A new billboard linking dating apps with an increase in sexually transmitted disease rates spurred one app – Tinder – to issue a cease and desist order against the group behind it.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which posted the billboard in Los Angeles, said they hoped to raise awareness about increasing STD rates, which have been linked to an increase in dating app use. The billboard featured four silhouettes of men and women with the words “Tinder, Chlamydia; Grindr, Gonorrhea," and encourages people to get tested.
“Mobile dating apps are rapidly altering the sexual landscape by making casual sex as easily available as ordering a pizza," Whitney Engeran-Cordova, a senior director at the foundation, said in a statement.
“In many ways, location-based mobile dating apps are becoming a digital bathhouse for millennials wherein the next sexual encounter can literally just be a few feet away – as well as the next STD," Engeran-Cordova said.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how many people use Tinder – the company claims 8 billion – in the past few years, the app has become one of the most widely-used dating apps.
What sets Tinder apart in the online or mobile dating experience is speed and brevity. Based on a photo, first name, and age alone, users decide whether to swipe left (to pass) or right (to like). With GPS tracking, the app also tells users exactly how far away potential matches may be, making life even easier for those just looking for a quick hook-up.
However, Tinder contests that the new billboard unfairly smears the app.
“These unprovoked and wholly unsubstantiated accusations are made to irreparably damage Tinder’s reputation in an attempt to encourage others to take an HIV test by your organization," Tinder attorney Jonathan Reichman said in the letter, according to reports from the Los Angeles Times.
But the problem of increased STDs with strong correlations to dating app use isn’t limited to California, and is not wholly unsubstantiated.
Throughout the country, health departments are reporting an uptick in sexually transmitted diseases in patients, who are also increasingly reporting that they met their partners through location-based online or mobile dating services.
In July 2015, the Rhode Island Department of Health found that rates of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia were at a 10-year high in the state. While health officials did not have firm numbers as to how many of these cases came about because of a dating app, they said they were alarmed at the rate with which infected patients said they met their partners through apps like Tinder.
“We do not know how much social media has contributed to the rise in STDs, but we believe it is a contributing factor," the Rhode Island health department said in a statement to the Globe.
A September 2015 report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found a 56 percent increase in the number of early syphilis cases during January 1 to July 31 when compared to the same period in 2014.
Nearly half of all reported cases – 47 percent – reported that they had used dating apps to find sexual partners.
“So the state investigates each new case of syphilis and they ask people, ‘who do you think you got this from and where did you meet him or her?’ This particular syphilis outbreak, if you want to call it that, or trend, is mostly affecting men," Dr. Sarah Rowan, Interim Director of HIV and Viral Hepatitis Prevention with Denver Public Health, said in an interview with Colorado Public Radio.
“Ninety-eight percent of the cases have occurred in men. So they ask men, ‘where do you think that you met your partner?’ and about 50 percent say they met them through an internet app – Grindr, SCRUFF, Craigslist – so those may be associated. In some ways, internet apps make it harder to do some contact tracing – so to say, ‘well, let me find this person and ask them to get tested and ask their partners as well.”
New York, Utah and Texas are also among the states reporting increased instances of syphilis and other STDs, with several health experts also linking these increases to dating apps.