Gay men who use social networking smartphone apps to hunt for a sex partner nearby run a higher risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) than those meeting online or in bars, researchers said Thursday.
Applications such as Grindr, Scruff and Recon use a smartphone's geolocation to help the user hook up with other men in the vicinity who are also looking for sex.
Researchers in Los Angeles carried out a survey among nearly 7,200 homosexual and bisexual men who visited a sexual health center from 2011 to 2013. The study, published in the British journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, acknowledged that patterns of sexual behavior among gay men in Southern California may not be the same elsewhere.
However, the researchers said that geolocation apps have greatly facilitated instantly available, anonymous sex — and with it, a higher risk of infection. Grindr alone reported in 2013 that it had 6 million users in 192 countries.
Previous research found that app users were less likely to use condoms during sex and more likely to have multiple partners, they noted.
"Technology is redefining sex on demand," according to the authors, led by Matthew Beymer of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.
Health watchdogs "must learn how to effectively exploit the same technology and keep pace with changing contemporary risk factors for STI and HIV transmission," he added.
The volunteers were screened for STIs and questioned about their use of drugs and social networking in sexual encounters.
Thirty-four percent of the men met sexual partners in person only, while 30 percent used a combination of person-to-person encounters and online dating.
By comparison, 36 percent used smartphone apps, either alone or in conjunction with other methods.
Men who used the smartphone apps were 23 percent likelier to be infected with gonorrhea and 35 percent likelier to have chlamydia than those who met their partners online or in clubs and bars.
There was no difference among the three groups in rates of HIV or syphilis infection.
App users tended to be under 40, well educated, white or Asian and likelier to use cocaine and ecstasy, the investigation found.