Casual sex apps may fuel HIV in homophobic countries

The growing use of casual sex and dating apps in countries which have high levels of homophobia could lead to an increase in cases of HIV.

While gay and bisexual men living in countries with low tolerance for homosexuality used to have fewer sexual partners, thanks to the emergence of new dating apps that is now changing.

However, due to the stigma of homosexuality in certain countries, men are less likely to have access to health services and information about the HIV virus, fearing discrimination and violence if they admit to being gay, according to a study in the journal AIDS.

As a result, few gay and bisexual men know about HIV and are less likely to use condoms or be diagnosed with the virus, putting them at risk.

"Our findings are surprising as it may appear it's effectively safer for men to stay in the closet in the most homophobic countries," said study co-author Ford Hickson of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"But the closet... is also a place where men are kept ignorant, under resourced and poorly skilled when dealing with sex and HIV. As the way people meet changes with technology, the homophobia that may have appeared to be protecting these men will now be exposing them to huge risk," Hickson continued.

The researchers analysed the use of HIV services and the needs and behavior of 175,000 gay and bisexual men living in 38 European countries.

While the study did not name the countries that they were referring to, according to The Moscow Times, an index compiled by rights group ILGA-Europe names Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia as the worst countries in Europe for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights.

Russia along with Ukraine account for more than 85% of HIV cases in Eastern Europe and central Asia, according to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Earlier this year it was revealed that dating apps like Tinder and Grindr are leading to soaring numbers of sexual infections in the US, due in part to emerging "high risk behaviours" in the past couple of years.

The Rhode Island Department of Health revealed that from 2013 to 2014, cases of syphilis rose by 79%, gonorrhoea by 30% and HIV by almost 33%.

"Technology is redefining sex on demand," the report concluded. "Advances which improve the efficiency of meeting anonymous sexual partners may have the unintended effect of creating networks of individuals where users may be more likely to have sexually transmissible infections."

This article has been updated to show that while sex apps may increase cases of HIV in homophobic countries, the report from researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine focused on how the stigma facing homosexual men increases this risk.