Linking Social Media and STDs

Swipe right for “yes.” Swipe left for “no.” In less than a second, someone can easily use social media to meet a stranger and have a sexual encounter with him or her. Prior to the widespread use of cell phones, people had to try harder to hook up. They actually had to interact in person or over a land line with one another.

Social media applications, such as Tinder and Grindr, along with social media websites, such as Facebook, and websites devoted to meeting others for the intent purpose of having a sexual encounter, such as HookUp and Ashley Madison, have been cited by health professionals as a big reason for an uptick in sexually transmitted disease (STD) cases.

Social media expert Thomas Dodson told Sacramento, California, TV station KCRA 3, that “constant connectivity” (through cellphone apps), the pictures being shared between people (sexting, which is the texting or emailing of sexually suggestive or even sexually explicit photographs, is on the rise even on websites such as Instagram) and the access people have to the internet are all factors in the “rise of sexual activity spawned by social media itself.”

Grindr, a hookup app for gay men, was associated with more than half of New Zealand’s syphilis cases in 2012, according to Christchurch Sexual Health Clinic, which is located in that country. The free app uses GPS to notify users when other gay men are in the same geographical area, making it much easier to indulge in some frisky business.

A 2013 New York University study found that Craigslist ads, used for hooking up, were responsible for a 16 percent increase in HIV cases between 1999 and 2008 across 33 states.

In July of 2014, the California Department of Health, reported gonorrhea cases had increased by 13 percent and syphilis cases had increased by 18 percent. The highest incidents of STDs were found in young people between the ages of 15 and 24.

(Note: There is no cure for HIV, but the disease can be treated to limit its progression. Gonorrhea can be cured using oral or injectable antibiotics, but all sexual partners at the time of contracting the disease must be treated to avoid re-infection. Syphilis is curable only with prompt diagnosis and treatment and, even with treatment, the disease can cause permanent damage to the heart and brain.)

Just last month, Rhode Island’s Department of Health reported syphilis cases rose by 79 percent between 2013 and 2014. HIV and gonorrhea in Rhode Island increased by 33 percent and 30 percent respectfully during the same time period. The state is blaming “high-risk behaviors that have become more common in recent years,” including the use of social media “to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters.”


On the flip side, social media can be used to educate people, especially younger generations, about STDs and their prevention. One study, which was published in the February 2013 issue of the medical journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases, found that the at-risk groups of African American and Latino men who have sex with other men had voluntarily used Facebook groups to discuss HIV and its prevention, among other HIV concerns and topics.

The findings of this particular study may be skewed because the majority of the study participants were located in Los Angeles, meaning the study lacked geographical diversity which could mean the results are not applicable to other American cities.

Despite this lack of geographical diversity among participants, the study helped “demonstrate that social networking can be a useful tool for collecting and analyzing data.” Sexual health educators can now work with technological and communication advances with the goal of educating future generations about the spread and the prevention of STDs, among other sexual health topics.

If social media, especially cellphone apps, can be used by people to hook up with random strangers for sexual encounters, then those same avenues can be utilized by sexual health educators, condom manufactures and even colleges to promote safer sex among our population, especially among the age groups with the biggest increases in STD cases.

Your Sexy Librarian encourages everyone to always be smart and safe when making decisions, especially those of a sexual nature.