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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. Conceived and deed the experiments: JL MI. Performed the experiments: JL MI. Analyzed the data: JL MI. Wrote the paper: JL MI. Several smartphone applications apps deed to help men who have sex with men MSM find casual sexual partners have appeared on the market recently. Apps of this nature have the potential to impact sexual health and behavior by providing constant access to a large supply of available partners. In this study, the sexual health history, behavior, and personality of MSM who use these apps was compared to MSM who meet partners in other ways.

A sample of adult MSM was recruited online to complete a cross-sectional survey. All participants were either single or involved in a non-exclusive romantic relationship. There were no statistically ificant differences between app users and non-users in frequency of insertive or receptive anal sex without a condom. However, app users reported ificantly more sexual partners and had a higher prevalence of ever being diagnosed with an STI than did non-users.

App users did not differ from non-users on any demographic or personality variables including erotophilia, sensation seeking, and self-control ; however, when adjusting lifetime total sex partners for those met specifically through apps, app users still had ificantly more partners. This pattern of suggests that app users may be more sexually active in general. More work is needed to fully understand the association between this emerging technology and potential sexual health risks. Smartphone applications apps deed to help men who have sex with men MSM find casual sexual partners have inundated the worldwide app market in recent years.

These apps include Grindr, FindFred, Growlr, Scruff, and many others, each with some variation in specific focus and target audience. Grindr, which debuted in and currently boasts over four million users, allows members to chat, share photos, and if desired send their exact location. Users can also enable the app to send instant notifications of messages from prospective partners, effectively allowing people to arrange sexual encounters even when they are not actively looking.

Although Grindr and other such apps are officially advertised as offering social networking and dating services, MSM who use these apps frequently report using them to find sexual partners [1]. By providing constant access to a steady stream of available partners, smartphone apps of this nature have the potential to impact sexual health and behavior in many ways; however, research has yet to explore whether and how such apps are even linked to the sexual practices of MSM. The goals of the present study were therefore 1 to obtain descriptive information on MSM who seek sexual partners via smartphone apps and 2 to compare the sexual health histories of app users and non-users.

We also sought to compare the demographic and psychological profiles of app users and non-users to determine whether these apps attract persons who are drawn to greater sexual risk. Ever since MSM began seeking sex over the Internet, scientists and public health officials have warned of the dangers of this method of meeting partners due to the speed with which anonymous sexual encounters can be arranged.

These warnings have seemingly been validated by research demonstrating that online sex seeking is associated with more risks than casual sex arranged in-person. For instance, online partnering has been linked to reporting greater s of sexual partners [2][3][4]a higher likelihood of practicing unprotected anal intercourse UAI [2][5]and a higher probability of having ever been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection STI [3][5][6].

Although some conflicting findings have emerged, meta-analyses have established that arranging casual sex online is linked to greater risk relative to meeting partners offline [7]. Given these findings, one might expect that sex seeking via smartphone apps would be associated with heightened sexual risk as well. However, these apps could potentially produce risks that are even greater than ly observed with computer-based websites, given that people tend to carry their smartphones with them at all times.

In addition, these apps can be enabled to notify users instantaneously when they are being sought by others. The location-based nature of some of these apps could also potentially promote faster partnering by narrowing the search field to those who are already nearby.

Recent research on Internet sex-seeking behavior has provided support for the self-selection hypothesis by indicating that many MSM who seek partners online are also seeking partners offline, and these MSM report more offline partners than MSM who only meet partners offline [9]. This suggests that MSM who use the Internet for casual sex may be seeking a greater s of partners in general.

This research also revealed that utilizing both online and offline methods was associated with greater risk compared to online-only and offline-only methods. If persons who utilize technology to facilitate casual sex differ from those who meet in other ways e. One possibility is differences in personality, given that many facets of personality have ly been linked to sexual risk-taking.

