Online hookups are nerve-racking in myriad ways. Will your date look like their picture? Will they ruin everything by using the expression "awesome sauce"? What does it mean that the mutual friend you share on Hinge is a psychopath? What if they have an STD?
While this last concern comes with the territory of casual sex, one start-up hopes to change that.
Mately, a subscription-based STD testing service that launched a campaign on Indiegogo yesterday, believes online daters are concerned enough about STDs to pay a premium for monthly testing and the ability to share their results online with the babes they're trying to bone.
Whereas a pseudo-casual query—"what are your feelings on STDs, specifically whether you have them?"—is currently the only way to determine whether an unprotected sex session might end in an STD, Mately founder Brandon Greenberg thinks we'd rather see the hard data before we dive in.
"Right now, when two people talk to each other and one of them asks, 'So have you been tested recently?' the conversation can't really can't go anywhere—even if the answer is yes, does that person have the results to show for it?" Greenberg told Broadly. "Our mission is to make STD disclosure and the testing process a normal, low-stress part of the dating routine."
For $30 a month, Mately members will receive tests for a wide spectrum of STDs—including gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis A, B and C, herpes, syphilis, and an early HIV detection test—every 30 days. They'll then send the kits to be processed in a company-owned testing facility Mately hopes to build in Texas.
Once the results are in, members will be provided with a link they can use to share their STD test results online with the anonymous stranger of their choice.
This might sound like a privacy nightmare, but Greenberg assures me that the website hosting the STD results will be both secure and un-searchable—users will be assigned codes, not names, and they'll only be able to swap profiles with other users. Those outside the network will have a limited time to view someone else's profile. If you end a relationship, or realize someone is a creep, you can always turn off their access to your profile.
While the potential for online shaming is high, Greenberg seems aware he's opening a Pandora's box. He told me the company is open to modifying the way it displays information and adding additional privacy features if users want them.
The service has also taken extra steps to weed out any potential fakers. To ensure it's really your blood and piss that you're sending through the mail, Mately will match the DNA in your monthly sample to a DNA swab test you must undergo when you first join.
Like the Twitter verification club, Mately membership is made visible with a badge members can display on their Tinder or Grindr profiles. (The marketing materials focus on gay men.) "The badge tells other users, 'I care about my sexual health,'" according to the narrator of one of Mately's disturbingly chirpy promotional videos.
The badge is also Mately's marketing strategy: The company plans on paying dating apps a small fee for every medallion a member displays on their platform. "Given that the dating app business model is based on a huge pool of users the apps don't get any money from, we don't think it'll be a hard sell, frankly," Greenberg said.
Greenberg, in fact, doesn't think any of this will be a hard sell. He sees the service charge as "comparable to what gay men spend money on already, like gym memberships and haircuts" (sure, but, you know, less fun). He also doesn't think PrEP—or pre-exposure prophylaxis, a daily pill that, when taken consistently, can reduce the risk of HIV infection by up to 92 percent—has "penetrated the gay community in a substantial enough way" to assume gay users are at any less of a risk of HIV than they were a few years ago. (Recent studies indicate that PreP is seeing an upswell in certain states, though far fewer than the estimated one in four gay and bisexual men who "should" be counseled about the pill today are actually on it). Greenberg also (rightfully) points out that there's been a big upswing in other sexually transmitted diseases (including drug-resistant gonorrhea), which makes a test like Mately's an attractive option for any worried singleton, regardless of orientation.
At first, Mately seemed to me like an app for gay men who wanted to serosort their Grindr hookups and avoid diseased partners. I thought Greenberg was trying to create a dating hierarchy, with "disease-free" people at the top. But after talking to him, it became clear that I was off base; Greenberg is interested in transparency for transparency's sake.
Though whether users are interested in that transparency is another matter—the obvious danger of this app is that it could become a one-way street. Sean D. Young, a researcher at UCLA who studies how (the right kind of) social media campaigns can lead to more HIV testing, believes Mately is unequivocally a good thing. "Getting people to share their results—whether by using apps or in-person discussions—is really important for reducing stigma," he said via email. "We've found that younger generations are much more willing to share health information, so I think we'll see a future where people share this information more publicly. The trick is to get people living with HIV on board with the idea so that they're comfortable sharing their results, too."