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A few weeks ago, we looked at the media’s coverage of a study examining the impact of porn on marriage. This week, we’re once again delving into the world of hyperbolic headlines by examining a new study focused on the connection between STI rates and use of hook-up apps.

Before we delve in, lets first look at some of these headlines:

  • Breaking: Grindr-ing Leads to Gonnorhea (The Daily Beast)
  • The Starling Link Between Dating Apps And STI Risk (Huffington Post)
  • Grindr, Scruff, and Recon: Want An STI? There’s an App for That (Science 2.0)
  • Now let’s back (that app) up for a second and look at the research itself. Here are the highlights:

  • There were 7,184 men in the study.
  • 36% of participants used apps to meet partners. Of these 17% used only app(s).
  • App users were more likely to be under 40, Caucasian, Asian, or other (including 3+ races), college educated, and more likely to use drugs.
  • App users were more likely to test positive for gonorrhea and chlamydia compared with those who used in-person networking only.
  • STI diagnoses were also associated with age, race, education level, and drug use.
  • Looking at this information as a whole, we begin to see that the connection between app use and STI diagnoses is not nearly as clear as the above headlines would make it seem. For one, correlation does not equal causation. Therefore, it is impossible to say with certainty “Grindr causes STIs!” especially since the study found app users also had other risk factors such as younger age and drug use. The question then becomes: are higher-risk MSM using these apps or are MSM becoming higher risk because they use the apps?

    Furthermore, the age differences among both app users and those more likely to have STI diagnoses cannot be ignored here. Condom use is inconsistent among adolescents, a group that includes the younger MSM in this study who had the highest STI incidence. Some speculate that this is related to younger generations not being around during or remembering the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Either way, age most likely accounts for some of the increased diagnoses among app users, because they were both more likely to use apps and less likely to use condoms.

    Additionally, over the last 20 years or so, safe-sex messaging geared towards adolescents has focused almost exclusively on prevention. At least in the US, there is little focus on harm-reduction methods. This is understandable given the way the adolescent brain works, but it is at least worth noting that individuals who do not want to use condoms also most likely do not know their other options, however more or less effective they may be.

    Sadly, this study will likely be used to heap more shame and blame upon users of hook-up apps rather than empower gay and bisexual men to take charge of their sexual health and use available resources” as the researchers reportedly intended. Hopefully it will inspire new approaches to STI prevention and harm-reduction as well as more open conversations beyond the “hook-up culture/sex ed/sexual promiscuity is bad” argument. Ultimately, it calls for change by adding to the growing body of research showing that public health’s efforts to slow STIs simply are not working as many had hoped.

    Other Sexual Health News This Week

    Week of June 22

    Teen Sex Rates Plateaued, Cigarette Smoking Down: Survey (Washington Times)

    North Alabama’s Only Abortion Clinic to Surrender Its License by Monday, Close Downtown Huntsville Facility (

    Bans against same sex marriage were struck down in Utah and Indiana. Meanwhile, a federal judge in Louisiana will decide not only whether to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states but also whether to strike down the state’s ban. (Los Angeles Times, Fox 59, The Times-Picayune)

    Health Challenges Make Bisexual Men More Prone to Sexual Disease (Psych Central)

    Both Alabama and Santa Barbara county saw spikes in STI diagnoses. ( and KEYT)

    Massachusetts to Cover Gender Identity Treatment (WCVB)

    Week of June 15

    US Presbyterians to Allow Clergy to Perform Gay Weddings (BBC World)

    OPM Lifts Ban on Trans-Related Healthcare for Fed’l Employees (Washington Blade)

    SCOTUS Gives Anti-Choice Group Green Light in “Right to Lie” Legal Challenge (Slate)

    James Madison University Punished Sexual Assault with ‘Expulsion after Graduation’ (Huffington Post)

    Kentucky High School Passes Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Policy (Human Rights Campaign)

    Important Dates

    Early-bird pricing for the following conferences ends in June and July. Click on each title for more information.

    Catalyst Con West, September 11-14, Los Angeles, CA.

    Proposals for the following conferences are due in July. Click on each title for more information and to apply.

    Playground: A Sex-Positive Inclusive Event for All Communities. Proposals due by 31 July 2014.