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Sensation seeking refers to a desire to partake in activities that are stimulating. In the context of sexual behavior, sensation seeking is closely associated with searching out sexual stimuli that are novel and exciting [10]. This drive for thrilling, new sexual experiences is associated with risky sexual behavior, with research finding that higher scores on measures of sexual sensation seeking are associated with higher rates of unprotected sex [11][12]a greater of sexual partners [10][13]and a higher likelihood of being HIV-positive [12].

Sexual sensation seeking has also been identified as a moderator between alcohol and drug use prior to sex and higher rates of UAI for MSM [14]. This personality variable has also been identified as a moderator between Internet use and sexual risk taking behaviors among MSM [15]. Erotophilia is the level of positive affect a person has for sex-related behavior, media, and thoughts [16].

It is typically assessed on a continuous scale, which ranges from erotophobic to erotophilic. Higher scores i. Additionally, there is a positive correlation between erotophilia and risky sexual behavior, such that more erotophilic persons express greater willingness to have casual sex and report higher s of sexual partners [17][18]. Capacity for exerting self-control is an individual difference that varies from person to person i.

In the realm of sexual behavior, people with lower trait self-control engage in riskier sexual behaviors than persons with a higher capacity for self-control. Sexual health risks associated with lower self-control include having higher s of sexual partners, a greater likelihood of having unprotected sex, and having been diagnosed with an STI [20][21][22]. We tentatively expected that sensation seeking, erotophilia, and self-control would all be associated with use of smartphone apps that facilitate locating casual sex partners.

We conducted an Internet-based study to learn more about the sex lives of MSM who meet sexual partners via smartphone apps and also to compare the sexual health histories and personalities of app users and non-users. Online data collection was pursued over college student subject pool recruitment so as to provide greater demographic diversity.

We advanced the following hypotheses. First, consistent with research linking online sex seeking to greater risk-taking [7]we predicted that app users would report higher s of recent sexual partners, more instances of recent UAI, and more reports of STI diagnoses compared to non-users. Finally, and also consistent with the self-selection hypothesis, we expected that any differences in sexual risk behavior would be explained by psychological differences between app users and non-users.

The Harvard University Committee on the Use of Human Subjects approved the protocol, and the data reported in this paper can be obtained from the first author upon request. Participants were required to provide informed consent via a consent button on the first of the survey. No compensation was offered for taking part in this study. Participants were recruited via solicitation notices posted on various Facebook and Twitter feeds for sexuality interest groups, as well as several LGBT student center listservs at U. Notices were sent to schools in a broad cross-section of states in order to obtain geographic diversity.

Aside from a few participants who referred friends or colleagues via or social media, there were no other ificant recruitment sources. Participants were not told that this was a study of social networking smartphone applications so as not to induce further selection bias. For participants who advanced to the questionnaire website, informed consent was taken via a consent button. Upon providing consent, participants completed the measures listed below.

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For participants who indicated that they had a current with a relevant smartphone application, they first completed a series of questions about their usage of this app; non-users skipped these questions entirely. Upon completing the survey, all participants were directed to an online debriefing. App users were asked about the specific application s they currently utilize for meeting sexual partners via their smartphone.

In addition, they were asked to indicate the of times per day they open or log onto the app, approximately how many minutes they spend engaged with the app in pursuit of sexual partners during each session e. App users were also asked about the specific of oral and anal sex partners met through these apps, as well as whether any of these sexual partners eventually turned into romantic partners.

Additionally, all participants both app users and non-users completed a battery of measures about their personality and sexual practices. Three personality measures were administered: sensation seeking, erotophilia, and self-control. Each of these measures was rated on a 9-point scale ranging from 1 do not agree at all to 9 agree completely. To measure erotophilia, participants were administered an adapted version of the Sexual Opinion Scale [25].

To assess sexual history, we included several items adapted from past research. Participants were asked how many male sexual partners they had in the past month, the past three months, and in their entire life [27]. They were also asked how many times they had both receptive and insertive anal intercourse without a condom in the past three months [28]. Finally, participants were asked about their STI history. For participants who had been diagnosed with an STI other than HIV, they were given a checklist that allowed them to select which of the following STIs they had tested positive for: chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, hepatitis, human papilloma virus HPVsyphilis, and trichomoniasis.

