Has Tinder caused a rise in STDs?
Elinor Jones, Print Science Editor, dismantles the correlation between STD rates and dating apps, as well as discussing the potential for a chlamydia vaccine
For years, my everlasting memory of STDs has been of awkward talks from newly qualified teachers holding a banana and a condom alongside images of various infections, from chlamydia to syphilis. Rather than simply informing us of the risks and useful advice for what to do if you need to seek medical advice, many young people are taught about STDs with an approach intended to scare them off ever having sex, rather than providing teenagers with tools to have safe, enjoyable, consensual sex, no matter their sexual orientation.
Whilst I am grateful for receiving some form of sex education, and I’m aware of those less fortunate than myself, I cannot help thinking that the approach lacked an appreciation for greater sexual awareness and a generation more open to talking about sex.
As a young person, we have never had more opportunities to meet sexual partners; be it on dating apps, through social media, gaming or in the flesh, leading to diversity and chance for exploration to find what really works for you.
Some studies superficially suggest there is a correlation between meeting partners online to getting a STD, it is impossible to determine causation from these trends
Whether you’re looking for a long-term partner or something casual, dating apps have become a significant player in the field of sex and relationships, with the most infamous, Tinder’s, core demographic aged between eighteen and twenty-four. This rise of young people using sites like Grindr and Bumble, as well as newer, less well-known apps such as Happn and Hinge, has been anecdotally correlated with a rise in prevalence of STDs this age group.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, the three most common sexually transmitted diseases (chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis) are becoming increasingly significant in society, with levels of the latter two at their highest since 1991. These statistics are important to look at, especially in light of the changing dating landscape.
Whilst critics of ‘hook-up’ culture have pinned such apps for increasing casual sex amongst young people, and some studies superficially suggest there is a correlation between meeting partners online to getting a STD, it is impossible to determine causation from these trends. Despite both prevalence of dating apps and STDs are increasing, it does not mean young people are being less cautious in regards to their sexual health; if anything, in 2019 we have more access to sexual health information, contraception and treatments than ever before, with the taboo of the ‘downstairs region’ slowly fading, meaning young people have greater options, allowing them to make more informed decisions.
Conversations about seeking help and advice might be more regular and accessing the most vulnerable populations
Chlamydia, which is the most common sexually transmitted infection, is a bacterial infection, that is easily treated with antibiotics, though it is difficult to spot as any symptoms can be absent in many cases. Free testing kits are available in GP practices and in many places common to young people, meaning being ‘in the know’ is easier than ever before. Considerable advancement has been made in creating a vaccine to be rolled out, similar to how the HPV vaccine is given to girls aged 13 in British schools. A first-in-human safety study of an injection and nasal spray course of immunisation gave promising results, with all those given the vaccine producing antibody proteins that fight against CTH522, a recombinant, reconstructed, protein that would be found in the chlamydia bacterium compared to a group given a placebo injection of salt water solution.
With considerable work needed to ensure dosage and cost-effectiveness it is unlikely that a vaccine will be available soon, however, the potential to prevent millions of cases of this STI means the taboo surrounding sexually-related conditions could be starting to be lifted, meaning conversations about seeking help and advice might be more regular and accessing the most vulnerable populations.
A vaccine against an STD does not just mean safety and prevention of transmission from partner to partner. A reliable, seemingly more ‘medical’, public health approach could start to reduce stigma that individuals and communities face when seeking treatment or a helping-hand, as anyone could be affected by an invisible disease.