“You’ve matched with STD!”, or the moral panic over dating apps


Initially I wasn’t going to comment on this story, but this morning I saw it made it onto Drudge (Dating apps rampant promiscuity; Sex with 10 people a day…), and as it involves both my hometown Brisbane and my homeapp Tinder, I thought I need to stand up and be counted – though not in the sense the article talks about. The News.com.au story linked to by Drudge relates to a recent interview on ABC TV:

Dating apps are fuelling rampant rates of sexual promiscuity, according to a leading Brisbane sexual health doctor who “quite frequently” treats patients who have sex with up to 10 people a day.

Dr Wendell Rosevear, a long-time sexual health campaigner, told news.com.au people have seized on internet dating, and dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr, to have frequent, often anonymous encounters.He said the behaviour is borne, ironically, from increasing social isolation.Far from the obvious assumption that people having sex with multiple partners each day were sex workers, Dr Rosevear said most were ‘regular’ men and women, who are isolated at home and use the internet to arrange multiple sexual encounters to fill the void of intimacy that their lack of social interactions created.

I won’t argue with the good doctor about the basic facts – as he quotes, the rates of STD (or STI) infections in Queensland are up, as they indeed are across Australia and across the United States. If not promiscuity (here at The Daily Chrenk we still use judgy words, not because we are particularly judgy but because we like plain and simple language), then at least the unsafe sex seems to be on the rise again. And internet dating and smart phone apps no doubt facilitate the culture of hook-ups.

That much is clearly right. But I find the lumping together of all the apps – particularly the mainly heterosexual dating Tinder and the mainly homosexual hook-up Grindr – to be rather forced and misleading. Dr Rosevear, after all, works for Stonewall Medical Centre, which “has been proudly serving Brisbane’s LGBTIQ community since 1995 (Stonewall, geddit?) (“Located on Brisbane’s northside at Windsor, Stonewall sees many different patients including gay men, lesbians, transgender people, sex workers (male & female) as well as patients who identify as queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, bisexual, and pansexual”). Not saying that straight people aren’t having a lot of unprotected sex and aren’t contracting a lot of nasty bugs that way, but Dr Rosevear’s specialisation might be giving him a somewhat skewed idea of what’s going on online.

Take Tinder. The only person who could have sex 10 times a day off Tinder is a Jimmy Carter type who commits adultery in his heart only. There just aren’t that many Brisbane women on Tinder, and only a tiny fraction of their number would be interested in (or could be charmed into) casual sex. Just about every profile with some writing on it makes a point that the person in question is not looking for hook-ups or anything casual. I’ve blogged recently about some rather weird and wonderful and suggestive Tinder profiles (yes, the number 3 will shock you) but these are well less than one per cent of the spread (so to speak).

I’m going to say something, depending on your point of view, very or not at all controversial: men in general are much more promiscuously-inclined than women (if any women would want to argue with me to the contrary, I’m happy to discuss. I mean it – get in touch with me). In economic terms, the demand is great, but is constricted by a limited supply. This is pretty much why gay or bisexual men have more sex than straight men. The sexually dystopian world that Dr Rosevear describes resembles Grindr much more than Tinder, at least according to my gay friends who have used the app (don’t expect “TDC goes undercover on Grindr” anytime soon, or anytime). The very casual – and often very unsafe – sex is additionally fuelled by the culture of judgment-affecting drug-taking (PnP, i.e. party and play, or chemsex, involving most often meth or ecstasy) as well as the radical improvements in the treatment of HIV, which make now make it a mild inconvenience rather than a death sentence as it was for the previous generation.

So parents don’t despair: your daughters will not turn into rampaging nymphomaniacs once they downloaded Tinder. Or, considering that the average age on the app now seems to be the late 30s, children don’t despair: your mothers will not turn into rampaging nymphomaniacs once they downloaded Tinder. On the other hand, wives and children, be somewhat concerned if your husbands and fathers download Grindr.