One in Five 18 to 24-Year-Olds have Contracted an STI from Someone They Met Via a Dating App

Original research by Zava has found that sexual health risks for young adults in the UK are increasing through the use of dating websites and apps.

More people than ever are now meeting sexual partners online. So much so that dating websites and apps like Tinder are the second most common way for people who identify as straight to meet their partners and they are the most popular platform for people (of any gender identity) who identify as gay to meet their partners.

However, while digital dating might make the process of meeting someone a lot easier, it is also having a knock-on effect on other aspects of young people’s lives. Zava conducted some research into the use of dating apps among 18 to 24-year-olds in the UK and found that an increasing number are putting their sexual health at risk as a result of their online activity.

A higher risk of catching STIs

Our survey of 2,000 18-24 year-olds found that 85% have used dating apps. The most popular dating app among our respondents was Tinder, with 70% having used it, way ahead of Bumble (6%), Grindr (4%), Happn (2%) and Hinge (1%).

Of those 2,000 respondents, 18% said they had caught an STI from someone they had met online. Chlamydia was the most common STI, with 10% of 18-24 year-olds catching the infection as a result of a meeting arranged through a dating app.

Disparities by region and sexuality

Our research found that young people in Scotland were the most likely to have contracted a sexually transmitted infection from someone they met on a dating app (29%), while those in Wales were the least likely to get an STI in the same way (12%).

According to the study, young adults in rural areas are more likely to have been diagnosed with an STI as a result of their online activity than those in urban areas. People who identify as gay are also more likely to have contracted an STI, with a third of young gay people testing positive for a sexually transmitted infections after meeting a partner online.

Levels of sexual health education

The rise in STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea could be linked to lower levels of sexual health education. However, Zava’s research suggests the opposite, with almost two thirds saying they feel informed about STIs.

38% of people with an STI found out about the infection by noticing the symptoms, particularly for common STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea rather than being told by the person they caught it from. Healthcare professionals suggest this could be partly due to the practice of people deleting the profiles of their previous partners, so they can’t always inform them if they are diagnosed with an infection later on.

STI testing

In terms of STI testing, it seems that for young people, the decision to get tested isn’t related to public service advertising. Only 5% of the general population and 12% of people who identify as gay reported that public service advertisements were their primary reason for getting tested. Overall, people who identify as gay or bisexual are more likely to get tested for STIs (34% and 33% respectively) than their straight counterparts (28%).

Commenting on the findings, Dr Kathryn Basford of Zava, said: “Both gonorrhoea and chlamydia are bacterial infections that can have serious health consequences if they remain untreated. Prevention is much better than treatment, so we advise all young adults meeting people online to use a barrier contraceptive like condoms, femidoms, or dental dams. Not only can barrier contraceptives prevent unwanted pregnancies, unlike other forms of contraception they also reduce the risk of contracting an STI."

“If you think you might have an STI, the symptoms to look out for include discharge from the vagina or penis, a burning sensation while urinating and a painful, burning sensation in the affected area. If you experience any of these symptoms, either visit a sexual health clinic or order a discreet online test as soon as you can. However, STIs like chlamydia can also be symptomless, so it’s really important you get tested regularly. If you test positive for an STI, Zava can anonymously contact partners on your behalf”.

View the full infographic

Survey and data compiled by ZavaMed.com

Survey of 2000 young adults (ages 18-24) in the UK conducted between 16 - 20 November

Additional sources:

NHS.co.uk
Public Health England Report - 'Sexually transmitted infections and screening for chlamydia in England 2017: Health Protection Report, Volume 12, Number 20 - 8 June 2018'

Technology Review - 'First Evidence That Online Dating Is Changing the Nature of Society', 10 October 2017

The Mirror, 'Dating apps blamed for rise in SYPHILIS - along with UK's heatwave', 24 August 2018