making that hip and cool is something the apps could help with a great deal,” said Weinstein.
His group, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has put up billboards and bus ads showing silhouettes of people kissing with the names of dating apps (Tinder and Grindr) and STDs, in the hopes of sending the message that encounters originating online can lead to infections.
“We used to think about what we can do with bathhouses and sex clubs to make sure people’s risk was reduced,” said Dan Wohlfeiler, director of Building Healthy Online Communities, a public health group that works with apps to support STI prevention.
These places, after all, had become important meeting points for men who have sex with men — the group most affected by the HIV epidemic.
“They are hesitant to support sexual health,” said Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of medicine and STD researcher at UCLA.
“It may not be that the technology is increasing the risk, but rather there’s this selection effect for people who are more sexually active who tend to use the apps,” he explained.
In other words, what matters more than the apps themselves may be the behavior of people who use them.
In particular, according to John Auerbach, president and CEO of the public health nonprofit the Trust for America’s Health, the anonymous encounters happening via apps make it harder to do contact tracing, a key epidemiological process in understanding an outbreak.
In the past, when a person was diagnosed with a serious STD, a public health official would call or meet with his or her sexual partners to talk about getting tested and on potential treatment.But with more anonymous sexual encounters, epidemiologists may not be able to track down people’s partners and notify them that they might have an STD, Auerbach said.