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The impact of these sites is so profound they are also transforming the way health officials track and prevent outbreaks.
“We used to think about what we can do with bathhouses and sex clubs to make sure people’s risk was reduced,” said Dan Wohlfeiler, director of Building Healthy Online Communities, a public health group that works with apps to support STI prevention.
They do as little as possible.” (Both Grindr and Tinder declined to comment on this story, and Tinder pointed me to its website’s “dating safely” advice section.) Just as ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft have disrupted transportation — and required new regulations and cultural adaptations — dating sites have disrupted the way people have sex.
“It may not be that the technology is increasing the risk, but rather there’s this selection effect for people who are more sexually active who tend to use the apps,” he explained.These places, after all, had become important meeting points for men who have sex with men — the group most affected by the HIV epidemic.Today, the public health focus has shifted to “digital bathhouses." Wohlfeiler said, “Now that dating sites and apps have become so common, we know we need to work with them." There’s just one problem: Many of the major dating networks don’t want to be involved in STD prevention, nor have they acknowledged the impact they’re having on public health.In Nevada, a record number of syphilis cases last year was attributed, in part, to the “rise in anonymous sex via social media.” In California, Klausner said, the state health department is increasingly hearing that people with STDs met their partners on sites like Grindr.“There’s no doubt meeting new partners is much easier with apps,” Wohlfeiler added.
In other words, what matters more than the apps themselves may be the behavior of people who use them.