All participants also completed a standard demographics measure that inquired about sexual and gender identity, race, age, nationality, and relationship status [8]. A total of persons provided consent and began the survey; however, 74 did not answer any questions at all or did not advance far enough in the survey to provide sufficient data for analyses.

Data from 66 participants were excluded because they reported that they were having sexual contact only with their current romantic relationship partner. We limited our data only to those who were actively seeking sexual partners to make our comparison groups more equivalent. This resulted in a final sample of individuals, all of whom indicated that they were either currently single With respect to gender identity, most identified as male In addition, most participants identified as gay Self-identified heterosexuals were retained for analyses because our interest was primarily in sexual behavior, not sexual identity.

The mean age was Participants were predominately White Analyses were conducted to examine whether app users differed from non-users in terms of their demographic characteristics. Chi-square analyses for categorical variables and ANOVAs for continuous variables revealed no differences between groups in gender identity, sexual identity, race, age, country of residence, or relationship status detailed of these analyses are available from the first author upon request.

Thus, the two groups appeared roughly equivalent in terms of their demographic composition.

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See Table 1 for specific demographic features of the two subsamples. Participants reported logging onto these apps an average of 3.

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Approximately one-third of app users For analyses involving normally distributed continuous variables, ANOVAs were used; for non-normally distributed continuous variables, Mann-Whitney tests were used. Chi-square tests were performed on categorical variables. We first examined whether app users and non-users differed in of recent sexual partners. For means, medians, and standard deviations of these items by group, see Table 2. We next examined whether app users and non-users differed in frequency of specific sexual practices and sexual health outcomes.

See Table 2 for medians, means, and standard deviations of these variables.

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App users 3. See Table 4 for rates of specific STI diagnoses reported among app users and non-users. For medians, means, and standard deviations, see Table 2. We then repeated this analysis, but first, we subtracted the total of sex partners app users had met specifically though smartphone apps from their lifetime total. Finally, we tested for psychological differences between app users and non-users. For means and standard deviations of these variables by group, see Table 3.

Because no differences emerged between groups, we could not test these personality characteristics as mediators of the association between app use and sexual behavior patterns. In this sample, MSM who used smartphone applications to find casual sex partners had sexual health histories that differed from those participants who utilized other methods for seeking partners. Specifically, app users reported ificantly greater s of recent sexual partners relative to non-users. In addition, the percentage of app users who reported having been diagnosed with an STI other than HIV was more than twice as high as the percentage of non-users.

This difference did not appear to be due to a testing gap, given that frequency of STI testing did not differ between groups. The fact that frequency of STI testing did not differ and there were no differences in frequency of recent instances of UAI suggests that app users were not necessarily engaging in riskier behaviors across the board.

No demographic or psychological differences were observed between app users and non-users on the variables assessed. This suggests that there may be a self-selection effect when it comes to app use. Because app users still reported having had more lifetime partners even when that was adjusted for partners met through apps, it suggests that app users may be more sexually active to begin with.

That said, while these findings might appear to lend support to self-selection hypothesis [7]the correlational nature of the data make it impossible to draw any conclusions about cause and effect. Thus, we do not know whether it is the apps that are driving behavior, or if persons who engage in riskier behavior to begin with are simply drawn to the apps, or if perhaps technology and self-selection have a synergistic effect. One plausible explanation is that there may be differences on other, unassessed personality factors that are driving the effects.

For example, research has found that some of the Big Five personality traits are related to sexual risk-taking, including extraversion [29] and conscientiousness [30]. Likewise, sexual compulsiveness which shares a high degree of variance with self-control is another individual difference trait that has been associated with seeking sexual partners more frequently [31]. Future research would be well served by assessing these and other personality characteristics that could potentially explain why app users seem more prone to sexual risk-taking.

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