The next time you swipe right on Tinder, you may be looking at your soul mate or the person who’s going to give you a sexually transmitted infection.
Though it may be unjust to outright blame online dating sites for the increase in STIs, is it fair to conclude that their existence has increased the number of sexual encounters, thus increasing the potential for the transmission of disease?
Essentially it’s a numbers game. The more people that are having sex, the more chances for transmission. If users of online dating sites are more inclined to practice adverse sexual behavior, those numbers increase. If members of Tinder, Grinder, and similar services hide their identity or conceal the fact that they are carrying an STI, the results become dangerous and potentially life threatening.
The Toronto Star spoke with Dr. Vanessa Allen, chief of medical microbiology for Public Health Ontario. She concluded that the province has witnessed a staggering increase in sexually transmitted infections in the past ten years. That means nearly a 100 percent increase in gonorrhea, double the previous numbers of chlamydia cases, and a 200 percent increase in people with syphilis. Dr. Allen does not admit that there is a direct link between online dating and STIs, yet she does not discredit that online dating sites may play a role. Other experts go further.
The Calgary Metro wrote about their conversation with Alberta’s Health Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Karen Grimsrud, who blamed online dating sites for the increase in STI’s for two reasons. One has to do with the fact that most (if not all) members will not disclose that they have a sexually transmitted disease. Those who hide their medical information and think that safe sex will protect their unintended victims might not be aware that condoms alone might not be enough to deter the transmission of infection. Many still believe that oral sex is not a viable way to give someone an STI, which is false. The following diseases can be transmitted through oral sex: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes simplex virus (types 1 and 2), human papillomavirus (HPV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Dr. Grimsrud’s second point has to do with the aftermath of a sexual encounter via online dating, saying:
“When people don’t know their sexual partners’ identities, it makes it difficult to contact partners for follow-up testing and treatment.”
Online dating sites such as Adam4Adam or Craigslist contain users who are looking for a one-night-stand. Even if a person wants to find the individual who they contracted or potentially gave an STI to, it may be difficult to do so and impossible if that person used an alias, thus possibly allowing further transmission of the virus.
In September 2015, The Washington Post spoke to health officials in Colorado, who concluded that online dating sites are a factor in the increase of STIs. From their analyses, there has been a 50 percent increase in syphilis throughout the Rocky State, most of which found in men. When asked where these men may have caught the infections, nearly half of them said they caught it through online dating.
Though they cannot be blamed for the lies and misinformation of their members, by no fault of their own, online dating sites are involved in a controversy.
When the anti-gun movement was peaking, former NRA executive Wayne LaPierre (in)famously said, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Though your body is not as instantly lethal as a gun, in the long run it can have the same fatal effect on you or the person you sleep with.
Perhaps future provisions in the online dating industry will force members to include their actual identities, as well as any medical history relating to STIs. For now, all any responsible person can do is try to protect themselves as best they can if they choose to use online dating as a means for sex.
The fact is the only way to limit the spread of sexually transmitted infections is to continue to encourage people who are sexually active to be tested regularly and to increase preventative measures in the case of a positive diagnosis. Perhaps online dating sites could consider advocating for these causes or clearly advertising them on their sites as a way to ensure that they are active in social responsibility.