Online dating has grown massively over the past few years and it seems there’s a niche site to cater to pretty much every fantasy. But there’s a little-known sector that’s secretly thriving – dating sites for people with STIs.

Last Taboo wanted to find out more so we put the question to our resident sexpert Brigette Bard

What’s your reaction to the existence of these online dating websites?

In my experience, which is predominately with HIV dating sites, I believe websites which match people which are open about their STI status serve a really good purpose. They make people feel comfortable and safe when re-entering the dating scene. People I’ve spoken to say they provide hope for the future. For example, we must remember HIV is only three letters, not a sentence; so there is a whole life after diagnosis, even children.

With herpes dating sites, they serve a similar purpose. No awkward conversation needs to happen because there is clear disclosure right at the beginning by being a member of the dating site.

Do you think they are encouraging unsafe sex, sharing and spreading STIs or do you think it’s important that people are being encouraged to share their experiences with others?

From the websites I have seen they all seem responsible for promoting safe sex and encouraging people to take responsibility for their sexual health by promoting the use of condoms. These sites shouldn’t be seen as sharing STIs or, for the very small minority, getting some sort of sexual thrill from the risk of potentially contracting an STI. Instead we should view them positively, as a place which provides the opportunity, particularly those with currently incurable STIs like HIV, to re-enter the dating scene in a safe environment where taboos are broken down and conversations can be normal, like any first date interaction, from the very beginning.

Do the websites trivialise having an STI?

What we need to be careful of is ‘passing the buck’ and saying that websites like this, or dating apps, are to blame for increases in STI contraction because they are so open about the sexually transmitted infections they are focusing on; removing responsibility from those actually having the sex. Every person should take responsibility for their own sexual health; knowing that it is always necessary to use condoms as other STI’s can be contracted through unprotected sex and, statistically, people with an STI are more likely to contract HIV  http://www.cdc.gov/std/hiv/stdfact-std-hiv.htm

Dating websites, in general and not just those for individuals with STIs, need to have more information about STI’s and raise awareness about the risk of having unprotected sex. Or signpost people to websites and organisations which provide this sort of information, such as lasttaboo.co.uk. Mental wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing and so the ramifications of casual sex need to be highlighted. We need to raise awareness and encourage more people to thinking about condoms long before actually having sex, so the decision to practice safe sex will already be made before getting to ‘the point of no return’ meaning condoms will be ready and available (that applies to you too girls!)

If someone thinks they have an STI what should they do?

If you think you have an STI, the most important thing is to get tested so you can get treated. This protects your own health and stops you passing the infection on to anyone else. The sooner treatment starts, the better the outcomes. You can get tested at any local sexual health clinic, some GP surgeries also offer testing services or alternatively if you can’t get to a clinic there are many self tests available now – but make sure they are CE marked so you know your result is accurate.