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Think Before You Swipe Right

Peter Kronish


Millions of people match on dating apps every day, and apparently, true love isn’t the only thing they’re getting out of it.

Over the last few years, medical officials have been associating rising STD rates with the popularity of “hook up apps” like Tinder and Grindr. In 2012, a New Zealand clinician told The Press that unlike previous years, gay men were most commonly contracting syphilis after using Grindr, an app first launched in 2009. Going back further, a study conducted from 1999 to 2008 attributed a 15.9 percent increase in HIV cases to sexual encounters arranged through Craigslist.

Just last month, medical officials in Rhode Island reported that from 2013-2014, they noticed a 33 percent spike in rates of HIV, a 30 percent spike in rates of gonorrhea, and a very discomforting 79 percent spike in rates of syphilis. Officials attribute these numbers to increasingly risky behavior including casual, anonymous, and often unprotected sex arranged through social media.

Now, if syphilis sounds like something people used to worry about but don’t anymore, that’s because it was nearly eradicated by the end of the 20th century. The fact the syphilis is back on the radar as part of a “national trend” of rising STD rates speaks to a general lack of concern for safe sex.

One of California’s top physicians and STD specialists, Dr. Siavash Arani, agrees that carelessness is a huge component of climbing STD rates.

“One of the reasons is social media,” he said, “because 15 or 20 years ago you had to go out on a date with someone and it was much, much harder to meet people.” Now however, new technology brings millions of people within reach who you might never have been able to meet.

Even so, Dr. Arani does not suggest that people avoid using any particular app or website but instead he suggests people “be very selective with sexual partners” and use condoms in order to stay safe.

Understanding these diseases is just as important as practicing safe sex and being selective. Many people don’t show symptoms of STDs right away and so spread them unknowingly. “The only way to find out,” Dr. Arani continued, “is routine testing. Those who are sexually active should be tested twice per year.” He also recommends that testing should include the entire range of diseases including HPV and syphilis.

Advances in technology often have unforeseen consequences and to blame this unfortunate trend on people’s increasing ability to contact each other would be inaccurate. People are hardwired to be social and sex is a major driving force in that biological wiring. So to demonize these apps completely because of rising STD rates without considering human behavior would be like accusing syringes for drug addiction.

But in this hyper-connected and hyper-sexual era, people must be aware of how serious the consequences of unsafe sex can be and just how common STDs are.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website, as of 2013, 110 million Americans, roughly one third of the population, have some form of a sexually transmitted infection. If not caught early enough, an STD could permanently damage your body, cause serious emotional stress, and even threaten your life.

Increasing awareness about how to recognize and avoid STDs, in addition to regular testing, is widely considered the most effective way of reducing the STD rate nationally.

So be smart. And recognize all the implications of the slogan: “Any swipe can change your life.”

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