News24 reported earlier this month that according to DA’s Jack Bloom, ‘The number of sexually transmitted infections in Gauteng has increased by half a million over the last two years among young people’.
Gauteng Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa shared that the numbers for men with male urethral syndrome infections increased from 55 021 in 2015 to 104 720 in 2016. In a similar dramatic rise, numbers for cases of ‘new STI treated “episodes” doubled from 205 960 in 2015 to 465 944 in 2016’.
News24 also reports that of 2.6 million people in their 20s, 500 000 were treated for STIs.
Why the upsurge in this age group? The link between these increasing numbers and growing interest in dating apps has often come up in conversations and may hold more weight than many of us want to believe.
We live in an age where there’s an app for everything and a lot of these have facilitated ‘hook up culture’.
One would have to be naive in thinking that this is specifically a South African problem.
The World Health Organisation estimates that globally more than 1 million people get an STI every day and each year, about 500 million people have been infected with chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and trichomoniasis.
There are over 530 million people living with the virus that transmits genital herpes (HSV2) and more than 290 million women have the human papillomavirus infection (HPV).
The spike in STI’s has been so concerning that in 2015, a feud between popular dating application Tinder and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation began when the non-profit group put up billboards and ads linking the app to STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea.
There are multiple apps that make meeting up, hooking up and casual sexual encounters so much more accessible. Tinder. Her. Bumble. Grindr. OkCupid. SpeedDate. BeNaughty. Zoosk.
The Tinder iOS app was in the top 10 of highest grossing app on iTunes in April 2017 with about 1.5million paid users in 2016.
While sole blame for the increase can never be placed on the user app usage, it is important to take note of the social phenomenon.
Of course, it could never tell the full story. Users on the apps are also consenting adults. But that doesn’t curb the prevailing sentiment that ‘it won’t happen to me’.
This year, Cosmopolitan.com and Esquire.com ran a survey with 1,454 respondents between the ages of 18 and 35 recruited from their social media accounts. The results were just as alarming as one would imagine.
47% said none of their past partners asked about their STI testing results before having sex.
While 58% of women say they’ve tested in the past year, only 33% men said the same. Men are also three times likelier than women to say that they’ve never been tested.
The survey, while heteronormative, revealed the differences in how conscientious women and men are with their sexual health.
While only 31% of women said they would have sex with a partner who couldn’t remember their last STI/ HIV test, 57% of men said they’d do the same. 61% of women and 61% of men said they’d have oral sex with someone who couldn’t remember when last they tested.
Being aware of the link between an increase in STD numbers and dating apps brings an opportunity.
We’re already well aware that these apps are used by millions that meet and are sexually active a natural step would be trying to use those very apps as an educational tool.
By using platforms that already exist, it would be beneficial to focus more on informing those who are at risk and less on stigmatising the apps that could allow for great impact.
On that very point Carl Sandler, founder of hookup apps Daddyhunt and Mister, noted that he had already used his apps to promote safe sex. By asking users to sign a code of conduct that asks them to take care of themselves and their sexual partners as well as to openly state if they’re dating someone of any status.
“We can’t tell people ‘don’t suck dick,’ but we can say, get tested regularly, we can say, be aware of the signs that you might have something, and most importantly, we can tell people, anyone who has something should get treated as soon as possible,” he said.
“That’s what’s going to reduce the risk of transmission.”
If you are sexually active, no matter your gender identity or sexuality, you should be getting an annual STI check, especially if you’re having unprotected sex or sex with partners with an unknown STI status.