Social media and “hookup” apps, like Tinder, are being blamed for the rise in STDs as infections are growing at a faster rate among young people compared to the rest of the population.
The number of people diagnosed with HIV, gonorrhoea, herpes and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) soared last year, with health experts speculating that globetrotting and people having more sexual partners are possible reasons. The HSE recorded an increase of 51.8% in the prevalence of gonorrhoea, with nearly 2,000 cases reported in 2016.
However, chlamydia was recorded as the most common STI in the country with 6,901 cases diagnosed last year and there was also an increase in genital herpes cases of 7.5% to 1,369 diagnoses. The latest report also found an increase in HIV diagnoses last year.
Niall Mulligan, director of HIV Ireland, said the 5.8% increase to 513 cases was “a very worrying trend”. Speaking to The Sunday Times, Mulligan suggested that online dating apps like Tinder and Grindr are contributing to the rising trends. He said many young people either don’t know about HIV and STIs or they consider HIV to be an issue from the 1980s and 1990s.
Social apps are opening up new sexual opportunities that “maybe weren’t there 10 years ago” while complacency about sexual health appears to have grown, according to Mulligan. HIV Ireland has warned that continuing fear of HIV caused by stigma and discrimination can result in people not getting tested. It is estimated that about 15% of people living with HIV in Europe do not know they harbour the virus.
These trends seem to be following the “Tinder effect” theory that online hook-up sites are making casual anonymous sex easier and more common than it used to be. Studies have shown that millennials generally are less likely to be sexually active in their 20s than previous generations and the age of first sexual intercourse has ticked upward in recent years, but it seems that the segment of the population who are having casual sex are having more of it and more of it anonymously.
The problem with casual, anonymous sex via apps is unfortunately, you’re more likely to catch something from one of the many sexual encounters, and you’re also less likely to inform your former partners if you find out you have an STI.
To solve this crisis, HIV Ireland is calling for a bigger budget for training and education, STI testing, and awareness initiatives, particularly on the importance of using condoms. It also wants sexual-health education in schools to be improved.