CATIE News – Using smartphone apps to learn about sexual behavior

CATIE LogoAs mentioned in a previous CATIE News article, rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have been rising in Canada and other high-income countries, particularly among some men who have sex with men (MSM). Such increases may in part be due to incorrect assumptions about HIV status among sexual partners and, subsequently, unprotected sex. Encouraging sexually active people to consider frequent testing for STIs and HIV may help uncover previously hidden infections and prevent the onward spread of HIV. In addition to injuring internal organs and tissues, STIs can cause inflammation as well as sores and lesions inside the anus, genitals, mouth and throat that act as entry points for HIV. Some STIs, such as human papilloma virus (HPV), can cause ano-genital warts as well as cancer of the anus, cervix, penis and mouth.


Social networking with apps
Increasingly, some MSM are using smartphone applications (commonly called “apps”) to meet other MSM. One example of such an app is called Grindr. A group of researchers in New York City who study behaviour described Grindr in this way:

“A geosocial networking [app] designed to connect MSM. Based on a user’s specific location, the app displays other Grindr users in order of their [physical distance].”

Furthermore, they added, “Although Grindr was designed as a social networking app and is not explicitly designed for finding sex partners, many MSM have used it for these purposes. For instance, a study of 195 MSM in 2012 in Long Beach, California, found that 76% of 18- to 24- year-olds reported sexual encounters with partners met on Grindr.”

The New York research team advertised for two consecutive days on Grindr and in that time recruited more than 2,000 MSM for a survey about sexual behaviour and HIV testing.

Their findings revealed that while more than two-thirds of the men surveyed had tested for HIV in the past year, about 10% had never been tested. Of these never-tested men, nearly half had engaged in unprotected anal sex in the past year and a large proportion declared that their HIV status was “negative” rather than “unknown,” stated the researchers. These perceptions about HIV status despite high-risk behaviour are interesting and reveal a need for education of young MSM about sexual safety and HIV testing.

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