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The consequences of social media dating

May 29, 2015

Other than your personal safety, there are health safety issues to worry about when using social media apps to hookup for casual sex with someone you know absolutely nothing about.

An epidemic

Rhode Island is currently experiencing what health experts in that state are calling an “epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases.” While the numbers could reflect the fact more people are being checked for STDs, the Rhode Island health department isn’t ruling out other factors.

According to health department officials, they are citing high-risk behaviors, including “using social media to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters,” as well as having sex without a condom, having multiple sex partners, and having sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol as other factors in the growing numbers.

A lack of national data, however, makes it unclear as to whether STD rates are increasing across the country.

“We have seen an increase in syphilis cases over the past few years in Massachusetts, including here in western Massachusetts. One of the thoughts is that social media apps may well be playing a role in what we are seeing,” said Dr. Daniel Skiest, chief, Infectious Disease Division, Baystate Medical Center.

Social media as a factor

Data released by the Rhode Island Department of Health show infections of syphilis increased 79%, gonorrhea cases went up 30%, and new HIV cases increased by about 33% from 2013 to 2014.

But social media isn’t only to blame, said Dr. Stuart Anfang, medical director, Adult Outpatient Psychiatry at Baystate Medical Center.

“The advent of social media has changed the way people might approach intimate encounters today, particularly for younger people who are especially at ease and adept at communicating by this means. There is a suggestion that this has led to an increase of casual relationships with people who are not well-known to each other,” Dr. Anfang said. “At the same time, we should also consider the fact that there may be less awareness among the younger generation about sexually transmitted diseases due to a lack of education about these diseases, which left untreated can pose significant health problems.”

Prevention tips

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer the following tips on how you can protect yourself and your sexual partners against STDs, noting effective strategies include:

  • Abstinence – the most reliable way to avoid infection is to not have sex
  • Vaccination – vaccines are safe, effective and recommended ways to prevent hepatitis B and HPV
  • Mutual monogamy – mutual monogamy means that you agree to be sexually active with only one person, who has agreed to be sexually active with only you. But, you must both be certain you are not infected with an STD to begin with
  • Reduced number of sex partners – reducing your number of sex partners can decrease your risk for STDs
  • Condoms – Correct and consistent use of the male latex condom is highly effective in reducing STD transmission. Use one every time you have anal, vaginal, or oral sex.
  • Get tested – knowing your STD status is a crucial step to stopping STD transmission. If you know you are infected, you can take steps to protect you and your partners.