That means people who are drawn to apps may just be more sexually active than non-users, said lead study author Justin Lehmiller, a sex and psychology researcher with Ball State University.
“It may not be that the technology is increasing the risk, but rather there’s this selection effect for people who are more sexually active who tend to use the apps,” he explained.
And while some of the new cases could be attributed to better testing, officials for the first time said STD rates were rising because of certain high-risk behaviors, including using online dating sites “to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters.” Since then, the trend for several STDs nationwide has only gotten worse: According to a September report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 2 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis reported in the United States in 2016 — the highest cumulative number ever recorded.
“Not only are we at an all-time high,” Gail Bolan, the director of the division of STD prevention at the CDC, told me, “but we’re starting to see increases in all kind of communities.” There are a few reasons cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are on the rise.
“If you’re going to hook up, protect yourself and your partner ...
But health experts increasingly view apps and sites such as Tinder, Grindr, and Ok Cupid as enablers of high-risk sex, helping people meet and hook up more efficiently than ever before.
In other words, what matters more than the apps themselves may be the behavior of people who use them.
Either way, dating apps and sites appear to be helping facilitate connections — and disease outbreaks — that may not have otherwise happened.
In Nevada, a record number of syphilis cases last year was attributed, in part, to the “rise in anonymous sex via social media.” In California, Klausner said, the state health department is increasingly hearing that people with STDs met their partners on sites like Grindr.
“There’s no doubt meeting new partners is much easier with apps,” Wohlfeiler added.
“In Wyoming there are still no gay bars, but the internet makes it much easier for people to find each other.” But the data we have only demonstrates a correlation between online dating and STDs — not causation.