Are We Ready to Make Our STI’s Public Knowledge?

Are dating apps that allow users to disclose their STI status the future of sex tech? After a year of corona contact tracing, have stigmas changed? And, even in the age of social media, are we really ready to make our private life public?

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Photo by Diana Caballero for Malvestida

We’ve all been there. The mindless swiping just to pass the time, the never ending customisation of our profiles to make sure we appear as glorious and attractive as possible, and the anxious waiting for someone to reply (when they probably won’t). Through online dating we’ve perfected the commodification of ourselves, as we put on our best smiles and walk into to a swamp full of frogs, who might turn into princes or princesses – if we’re lucky enough.

But hey… It’s fun. There’s no denying that. As dating apps grow more and more refined, we’ve also grown accustomed to sharing more and more information about ourselves. What’s your “anthem”? Why don’t you share your latest Instagram posts? Where did you go to uni? More detailed profiles supposedly do better, so we click “accept” on the terms and conditions and happily connect our social media platforms to our dating apps. But, where do we draw the line? In this day and age, when we’re encouraged to make everything public – what is left that is private?


What about making your STI’s public knowledge, as part of your dating life?

Sounds scary? Hold your horses just a moment while we unpack this.

iPlaySafe App is a UK-based start-up that aims to make at-home STI test kits more readily available. After getting tested, your results are uploaded to the dashboard of an app, where you can then share your status with whoever you want, at your convenience. iPlaySafe App was co-founded by Georgia di Mattos and Bianca Dunne in 2019, and in 2020 they managed to win a pitch of 1 million USD. The app is set to launch in 2021.

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“We found a gap in the market, where STI tests are fairly easy to come by, and the technology for at-home testing is advancing very fast, but we’re still having that conversation in the same old-fashioned way.” CEO Georgia explains. “You still have to ask: “Hey, when did you get tested?” and then worry that the person is going to be turned off by the conversation or think that you don’t trust them.”

“We want to encourage people to proactively test, not only test reactively because you had unprotected sex with someone you didn’t know at a festival, and you’re scared you got some STI. We want to normalise testing and make it comparable to getting your dental checkup every now and then.” CIO Bianca continues.

iPlaySafe App consists of an integrated platform, where you first do an at-home test for a hand-full of the most common STI’s such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B and C. The test gets analysed in a lab, and you then get rewarded in the app with a badge, which says when you last had a negative test.

This badge can be shared with potential sexual partners at your convenience. Every six months, you’ll get encouraged to do a new test, or else you lose your badge. If you get a positive test, the app redirects you to a clinic, where you can get treated. The app is classified as a medical device, meaning that it complies with all the highest standards in terms of data protection and medical guidelines in the UK.

“The entry point is the testing kit, but we really want to create a whole ecosystem where you can learn more about expressing your sexuality, and taking care of your sexual health and wellness. We don’t want to automate everything and have people hide behind their app or their phones; that’s not at all what this is about. We want the app to be so much more. We’ll have a pic-of-the-week, promote podcasts and other content on topics we find interesting, such as sex-toys and psychosexual therapy. We want it to be a totally inclusive, shame-free platform, that empowers people to have frank conversations about their sexuality.” Bianca says.

One of the ideas Georgia and Bianca are keen on implementing is to connect iPlaySafe App to online dating platforms, like Tinder and Bumble. These apps already have APIs (application programming interfaces) that enable you to connect for example your Spotify or Instagram to your profile. Why not add a badge about your sexual health?

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“We just want people to be able to have that conversation straight away, in a non-shameful way. Every time we do brand research on STI testing, everything looks so scary and it’s still full of taboos, and we want to be the opposite of that. iPlaySafe is about being fun and edgy, but playing it safe, and that means getting tested and sharing your results with potential partners.” Georgia explains.

Let’s pause a bit here. According to a 2019 Pew Research report, almost half of the surveyed 18- to 29-year-old Americans had ever used a dating site or app. This figure was even higher amongst lesbian, gay and bisexual folks. In fact, studies have shown that online dating sites and apps can become safe venues for meeting partners in social contexts where being gay is still stigmatised.

And it’s not just about hooking up: one study found that one third of the offline encounters initiated on Tinder lead to casual sex, but more than a quarter also resulted in the formation of some form of committed relationship. However, there’s a flip side of having a virtual smorgasbord of available sexual partners. Dating apps have been accused of causing a sexual health crisis, and increase the spread of STI’s. One study of 2000 young adults in the UK found that almost one in five had contracted an STI from someone they met on an app.

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“Doing audience research, we found out that it seems like women are the ones bringing up the topic of test results with their potential partners more often than men, and that they are more concerned about contracting an STI than men.

