Sexually transmitted disease rates have reached outbreak levels in many parts of the country, and some health officials are pointing the finger of blame at the use of dating apps and websites. But others are not so sure.
This week, Alberta Health Service reported that the number of gonorrhea cases in the province in 2015 was up 80 per cent over 2014. There have also already been 1,100 cases reported so far this year.
The number of syphilis cases in the province is also up, doubling in from 2014 to 2015. Men who have sex with men are being most affected by these spikes.
Alberta officials said they suspect that popular online hookup apps, such as Tinder or Grindr, are to blame for the spikes. The apps are often used to connect strangers for casual encounters.
“This is probably the single highest reason we're we getting the increased rate -- the use of social media,” Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Karen Grimsrud said.
Alberta isn't the only province to see an increase in sexually transmitted diseases. B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland-Labrador have also seen spikes.
Caroline McDonald-Harker, a sociologist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, says the increase in sexually transmitted diseases is not surprising to her.
“Today, we are living in a ‘hook-up’ culture where individuals are engaging in casual sex without the promise or even the desire for a more traditional romantic relationship,” she said.
McDonald-Harker says it can be difficult for public health officials to trace and treat those who become infected after using a dating app, since many of these users have three or more partners a month.
“They do not know the sexual history of the individual, they do not know if they have an STI (sexually transmitted infection),” she said.
But Matthew Smith, the prevention programs manager with AIDS New Brunswick, isn’t so sure that dating apps should be blamed for the rise in sexually transmitted diseases that health officials are seeing.
“I think that people have sex. I think that people are always going to have sex and I think that the problem is not how you're meeting people or that you're having sex. The problem is how you're having sex,” he told CTV Atlantic.
Smith added that the other problem with sexually transmitted diseases is that many don’t cause symptoms.
“So a person can go around for years and not know that they've been exposed or they're infected with a certain STI,” he said.
To raise more awareness about the need to use condoms and practise safer sex, Alberta Health has created a website called SexGerms.com that offers advice on how to get tested and how to spot an infection.
With a report from CTV’s Alberta bureau chief Janet Dirks and CTV Atlantic's Laura Brown