Are STI rates rising with every swipe right on Tinder?

In the UK, there has been an increase in diagnoses of gonorrhoea, herpes, genital warts and syphilis. Experts are also warning of a potential flood of HIV across the nation. What’s the cause for this rise in sexually transmitted infections? Doctors are pointing their fingers at dating apps.

Dr Peter Greenhouse, media chair of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, states: “You are able to turn over partners more quickly with a dating app and the quicker you change partners, the more likely you are to get infections.”

Dating apps such as Tinder and Happn allow you to seek out a partner in a close proximity with the swipe of a finger, making it easier to change sexual partners as often as you like. With people changing sexual partners regularly, if those who do decide to engage in casual sex have untreated STIs, it is unsurprising that this rise is occurring. Even so, a number of dating apps allow users to include their STI status in their profile, and many of the creators of dating apps argue that they do promote safe sex.

Despite the stigma that Tinder is a quick and easy gateway to sex, the Online Dating Association estimate that between 25 and 40 per cent of new relationships now start through dating apps. It was reported that Tinder had 50 million active users in late 2014, making it the most popular dating app on android, followed by Happn, and Hot or Not. The dating app Hinge made a survey questioning 1,500 of its users and found that only two per cent wanted a ‘casual hook-up’, whereas 63 per cent were seeking relationships and the remaining 33 per cent were looking for dates. These statistics play against the negative stigma associated with dating apps, and instead indicate that they are simply following modern movements in communications.

Marie Cosnard, head of trends at Happn has argued: “Dating apps are following wider social trends and changing behaviours that have been unfolding for decades”. In modern society, it is more accepted to have casual sex, ‘friends with benefits’ and even multiple partners. Some of you may have played a game of spin the bottle during Fresher’s week: instead of any shame or judgement being projected onto the more sexually experienced, it is now more than often praised. In the Student Beans 2014 Sex Survey to determine the average number of sexual partners per student, Cardiff University ranked 41st , with an estimated 5.15 sexual partners per student.

If you are one of those who search for a hook-up on Tinder, who’s to judge? In theory, as long as the sex is consented and protected, there is no danger. As a student, you have easy access to contraception in the Student’s Union and therefore it is your responsibility to use these resources to be safe.

The rise in numbers of people being diagnosed with STIs easily can be pinned on dating apps, however I believe that the problem is much broader. On the surface, dating apps purpose are to make it easier for people to connect and find a date, not to teach you about safe sex. The app creators expect its users to have learnt about safe sex and therefore be aware of the dangers of unprotected sex and casual hook ups.

Surely a more logical explanation for this problem is poor sexual education. From my own experience, sexual education lessons consisted of graphic images of infected genitals, extremely dated videos and a lot of squeamish comments and giggles. Nobody really took these lessons seriously, and we still left them rather naïve. I believe that we should be taught what to expect when having sex, to prevent us from seeking this information online, on social media, or pornography, which construct high and often false expectations. In my school, we were given no information on what each part of our genitals role is and which areas stimulate pleasure: most people research this online and depending on the source, is not always reliable. As a member of the LGBT society, I received no education about safe sex which would benefit me directly. Despite HIV being at a higher rate among the gay community, LGBT sex education is not currently compulsory; therefore many schools skip this area or only touch the topic. If the information which I received was meant to prepare me, I have little hope for private schools, academies and free schools where sexual education is not compulsory.

I may be bias to go against doctors opinions that dating apps are increasing the rate of STIs, for I shamelessly met my partner of nine months on Tinder (I know, such a romantic story to tell our future grandchildren!). However, surely the danger should be blamed on more than an app?

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