We also found that it’s easier for us to connect to young women on social media and talk about this than with guys. But STI’s don’t discriminate, so we had to come up with a way to make iPlaySafe attractive to guys as well.” Georgia explains. Bianca fills in:

“Women are physiologically more susceptible to getting infections, and we link STI’s with our fertility, which is maybe why we’re the ones bringing up the topic. Men think about it more reactively, but we think testing should be done proactively as part of a healthy lifestyle. And both me and Georgia are really in to boxing, so we came up with the idea that using boxers or MMA fighters as brand ambassadors might be a fun way of reaching young men.” 

“Not saying that only guys fight of course!” Says Georgia. “But MMA fighters have to get tested before every fight, so for them it’s not something dramatic. We also think that the early adopters of the app will be very connected to their physical wellness and having healthy habits. So we’ve just closed down some really nice partnerships with MMA fighters that you’ll see on our social media the upcoming month.”

It also seems like iPlaySafe App has the tide working with them. In this day and age, lots of the information we used to consider private is now readily made public. We’re a generation of Millennials and Gen Z’s who are living our lives online – and that goes hand in hand with the sharing of information about everything that makes you you.

We’re constantly curating our online personalities, and as we do so, the barriers between what used to be considered private and public are slowly crumbling down. The same goes for things that used to be stigmatised. 15 years ago, who would have thought that we would be talking loud and proud about our periods or our mental health struggles? We’ve accepted some transgression of our privacy, but we’ve also gained the ability to have conversations about topics that used to be shrouded in secrecy and stigma.

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“Georgia and I have an agreement that we want our kids to have a different experience and understanding of sexual health than what we were taught. We just want to be part of the movement that will finally annihilate these stigmas that refuses to die.” Bianca says.

“The younger generations are so used to doing everything through their apps and smartphones. They’re so good at texting and typing, but maybe they’re not vert good at communicating. And if we don’t provide them with the technology to have these kinds of conversations, maybe they end up not having them at all. But at the same time, we’ve seen a shift on social media with a lot of interesting people who are fighting the stigma and taboos around STI’s.” Georgia reflects.

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Photo by Diana Caballero for Malvestida

Speaking of stigma: it literally kills. Since the start of the HIV epidemic in the 1980’s, more than 75 million people have been infected, and almost 33 million people have died. HIV, maybe the most publicly discussed of all STI’s, has always been stigmatised and surrounded with misinformation and shame, which was perhaps the most brutally manifested in governments’ reluctance to even deal with the infection when it started spreading. (Want to watch a great film on the topic? Have a look at 120 BPM)

Nowadays, HIV can be treated with antiretroviral therapy, but this medication is by no means equally accessible around the world. Neither does everyone know that taking medication can make the viral load in your blood so low it’s virtually undetectable, which means you effectively have no risk of transmitting HIV to a partner.

There are organisations working hard every day to reduce the shame around being HIV positive and share information about the infection, and some progress has definitely been made. But the fact remains that HIV and STI’s in general are still heavily stigmatised in most contexts. For some reason, we just can’t figure out how to talk about them.

But maybe that is changing.

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Photo by Dainis Graveris on SexualAlpha

“So we started this journey a year and a half ago. And then in March, when we were in full lock-down, I was just tuning in to the news, and there was Boris Johnson, basically talking about our app! The Covid contact tracing app is literally what our app is about.” Bianca says.

Only in the EU, 22 member states have rolled out their own versions of contact tracing apps, with various degrees of success. But the fact remains that apps like iPlaySafe App might have seemed way more dramatic in a world without corona than in a world with it.

“It’s so interesting to see how people approach infections these days and people are more open to the idea of using apps to contact trace to stop the spread. We do want to harness this momentum and use it to change the conversation and include STI testing.” Bianca continues.

“You know, if you’re going to have sex, you’re going to have an STI at some point. Just think of it like that. Most likely you’ll end up getting something really common and treatable like to chlamydia or gonorrhoea, but we just have to empower people to have those conversations and kind of rejig people’s mindset of what it means to have an STI. Realistically, it’s inevitable, but it can be preventable.”

“We want people to feel proud of using iPlay Safe. We want them to be proud of their badge and be proud to want to be around people who have the same mindset of looking after themselves and their sexual health.” Georgia wraps up. “Everything about dating these days is so advanced and online; we are so used to swiping left and right, and you’re telling me we still have to have to talk about STIs in such an old-fashioned way?”


Want to learn more about iPlaySafe App?
Make your way to their website and their Instagram.


Kajsa Rosenblad is a Swedish/Dutch journalist based in Copenhagen.
She self-identifies as a “professional opinion machine, French pop music connoisseur and numbers nerd.” Read more of her work by visiting her portfolio here, and give her a follow over on Instagram.

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