Gay "hook-up" apps tied to higher STD infection rates, study finds

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Gay men who use smartphone apps such as Grindr or Scruff to find sexual partners are more likely to acquire certain sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) than if they meet partners in bars or clubs, a new study suggests.

The research was led by Matthew Beymer of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, Los Angeles, and included nearly 7,200 local gay and "bi-curious" men. All of the men were tested for STDs and provided information about how they found their sexual partners.

Smartphone apps such as Grindr, Scruff or Recon are designed to make it easier for gay men to meet potential partners more quickly. According to background material provided in the study, Grindr, one of the first gay male "hook-up" apps, garnered 2.5 million new users in 2012, and by 2013 its makers said that Grindr had 6 million users in 192 countries worldwide.

However, the authors of the new study say the use of these technologies may raise the chances of anonymous and risky sexual encounters and the likelihood of getting an STD.

In the new study, about a third (34 percent) of the Los Angeles men said they only met prospective partners in person at a bar or club, for example. Another 30 percent said they used a combination of person-to-person or online dating, while 36 percent used only smartphone apps or the apps plus other methods.

Compared to other men in the study, those who used smartphone apps to find sex were 35 percent more likely to be infected with chlamydia and 23 percent more likely to be infected with gonorrhea, the researchers found.

The method of finding sexual partners had no effect on the risk of being infected with syphilis or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, however.

The men most likely to use those apps included well-educated men younger than 40, whites and Asian-Americans, and users of recreational drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine, the study found.

"Technology is redefining sex on demand," the researchers wrote. "Prevention programs must learn how to effectively exploit the same technology, and keep pace with changing contemporary risk factors for [sexually transmitted infections] and HIV transmission."

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