HCN News & Notes

Dating on Social Media Brings Health Consequences

SPRINGFIELD — Other than your personal safety, there are health safety issues to worry about when using social-media apps to hook up for casual sex with someone you know absolutely nothing about.

Rhode Island is currently experiencing what health experts in that state are calling an “epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases,” and while the numbers could reflect the fact more people are being checked for STDs, Rhode Island health officials aren’t ruling out other factors. They cite high-risk behaviors — including “using social media to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters,” as well as having sex without a condom, having multiple sex partners, and having sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol — as other factors in the growing numbers.

A lack of national data, however, makes it unclear as to whether STD rates are increasing across the country, said Dr. Daniel Skiest, chief, Infectious Disease Division, Baystate Medical Center. “We have seen an increase in syphilis cases over the past few years in Massachusetts, including here in Western Massachusetts. One of the thoughts is that social-media apps may well be playing a role in what we are seeing.”

Data released by the Rhode Island Department of Health show infections of syphilis increased 79{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}, gonorrhea cases went up 30{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5}, and new HIV cases increased by about 33{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} from 2013 to 2014.
But social media isn’t only to blame, says Dr. Stuart Anfang, medical director, Adult Outpatient Psychiatry, Baystate Medical Center.

“The advent of social media has changed the way people might approach intimate encounters today, particularly for younger people who are especially at ease and adept at communicating by this means. There is a suggestion that this has led to an increase of casual relationships with people who are not well-known to each other,” said Anfang. “At the same time, we should also consider the fact that there may be less awareness among the younger generation about sexually transmitted diseases due to a lack of education about these diseases, which, left untreated, can pose significant health problems.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer tips on to protect yourself and your sexual partners against STDs. Effective strategies include abstinence, vaccination against hepatitis B and HPV, mutual monogamy, reduced number of sex partners, condom use, and getting tested for STDs.

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