DATA which shows American gay men who use smartphone apps have higher rates of sexually transmitted infections would likely be replicated in Australia, with one sexual health expert telling the Star Observer people who meet through popular apps — such as Grindr and Scruff — are the modern equivalent of sauna users when it comes to the spread of STIs

The Los Angeles LGBT Center found that men who used apps to meet other men for sex were at a significantly increased risk of contracting a range of STIs.

In particular, app users were about 42 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with gonorrhoea and 37 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with chlamydia than men who met through other means, such as bars or online.

Incidences of HIV were broadly similar but the study’s authors said this could be due to low numbers of people becoming diagnosed with HIV during the survey.

The study looked at 7184 men in LA who used their service over a 15-month period.

Lead author of the study, Matthew Beymer, said they didn’t want to stop people using apps, rather make users aware of the risks and benefits of using the new technology.

“We just want gay and bisexual men to love safely and love carefully,” he told Reuters.

“We’d like to see these applications used as an education tool in addition to their original intention.”

Speaking to the Star Observer, Kane Race, an associate professor of gender and cultural studies at the University of Sydney, said the results were not surprising and would likely be similar in Australia.

“Apps are now the most commonly used means of finding casual sexual partners among gay men in most Australian cities,” he said.

Race said apps users generally have more casual sexual partners and “people who have higher numbers of casual sexual partners are more likely to have higher rates of the most common STIs.”

He also said that STI levels in app users were a sign of the rise of new technologies: “I imagine that studies that took place prior to the introduction of the apps would have found the same thing of men who used saunas to meet partners for casual sex.”

However, there were some concerns over apps that prompt users to disclose their HIV status, such as Hornet, as they may cause men to rely on declarations of HIV negative status to avoid infection.

“This is not a reliable strategy as it is possible to have become infected with HIV but not know about it,” Race said.

“Declared HIV-negative status is not really an effective substitute for condoms.”

LGBTI health body ACON chief executive Nicholas Parkhill said: “Wherever the meeting place, it’s important that gay men understand the risks associated with any sexual encounter in terms of HIV and other sexually transmissible infections.”

ACON said they provided information about sexual health and HIV through a range of channels including on apps.

Both Scruff and Grindr told Reuters they had links through their apps to safer sex information. 

 

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