Two-year United Nations study attributes new HIV epidemic among young gay men in Asia to smartphone dating apps
AHF to continue, expand billboard campaign drawing attention to potential STD risks for Grindr and Tinder users
LOS ANGELES (December 7, 2015) The United Nations recently announced the results of a two-year study that found the growing use of mobile dating apps by young gay men is a major factor in a new HIV epidemic among teenagers in Asia. Pointing to the “explosion” of dating apps as a significant contributor to a “hidden epidemic” of HIV cases among teenagers and young gay men, the Asia-Pacific Inter-Agency Task Team on Young Key Populations—which includes UNICEF, UNAIDS and others—warned in its December report, “Adolescents: Under the Radar in the Asia-Pacific AIDS Response” that the rise in new HIV infections coincides with an increase in risky behavior, such as multiple sexual partners and inconsistent condom use.
“The developers of these dating apps are creating technology that is connecting people around the world in more ways than one—with one of the most significant ways being the risk for contracting and rapidly spreading sexually transmitted diseases,” said Whitney Engeran-Cordova, Senior Director, Public Health Division for AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “Yet instead of taking ownership of their contributions to a worldwide STD epidemic and taking swift action to launch public awareness campaigns to inform their users about the inherent risks of STDs associated with having more sexual partners, we’ve largely seen the developers respond with an apathetic shoulder shrug at best—or a complete denial of the problem at worst.”
“The worldwide impact of dating apps is as astounding as their stubborn unwillingness to do anything about the resulting surge in HIV and STDs,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “What will it take for app creators to get in the game of protecting their users—especially the Millennials who are the primary users of the technology?”
According to the report, teens aged15-19 made up 15% of new HIV infections in a region where there are an estimated 200,000 adolescents living with HIV. Most of the new infections were found among young men who have sex with men and live in large metropolitan areas including Bangkok, Hanoi and Jakarta. The report recommends that governments develop better data on adolescents, strategies for HIV prevention, adolescent-specific laws and comprehensive sex education in schools and through social media.
The results of the UN’s Asia-Pacific study support growing concern by public health agencies on the role smartphone dating apps play in facilitating sexually transmitted diseases. In November, a physician with the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV also cited dating apps as a driver of increasing rates of STDs, including a 19% increase in gonorrhea and a 33% rise in new syphilis infections in 2014 according to Public Health England.
In the United States, the Rhode Island Department of Health reported in May that cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and HIV sharply rose between 2013 and 2014 and said that high-risk behaviors such as “using social media to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters, having sex without a condom, having multiple sex partners, and having sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol” have become more common in recent years. According to a study by Beymer et al. (2014), gay men who are meeting on location-based dating apps are at greater risk for gonorrhea and chlamydia than those who meet in-person or on the Internet.
AHF Expands Smartphone Dating App Public Awareness Billboard Campaign
To remind smartphone dating app users of the inherent STD risks of both heterosexual and homosexual casual sexual encounters, AHF launched a public awareness billboard campaign in September incorporating two of the most popular mobile dating apps, Tinder and Grindr. Those billboards drew worldwide notice and widespread social media attention—as well as threatened legal action from Tinder
AHF’s is soon launching an expanded Tinder/Grindr billboard campaign that builds upon the initial campaign and will run in locations beyond California and Florida. AHF’s latest Tinder/Grindr STD billboards feature naked ‘full body’ silhouettes of couples embracing horizontally set against a brightly colored graffiti-style background. The September billboards featured cameo-like black silhouettes of four upright heads positioned as two couples facing each other. In both the old and new artwork, each couple (one a man and a woman; the other, two men) one member of the couple has the name of one of the popular hook up apps, such as Tinder, superimposed on it; the facing body (or head) has the name of a sexually transmitted disease, such as Chlamydia, across it. The billboards also include the URL ‘FreeSTDCheck.org,’ where people can get information and locations offering free HIV and STD testing.