Groundbreaking new research has shown the role of adult hookup apps in the lives of many gay and bisexual teens.
More than half of sexually active young men who have sex with men (YMSM) use apps like Grindr and Scruff to find sexual partners and friends, according to a study from Northwestern University published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
The study — the first of its kind — collected information from 200 gay and bi U.S. teens (ages 14 to 17) with sexual experience through online surveys. "We found that teens in this study were super excited that somebody was paying attention with what was going on in their lives and how these apps played a role in their sexual development and coming-out process," Dr. Kathryn Macapagal, an author of the study, told the Chicago Tribune.
Macapagal, an assistant professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said gay and bi teens are using apps like Grindr for a variety of reasons. Sex is among them, but for many young queer people, the app is also a means of accessing a community and forging friendships when other avenues for doing so may not be available.
"If you’re using something like Grindr, the likelihood of you having a sexual relationship with this person is higher," Macapagal said. "But we also found that although you might have had sexual relations with these folks, these folks might have turned into friends, they might have turned into boyfriends. So there is some evidence that youth are getting lots more out of these apps than just sexual relationships."
The study also found that gay and bi teens — an at-risk group for HIV infection — are likelier to seek out testing for STIs if they are using apps like Grindr. Macapagal said this finding could be important to addressing this health crisis among queer youth. "The sooner we understand the role these apps play in the lives of gay and bisexual teen guys, the sooner we will be able to tailor sex education and HIV prevention efforts for this population and help them live healthier lives," she said.
Technically, Grindr and Scruff impose age limits on its users — age 21 for the former and age 18 for the latter. But by entering a fake birth date, many queer young people can gain access to the apps.
In a statement, Grindr, when asked to respond to the study's findings by the Chicago Tribune, said it "does not condone illegal or improper behavior and we are troubled that an underage person may have been using our app in violation of our terms of service. Grindr services are only available for adults. Grindr encourages anyone aware of any illegal or improper activity on the app to submit a report either within the app or via email."
However, parents like Denise DeRosa, a cyber-safety consultant, are calling for apps like Grindr to do more to prevent the dangers that can come from underage boys looking for sex on an adult hookup app.
"The fact that they’re on at all is definitely concerning," DeRosa told the Chicago Tribune. "There should be some type of mechanism to prevent this. As much as we parents can do, we can’t do everything, so I think these apps have to take some of the responsibility for making sure that their environment is safe – that there’s some sort of functioning guardrail to keep anybody under 18 from using it."