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CHEST Research Spotlight: A look into Grindr and HIV testing patterns among its users

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CHEST’s survey of MSM who use Grindr in the NYC area found that 10% of men had never received HIV testing in their lifetime.

By Joshua Guthals & Divpreet Kaur, September 16, 2013

HIV testing is an important step in helping people to learn their status and lower risk of transmitting the disease. Testing can lead to early initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART), which lowers viral loads, thus extending the lifespan of HIV positive people while simultaneously reducing transmission risk. Because of HIV testing’s critical role in reducing the spread of the disease, Dr. Jeffrey T. Parsons, director of Hunter College’s Center for HIV Educational Studies and Training (CHEST), and his colleagues wanted to explore the HIV testing patterns of men who have sex with men (MSM) surveyed through Grindr, one of the most popular geosocial networking applications for gay and bisexual men.

Dr. Parsons worked with a team of researchers, including senior data analyst Jon Rendina to survey over 1,300 gay and bisexual men in the New York City area who use Grindr. Rendina explains, “When we first began looking at the data, we were surprised to find that 1 in 10 men on Grindr in NYC had never received an HIV test and we quickly realized we needed to look further into the issue.” Further analysis showed that the proportion of older men getting tested for HIV was notably higher than that of the younger men, with 1 in 5 young MSM between the ages of 18-24 having never received an HIV test. Comparing these men to the overall population of NYC MSM indicated that a higher proportion of men on Grindr had never been tested for the disease (10% of Grindr users versus 2.6% of all NYC MSM).

Additional analyses revealed that one-third of those men who had never received an HIV test reported their HIV status as HIV-negative, which as Rendina points out, “may mean that men are sharing potentially inaccurate HIV status information with their partners on Grindr.” Additionally, nearly one-third of the men who had never tested also reported engaging in anal sex without a condom in the past 3 months.

There were some silver linings in the statistics, especially in regards to testing frequency. Out of all of the men surveyed on Grindr, half of them had received an HIV test in the past 6 months, and over 70% of them had been tested in the past year; whereas only 52% of all MSM in the NYC area reported receiving an HIV-test in the past year. Furthermore, the data suggested that men who engage in risky sexual behavior had been tested more recently than men who hadn’t, suggesting awareness among these men of an increased risk for HIV infection. Additionally, the survey found that the proportion of younger men of color who had received HIV tests was higher than other men in this sample. Dr. Parsons said, “These findings suggest that some prevention messages - specifically that MSM that engage in unprotected sex should have more frequent HIV testing - are reaching the intended audience. Further, it is good to see that community-based efforts to provide HIV testing to young men of color appear to be working.”

Rendina says, “It’s our hope that these data highlight the importance of embedding HIV testing and other prevention campaigns where men who have sex with men network, socialize, and express their sexuality, such as Grindr.” If social networking apps, especially a globally popular one like Grindr, could be used to promote the importance of HIV testing, it could be a useful factor in future prevention efforts.

About the study:

The results of this study titled, “Patterns of Lifetime and Recent HIV Testing Among Men Who Have Sex with Men in New York City,” by H. Jonathon Rendina, Ruben Jimenez, Christian Grov, Ana Ventuneac, and Jeffrey T. Parsons are published in this August’s online issue of AIDS and Behavior.

CHEST’s mission is to conduct research to identify and promote strategies that prevent the spread of HIV and improve the lives of people living with HIV. We have been advocating for and working with the LGBT community since 1996.

Email your inquiries to: Jeffrey T. Parsons, Director of Hunter College’s Center for HIV Educational Studies and Training (CHEST) at jeffrey.parsons@hunter.cuny.edu