne Fong

The author Joanne Fong

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