Grindr, a popular app for gay and bisexual men, announced today the addition of optional HIV-related fields in user profiles, such as HIV status (including undetectable), last HIV test date, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) use.
Seven years ago, Grindr launched as the first app for gay men to combine the posting of profiles seeking sex or partners with geolocation capacity, which allows users to find others in the immediate area of their smartphones or neighborhood. While other apps have subsequently joined the popular field of digital cruising, Grindr remains the largest one for gay and bi men, with 2 million users a day from 197 countries.
In a draft blog post provided to TheBody.com announcing the new changes, Jack Harrison-Quintana, director of Grindr for Equality, said that the platform hopes to "create an open dialogue among our users about sexual health. Honesty, compassion, and education lay the foundation to make Grindr an even safer space for guys to connect, and we can all contribute to getting there."
"Users won't be able to filter who they see in the app based on HIV status," he noted. "Filling out the HIV status field is entirely optional."
Grindr users will now be able to choose options to identify as:
- HIV-positive, Undetectable.
- HIV-negative, On PrEP.
Several other popular apps include fields on HIV status and HIV prevention. For example, last year Scruff added a drop-down menu with three HIV prevention methods -- condoms, PrEP and treatment as prevention (TasP) -- which can be selected individually or in combination for users to explain their HIV prevention practices.
"Grindr, by adding these new profile options, is taking a great step in creating a healthy online community through supporting HIV prevention and fighting stigma," said Dan Wohlfeiler in a statement provided to TheBody.com. Wohlfeiler directs Building Healthy Online Communities, a consortium of public health leaders and gay dating website and app owners collaborating on online HIV and STI prevention efforts.
"Public health programs have spent millions of dollars encouraging men to talk about their status. But for many men, it remains hard to have that conversation, especially in person, with a new partner. Profile screens can make it so much easier," he explained.
"Providing men explicit profile options and easily-accessible, clear information about what they mean, are so important. First, studies have shown that knowing a partner's status reduces high-risk sex. Second, having profile options where men can proudly say 'I'm on PrEP' normalizes PrEP for HIV-negative men. Offering HIV-positive men an easy way can take pride in saying 'I'm undetectable' does the same thing for other HIV-positive users. These are all powerful ways that gay men can encourage one another to take care of themselves and each other."
The ability to quickly find and meet sex partners online and through apps has caught the attention of public health officials and researchers, with concern that the ease of hooking up could facilitate transmission of sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV. The apps have also been harnessed to distribute HIV information, including home test kits. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that dating apps focused on gay and bisexual men were one of the most effective uses of advertising dollars in their "Testing Makes Us Stronger" HIV testing campaign.
This summer, after a researcher shared survey questions from Grindr about the possibility of "filtering the guys you see by HIV status," there was swift criticism online.
"My main concern was that it enables HIV-negative men to enact a kind of 'digital quarantine' that they may think will protect them from ever encountering a person living with HIV on the app," explained blogger and health promoter Daniel Reeders on his blog.
In a recent Facebook Live interview, Harrison-Quintana told TheBody.com that the survey questions had been part of a process of "discernment," in which Grindr considered if and how best to create a systematic way that users could choose to communicate their HIV status. The app already had a "tribe" option, in which users could affiliate with different gay cultures or subgroups including "Poz," but did not have fields in profiles on HIV status or prevention.
"We asked about it and heard really clearly that people had concerns that if [the ability to filter based on self-identified HIV status] were to happen, then it could really reinforce stigma and that HIV-negative guys might really start not even having HIV positive guys show up in their cascade. And people really felt negative about that, totally understandably," he explained.
"We also heard from some poz users that it could be really useful for them to be able to filter in and really see other poz guys near them, especially if they are in an area where they are facing a lot of stigma and really are only looking for other poz guys to partner with, or if they are just are proactively looking for that because they want to date people who share that experience. It was really important for us to hear all the feedback."
JD Davids is the managing editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.