As Grindr fends off more bad publicity for sharing users' HIV data, it really needs to reconsider updating its profile.
The hookup app recently announced plans to remind its users to get tested for HIV every three to six months, and it will also offer free advertising to clinics and LGBT community centers that provide free testing.
While HIV remains a global epidemic, there has been a spike of sexually transmitted infections that can be traced to the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, the daily dosage of a drug that, when used properly, is nearly 100 percent effective in preventing HIV transmission. Although doctors recommend that patients continue using condoms while on PreP, many gay men have treated it as a license to enjoy bareback sex. This may be contributing to the recent uptick in gonorrhea, syphilis, and other sexually transmitted infections. Compounding matters, many naively believe that all STIs other than HIV can be easily cured. Leaving aside the fact that herpes cannot be treated with antibiotics, some other infections are now developing resistance to antibiotics, with a rapid increase in “super gonorrhea,” or multidrug-resistant gonorrhea.
If Grindr is interested in LGBT health, why not expand its focus to STIs overall and other health problems confronting the LGBT community?
If people get an HIV test at a clinic or even an LGBT community center, they will have the opportunity to be screened for other STIs, but since many gay and bi men continue to define disease mostly in terms of HIV, the growing epidemic of STIs remains in the shadows.
Grindr can make a bold intervention by promoting STI testing and condom usage, and explaining the risks of transmission of multidrug-resistant infections.
It can go even further. Since the outbreak of HIV, medical professionals continually frame LGBT health in terms of infectious diseases. While there is some justification for this, there is also an increasing number of health problems that go unnoticed in the LGBT community, most prominently mental health. According to a study conducted by Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization devoted to mental health, “LGBT individuals are three times more likely to experience a mental health condition.” Given this statistic, Grindr should consider expanding its free advertising offer to mental health providers and clinics.
Further, few, if any, talk about the ways in which Grindr, an app that prides itself on shirtless photos of mostly headless men, could contribute to high rates of depression, eating disorders, and body dysmorphia among its over 3.6 million users. While there are a few published testimonies by gay and bi men about how Grindr lowered their self-esteem and caused depression, there are even fewer professional studies conducted by scholars that offer data and analysis about the effects of gay social media on mental health. Since the rise of HIV, the overwhelming majority of money dedicated to LGBT health rightly focused on the virus, but there are other medical issues that warrant investigation. By expanding its focus to other LGBT health issues, Grindr would signal to medical professionals the demand for more diverse studies of LGBT health.
With users throughout the world, Grindr has the unique opportunity to actually broaden the framework of LGBT health and to spotlight issues that have otherwise been neglected, especially in the Trump era.
The question remains: Will Grindr host a broader conversation about LGBT health, or will the app block it?
JIM DOWNS is professor of history at Connecticut College and author of Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation (Basic Books, 2016).