As someone living with genital herpes for almost two years, I was always a little put off by dating sites specifically for people with STIs. From PositiveSingles to MPWH (Meet People With Herpes), I never understood why living with a benign virus which affects a majority of people should force us to annex ourselves from the general dating population. It was as though I had to quarantine myself because of a Tinder date gone wrong. It didn’t seem fair. After my diagnosis, I never made an account on any of these sites - it depressed me just thinking about it. I met my current partner on OkCupid, a dating site targeted toward the general population, and my HSV+ status was not a dealbreaker for him.
Now, a new dating app called NeatClub is taking these STI+ dating apps to a different, highly disturbing level.
Described in the App Store as a “dating app with STD verification,” NeatClub looks to put people’s STI status front and center on their dating profiles.
Though the founder, Ashka Shah, alleges that she created the app because of the stigma surrounding STIs, it is hard to ignore some of the obvious consequences of such an app.
The app requires everyone to provide current STI test results and keep their records up to date, which would require submitting new results every four months. Not only does this present a problem under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), which is meant to safeguard one’s medical records and history, but it can also prove to be an unnecessary expense for those without insurance, or whose insurance only covers 1 or 2 STI tests a year. In order to be on the app, one would have to spend money and take time to get frequent STI tests. This is clearly not an option for those who can’t afford it. Additionally, the standard STI panel does not have a very deep scope. For instance, it doesn’t test for herpes. Other problems can also arise around STI testing, which is more prone to error. In these instances, the app would give the false illusion of certainty where none really exists.
The name itself is also problematic. The use of the word “neat” seems to derive from the notion of “cleanliness." That is to say if you’re STI-free, you’re “clean," which implies those who are living with an STI are “dirty.” Yet, this is not what the name is meant to mean according to Shah. The name is a reference to cocktails. On the app, one’s STI status is shown with use of an emoji cocktail. People without STIs are portrayed as a neat whiskey. If you have herpes, your profile has a whiskey with a cherry on top. If you have gonorrhea, you’re a whiskey with whipped cream.
However, a whiskey with any garnishes technically isn’t “neat,” as that term means straight-up liquor in bartender speak. So who are the only “neat” people in the “Neat Club”? Yup... those who are STI-free. The app is named after the userbase consisting of members who do not have any recorded STIs. One wonders if the distinction is without a difference.
Then there’s the risk of harassment and abuse which is commonplace online. It is all made potentially worse when your medical history is involved. Don’t get me wrong - I think disclosing one’s STI+ status is incredibly important, but I think it should be done at the discretion of the person living with it. Deciding when the right time is to disclose to a new partner is a personal decision.
Imagine having your STI status openly available on this app to anyone who comes across your profile. If the app is anything like Tinder, it shows people within a few miles from you, which could potentially mean someone you already know “irl” can see this information. What if it’s an abusive ex? Or a family member? Or a bully from school? Is it really their right to know such personal information? Not to mention the fact that because of how stigmatized STIs are, having one’s status prominently listed could cause less tolerant folks to make snap judgments. If I were to go on the app saying I have herpes, would I have men messaging me assuming I’m “easy” and treating me like a sex object? It invites too many personal questions that are sexual in nature, which I’d rather not discuss with random men I’m speaking to for the first time.
While one might argue that if I don’t like it, I simply should not use it, I would remind them that it is not so trivial. If the app is made popular, then it creates an expectation that if one avoids using it they may, in fact, have an STI. This leaves those in the dating world who have an STI no recourse for protecting their privacy.
As someone living with an STI who has navigated the dating world with it, I believe this app is a really bad idea. It has the potential for HIPAA violations, abuse, stigmatization, and the spread of false information. It does nothing to make STI testing easier or more affordable for those in lower socioeconomic classes. In fact, the assumption that everyone has the time and money to get tested every four months is pretty classist. It also places undue burden on its users who may not have any of the risk factors for a certain STI.
To those living with an STI and who are struggling to get back in the dating game, know this: you do not need these apps. You are not strange or broken or disgusting because of your status. You’re allowed to be on “regular” dating apps like Tinder and OkCupid. There will be people who won’t judge you because of your STI status and who will be interested in dating you regardless. You don’t have to disclose to everyone, and when you do disclose, it should be when you’re comfortable doing so.
The only true way to break the stigma of STIs is through better, more comprehensive sexual education. Not by requiring everyone to provide “proof” of their status at the get-go.
Top Image via Pixabay
More from BUST
Rafaella is a graduate of The New School, where she majored in journalism and minored in gender studies. She's passionate about feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, combatting online harassment, and ending herpes stigma. Visit her website: ellagunz.com