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Dating Application Use and Sexual Risk Behavior Among Young Adults

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Cell phone-based dating applications (apps) are increasingly popular in the USA. However, there is a paucity of research regarding dating app use among young heterosexual adults. This study examined the prevalence of dating application use and its connections with sexual behavior among young heterosexual adults. Five hundred nine heterosexual cisgender undergraduate students aged 18–25 completed an online survey assessing trait impulsivity, dating app use and motivations for using dating apps, sexual behavior, and demographics. 39.5% of the participants reported using dating apps. Individuals who used dating apps had higher rates of sexual risk behaviors in the past 3 months, including sex after using drugs or alcohol, and unprotected sex (anal or vaginal), and more lifetime sexual partners. When controlling for demographics and impulsivity, individuals who used dating applications were twice as likely to have had unprotected sex in the past 3 months, but were not significantly more likely to have had multiple partners within the past 3 months. In an exploratory analysis controlling for demographics and impulsivity, dating app use predicted the number of lifetime sexual partners. This study documented an association between dating app use and sexual risk behaviors among young heterosexual adults. Results suggest potential targets for intervention, including interventions that address sexual health information, and the dissemination of sexual health information through dating apps themselves.

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Sexually transmitted infection


Men who have sex with men


Human immunodeficiency virus


Global positioning system


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All parties who have contributed significantly to this work have been listed as authors, and all authors have reviewed and approved the publication of this manuscript. An oral presentation of this study was given at the 37th annual meeting and scientific sessions of the Society of Behavioral Medicine.


This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

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Correspondence to Ashlee N. Sawyer.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Sawyer, A.N., Smith, E.R. & Benotsch, E.G. Dating Application Use and Sexual Risk Behavior Among Young Adults. Sex Res Soc Policy 15, 183–191 (2018).

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