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Is Technology Increasing the Rate of STDs Among Certain Populations?

MAY 18, 2017 | LAURIE SALOMAN, MS
It’s known that men who have sex with men tend to have disproportionately high rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) compared with the general population, particularly African American and Latino men. A new study has discovered a link between the methods that these men use to find sexual partners and STD infection rates.
 
The study, conducted by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was comprised of 853 African American and Latino men who lived in Chicago, Illinois, Kansas City, Missouri, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who indicated that they had engaged in sex with at least 1 man during the previous year. The men were recruited either online or through some form of community outreach. Questions included their HIV status, whether they identified as gay or bisexual, how many male partners they’d had in the previous 3 months, and whether they used the Internet (via computer) and mobile-phone applications (apps) to look for sex partners.
 
Overall, 23% of the respondents said they had dealt with an STD in the past year, including 33% of those who said they were HIV-positive and 17% of those who were HIV-negative. Not surprisingly, the percentage of respondents who said they had an STD increased with the number of male partners in the prior 3 months, going from 14% of those who had not engaged in sex with another man to up to 41% of those who indicated they had been intimate with at least 10 partners. Men who identified as gay had higher rates of STDs (24%) than bisexual men (15%). Among respondents who used technology to look for partners, higher rates of STDs were correlated with the use of both the Internet and mobile phones to seek sexual encounters; 36% of respondents who indicated that they had an STD used both the computer and phone, while 13% used either method but not both.
 
Why would men who use multiple forms of technology to find sexual partners have more STDs than men who use just one form? The reasons are not yet clear.
 
“This analysis is associational and not causal in nature,” Gordon Mansergh, PhD, a senior scientist at the CDC and an author of the study, told Contagion®. “However, it suggests an area for future research. While we don’t know if dating apps are contributing to HIV and STD infections, we do know that many people use dating apps to find and meet potential sexual partners. It’s important for people who use these apps to learn about ways to reduce their risk for HIV and STDs, communicate openly with their partners, get tested regularly, and seek treatment as appropriate.”
 
Laurie Saloman, MS, is a health writer with more than 20 years of experience working for both consumer and physician-focused publications. She is a graduate of Brandeis University and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She lives in New Jersey with her family. 
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