THE emergence of dating apps such as Tinder, Grindr, Hinge, Bumble and Happn, which can be accessed in the relative privacy of one’s smartphone, has given rise to Generation Swipe. Swipe the screen right if you’re interested in a user and left if you’re not. If you swipe right for a user who has also swiped right for you, you’ve got a match.
We are now in an era where potentially life-changing decisions are made with the sweep of a thumb. With one swipe you can connect with what many may see as their next boyfriend or girlfriend – or a one-night stand. But the utter simplicity of dating apps’ functionality poses not just a relationship hazard but a health hazard as well.
According to a California State University researcher, “online dating could introduce an insatiable appetite for variety and novelty – a constant desire for the next best partner, the next quick sexual tryst.”
Perhaps this explains why the use of a dating app while in a relationship is now a leading cause of divorce in the United Kingdom based on a survey conducted by a British law firm. Meanwhile, across the English Channel, a French court has adjudged online dating without any “physical contact” as a valid ground for divorce, sparking fears of increased break-ups among married couples.
Dating apps that allow people to engage in risky sexual practices is said to be the culprit behind the rise in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections in the Asia-Pacific region, especially for the young demographic. A United Nations (UN) study found that mobile dating apps increasingly allow for spontaneous casual sex and that users of these apps are getting younger.
The report is alarming, with 10- to 19-year-olds being affected with HIV in the Asia-Pacific region, where more than half of the world’s 1.2 billion adolescents live. The UN report also said that the Philippines and Papua New Guinea have the highest proportion of adolescents living with HIV, accounting for almost 10 percent of the total number people living with HIV in each country.
In the Philippines, new HIV infections among 15- to19-year-olds have risen by 50 percent over four years, from an estimated 800 in 2010 to 1,210 in 2014. As with the Department of Health (DoH) report, the UN study showed that the epidemic is spreading fastest among men who have sex with men.
Dating apps like Grindr, Tinder and, their Philippine version, Ok Cupid! has changed the way casual sex is negotiated. These dating apps give users hundreds, if not thousands, of choices. It’s an intoxicating platform that overflows with sexual potency, decadence and lust.
While there are many cases where real relationships blossom from these dating apps, this online platform has become a virtual public bath house without the sweaty hassle of actually having to go to one. And it makes finding casual sex accurate and focused with just a swipe of the finger.
Although some people may see this as empowering, at least sexually, it can have deadly consequences. In fact, many health experts point to mobile apps as fueling the rise in HIV infections in the Asia-Pacific region.
In the Philippines, HIV infections have reached epidemic proportions. From January to October 2017, the DoH reported that 415 people died from HIV, with 41 of them recorded in the month of October alone. And the number of deaths will likely increase, with 10,000 new HIV cases recorded during the first 11 months of 2017, compared to just 8,514 cases for the same period in 2016.
In October 2017, there were 833 cases, with sexual contact to blame for 96.5 percent of the HIV cases. These sexual encounters are mostly from males having sex with males (MSM), accounting for 528 cases. Only 35 were transmitted through injecting drug users as well as mother-to-child transmission.
An additional report from the HIV and AIDS Registry of the Philippines (HARP) showed that in November 2017 alone, 894 new HIV cases were recorded. Of these, 127 cases progressed to AIDS; while 13 cases ended in death.
And these are just the ones that the DoH was able to monitor. There are many cases which have not been recorded because many infected individuals have not sought treatment due to ignorance, fear or lack of access to a medical facility.
So, as these dating apps are brutally efficient, the government must also be just as efficient in addressing the compulsive behavior of their users by tailor-fitting HIV prevention policies to cater to the population most at risk of HIV infection.
This includes wider access to condoms by amending the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (or the RH Law), which prohibits individuals under the age of 18 from buying condoms without parental consent.
A more radical approach is for the government to bring its “safe sex” campaign to social media via online advertisements in these dating apps. Government and health advocates urgently need to conduct a strategic online outreach to educate people on the importance of safe sex and a healthy monogamous relationship.
This is not a matter of morality. It’s a public health issue.