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The debate over the billboards might be new, but it’s being fought over familiar ground.To defend its position, the AHF cited arguments people have been making about apps like Tinder more and more: a Rhode Island Department of Health report that attributed a rise in STD cases to social media’s ability to “arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters,” a Los Angeles study that argued that the “sex on demand” enabled by dating apps has made gay men more vulnerable to gonorrhea and chlamydia and, of course, Vanity Fair’s “dating apocalypse” story.
“It’s logical, if you can be hooked up with someone in an urban area within minutes,” he told the Associated Press, “of course you’re going to have to more STDs.” Though the research on whether or not dating apps have killed courtship and irrevocably altered romance as we know it is largely inconclusive, the correlation between online and mobile dating and increased rates of STD transmission is more compelling, at least on a state-by-state basis.
In Utah, huge increases in the number of gonorrhea diagnoses since 2011 — 700 percent for women, nearly 300 percent for men — have been at least partly blamed on apps like Tinder.
“The perfect storm has been brewing” to increase STD infections, Lynn Beltran, an epidemiology supervisor in the Infectious Disease Bureau in the Salt Lake County Health Department, told the Guardian in May.
Apps make casual, anonymous encounters easier, and it’s almost impossible to find partners again afterward — meaning that it can be harder to track down others who have an STD and help them get treatment, Beltran said.
But the links between STD rates and app use in Utah are still anecdotal, Beltran told Boston public radio station WBUR.
Other factors — especially Utah’s abstinence-based sex education — make it difficult to educate and protect people from diseases, she said.
In Colorado, public health officials recently announced that they have seen a more than 50 percent increase in syphilis cases this year, nearly entirely in men.“They ask men, ‘where do you think that you met your partner?’ and about 50 percent say they met them through an internet app — Grindr, SCRUFF, Craigslist,” Sarah Rowan, Interim Director of HIV and Viral Hepatitis Prevention with Denver Public Health, told Colorado Public Radio.Just blocks away from the Tinder headquarters in Los Angeles, a large pink and purple billboard encapsulates much of what critics don’t like about the dating app. The billboard is part of a campaign from the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which posted its warnings about Internet hookups and venereal disease in more than 50 spots around the city last week.Two pairs of people are silhouetted against a bright background, their foreheads inclined toward one another, their noses nearly touching. The organization, which has also lobbied for stricter regulation of the adult film industry and, controversially, against a new preventative HIV drug called Pr EP, says that the quick and casual encounters made possible by dating apps are a “digital bathhouse for millennials, wherein the next sexual encounter can literally just be a few feet away — as well as the next STD.” Over at Tinder, people were not pleased.Two of the faces bear the names of popular dating apps. Tinder user, meet chlamydia, the billboard implies. The dating app sent a cease and desist letter to AHF, the foundation said Monday, demanding an end to the campaign.