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2019-10-15 20:41:51

It's possible the impersonal nature of dating apps has led to more unprotected sex.Crystal Cox/Business Insider

In Hawaii, instances of the sexually transmitted infections chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are the highest they've been in 30 years, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.Hawaii health officials said the prevalence of dating apps are to blame for the increased STI rates because they encourage people to have more sexual partners than before online dating existed.Dating apps are only one potential factor in the rise of STIs though. Increased STI treatments and birth control options could also play a role, according to a gynecologist.Visit Insider's homepage for more.

In Hawaii, instances of the sexually transmitted infections chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are the highest they've been in 30 years, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, a trend that's in line with national and global STI rates.

A June 6 report from the World Health Organization found STIs — bacterial, viral, or parasitc infections transmitted through sexual contact — are spreading at an alarming rate worldwide, with 1 million new STIs occurring in people between the ages of 15 and 49 every day.

In 2016, the year the WHO collected the report data, there were 127 million new cases of chlamydia, 87 million of gonorrhea, and 6.3 million of syphilis.

In Hawaii, there were 7,732 cases of chlamydia, 1,496 of gonorrhea, and 180 of syphilis in 2018, according to state health officials. These STI rates have more than doubled over the last ten years.

All three are [near or] at their highest rates in about 30 years, Gerald Hasty, program coordinator for the state Department of Health Harm Reduction Services Branch, told the Star Advertiser. The fact that they're all increasing is not desirable but it's also not unexpected.

Hasty also said the increase in STIs could be due in part to an increase in digital dating, although no data exists to prove online dating sites or dating apps are to blame. Other factors, like advances in STI treatments and new birth control methods could also play a role.

Officials believe dating apps play a major role in skyrocketing STI rates

There isn't proof that increased dating app use leads to more sex.Olena Zaskochenko / Shutterstock

According to Hasty, the popularity of online dating has led to more STIs in Hawaii.

As people rely on digital means of making connections it can lead to circumstances where they might be more exposed to infection without them knowing it, Hasty said. More partners, more chances to get infections.

Certainly, dating via the internet or mobile app has become less stigmatized in recent years and is now the most common way singles meet other singles. A February 2016 report from Pew Research Center found that 41% of Americans said they knew someone who uses online dating platforms like websites or dating apps, and 15% of Americans said they've used some form of online dating in their lives.

Read more: 7 common infections that can be caused by sex

But no data exists to show people are having more sex because they're matching with more prospective partners, or that they're having more unsafe sex with these prospective matches.

In fact, research has shown millennials and members of Generation Z are having less sex than previous generations. In 2018, the share of Americans who said they didn't have sex for an entire year was the highest on record, suggesting that dating apps don't actually lead to more sex.

It's possible the impersonal nature of dating apps has led to more unprotected sex, under the assumption people are less willing to openly discuss their STI status with a perfect stranger they just met online. Still, the dating app-STI link isn't more than a theory at this point.

Scientific advancements in sexual health could have made STIs more prevalent

Shutterstock

Although it seems counterintuitive, the destigmatization of STIs and increased treatment options for STIs could factor into their increased rates.

Ironically, now that better treatments exist for STIs like herpes and gonorrhea, people may be becoming more complacent. Before they were more scared that an STI was a death sentence, gynecologist Dr. Donnica Moore previously told Insider.

Antibiotics, for example, are able to treat people with chlamydia, syphilis, or gonorrhea, and people with incurable STIs like HIV and herpes can use antiviral drugs exist to prevent or clear up outbreak symptoms and stop the virus from spreading to partners.

Because people with these chronic conditions know they're protecting their partners from HIV, for example, they may not consider that their treatments aren't also protecting their partners from other potential STIs. 

Additionally, new implantable birth control methods like Implanon or the IUD could play a role, according to Moore. She said there's a greater interest in IUDs because of Affordable Care Act, but IUDs don't offer protection against STIs.

Implantable birth control methods only reduce a person's risk of becoming pregnant, and the only birth control methods that also double as STI protection are male and female condoms, but many people don't realize this and may get an STI because they aren't properly protected, Moore said.

Until more research is done, officials can only speculate the cause of rising STI rates including people's proclivity for online dating.

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