The increasing popularity of dating apps on mobile phones has fuelled a surge in cases of sexually transmitted diseases, say doctors. Tinder and other match-making firms have proved explosively popular, especially among those in their 20s and 30s, providing users with lists of potential sexual partners nearby. But sexual health experts say ‘hook-up’ apps are leading to rises in sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Gonorrhoea cases in England jumped 15 per cent between 2012 and 2013, according to official figures, from 25,577 to 29,291. Syphilis cases went up nine per cent, from 2,981 to 3,249.
Peter Greenhouse, of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, said: ‘You don’t have to be a genius to work out that these sorts of apps make having casual sex a damn sight easier.
‘You can find, down to a metre or two, the nearest available person who is interested. This is something that just hasn’t been available before.’
Millions now use Tinder, which lets users connect via their phones if they ‘like’ each other’s picture. Advocates say it works because it is spontaneous and discreet, but critics believe it is making casual sex more normal. An app called Grindr is equally popular among gay men. Mr Greenhouse said: ‘Thanks to Grindr or Tinder, you can acquire chlamydia in five minutes.’
Chlamydia can cause infertility in women, though most clear it naturally. Gonorrhoea can cause infertility but needs antibiotics to clear it. Doctors are worried by a rise in antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea.
Syphilis can lead to blindness, brain damage and even death if left untreated.
Experts at Public Health England found such apps had a role in six outbreaks of syphilis across Britain since 2012. They were enabling ‘hyper-efficient transmission’ of infections, Dr Ian Simms of Public Health England told New Scientist magazine.
Outbreaks that would once have been confined to one area were spreading to other towns and cities, he said.
The companies behind these apps argue no firm evidence yet exists to link them to rises in STIs. But a spokesman for Public Health England said: ‘The only way to get protection from STIs is to practise safer sex.’