Gay mobile apps and the evolving virtual risk environment: a cross-sectional online survey among men who have sex with men in China

Sex Transm Infect. 2016 Nov;92(7):508-514. doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2015-052469. Epub 2016 Jun 9.


Objectives: The expansion of gay sex-seeking application (gay app) use among men who have sex with men (MSM) may create new virtual risk environments that facilitate STI transmission. The goals of this study were to compare sexual behaviours between gay app users and non-users, and to describe sexual behaviours among gay app users in China.

Methods: In October 2014, we recruited MSM from three Chinese gay websites. Data on sociodemographics, sexual behaviours and gay app use were collected. Logistic regressions were used to compare gay app users with non-app users and to identify factors associated with condomless sex among gay app users.

Results: Of the 1424 participants, most were <30 years old (77.5%), single (83.8%) and self-identified as gay (72.9%). Overall, 824 (57.9%) had used gay apps for partner-seeking in the last 6 months. Among gay app users, 36.4% met their last partner within 24 hours of first message exchange through gay apps, and 59.0% negotiated condom use before in-person meeting. Compared with non-users, gay app users reported engaging in more condomless sex in the last 6 months (adjusted OR (aOR) =1.52, 95% CI 1.19 to 1.94) and more group sex (aOR =1.49, 95% CI 1.02 to 2.18). Negotiating condom use before in-person meeting was positively associated with condom use with partners met through gay apps (aOR =1.83, 95% CI 1.29 to 2.60).

Conclusions: Gay apps are linked to risky sexual behaviours and may foster a virtual risk environment for STI transmission among Chinese MSM. App-based interventions could target young gay man and facilitate condom negotiation.