Do Dating Apps Cause Increased HIV Cases?


Sites and apps such as Grindr, Manhunt, Scruff, Adam4Adam, and Craigslist may be linked with higher STD incidences.

The correlation between hookup sites and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) isn’t exactly a revelation. But a study out of Brown University found just how much the apps, like Grindr, contribute to new human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases.

In 2013, men who have sex with men (MSM) made up 81% of HIV diagnoses in the United States. So a collaborative team set out to find out what role dating apps and sites play into diagnoses.

The findings reaffirmed previous research linking these kinds of apps with higher STD incidences.

“This is one of the first studies to document how common Internet site use is among people newly diagnosed with HIV and highlights important opportunities to partner with hookup sites to advance public health,” study author Amy Nunn, ScD, MS, an associate professor of Public Health and Medicine at Brown and director of the Rhode Island Public Health Institute, said in a news release.

The researchers focused on residents in Rhode Island with HIV. Out of the 74 patients who were diagnosed in 2013, 70 were interviewed. Three out of five, or 43 people, were gay, bisexual, or other MSM.

About 60% of the 43 patients reported meeting a sexual partner online within the last year. Twenty-two of the patients (about 50%) said that they believe a man who they met online gave them HIV.

The five most popular sites and apps, some of which are used by women as well, included: Grindr, Manhunt, Scruff, Adam4Adam, and Craigslist.

“The rate of new HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men represents an unacceptable health disparity that absolutely must be addressed,” said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Although the study published in Public Health Reports examined new HIV cases in MSM just in Rhode Island, lead author Philip Chan, MD, MS, said that this is the number on risk group for the disease across the country.

The findings aren’t to suggest that dating sites are the driving force behind new HIV diagnoses, but they contribute to them on some level. The authors see this as an opportunity for apps and sites to promote prevention to help reduce disease transmission.

However, they aren’t naïve to the fact that it can be a costly initiative to buy ads highlighting public health.

“On these online hookup sites, many young MSM are meeting sex partners. It’s really an under recognized and under-utilized approach we should be using to reach out to and engage this group,” Chan concluded. “We would like to see more of these companies stepping up to the plate to work with public health departments.”

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