Dating apps are fuelling rampant rates of sexual promiscuity, according to a leading Brisbane sexual health doctor who "quite frequently" treats patients who have sex with up to 10 people a day.
Dr Wendell Rosevear, a long-time sexual health campaigner, told news.com.au people have seized on internet dating, and dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr, to have frequent, often anonymous encounters.
He said the behaviour is borne, ironically, from increasing social isolation.
Far from the obvious assumption that people having sex with multiple partners each day were sex workers, Dr Rosevear said most were "regular" men and women, who are isolated at home and use the internet to arrange multiple sexual encounters to fill the void of intimacy that their lack of social interactions created.
"In the past, people would often get a sense of belonging and community with social venues, such as nightclubs, but now some of those clubs are dying because people are becoming more reliant on social media and app connection," he said.
"In that dynamic, people are actually losing the skills to have a communication conversation.
"They are desperately wanting short, anonymous connection to alleviate that need to have a sense of belonging.
"While anonymous sex is nothing new, prior to the invention of the internet, people had to go out looking for it. Now, it can come to their home.
"There's always been clubs and beats, but now the internet makes it quicker, more instant and more accessible to the broader population," he said.
"So, some people find themselves addicted to quick or anonymous sex and the internet fans that.
"The internet can be a diversion from addressing the needs satisfied by long-term relationships.
"Desperately lonely compartmentalised lives can push people into thinking they are only attractive if they are beautiful and the internet can foster that image.
In addition to the physical health scourge being fuelled by the easily accessible and often anonymous sex the internet and dating apps provide, Dr Rosevear said the impacts are being felt just as acutely at a societal level.
"It is genuinely concerning. I run an alcohol and drug recovery group, so I am very acutely aware of the need for people to feel valued and loved," he said.
"Love is the one value people need to nurture.
"I think it could impact peoples' freedom or capacity to have sustainable, loving relationships long-term.
"It's also a way of avoiding the vulnerability of intimacy."
Dr Rosevear made the startling revelations in an ABC interview about the skyrocketing rates of sexually transmitted infections in Queensland.
Gonorrhoea rates went up 31 per cent in the Sunshine State last year, chlamydia has climbed 48 per cent in four years and syphilis has jumped 70 per cent in the past four years.
With advances in HIV treatments making chances of transmission of the disease so low, Dr Rosevear said the gay community in particular had, once again, developed an increasing predilection for condom-free sex.
However, he said that was equally true for the heterosexual community, and in both, a large number of STIs were also being transmitted orally, which, many people regard as a low-risk behaviour for disease transmission.
"People can be quite lonely, a lot of gay people fear they will end up old and alone, but equally, the internet does allow people to connect who may not otherwise meet."
Dr Rosevear said he met his own partner through an internet dating site and that many others are also doing so, both via dating sites and also through apps, which can often be dismissed as simply facilitators of hook-ups.
However, he said another danger electronic dating posed was that some people are receiving the validation they need through the medium, and thus did not need to seek it in person.
"I have patients who spend their whole lives through internet socialisation but can't meet face-to-face with friends on the internet," he said.
"Some patients have only internet lives, they even have sex only over the internet.
"Mostly, it's because the notion meeting in real life means you might get rejected or their dream might get smashed."
Hundreds of matches, but no meetings
Last month, ABC youth program Hack examined that exact phenomenon, discovering that many men and women matched with hundreds of people on Tinder but confined their interactions to the digital, without meeting in person.
Aly, a 26-year-old from Melbourne, told the program she chats to some of her 250 current matches, but she had only ever met one of them.
"I'm a heavy user," she told news.com.au. "It can satisfy an emotional need.
"I might be on the couch feeling daggy and not really feeling good about myself. Then someone says, you're looking good today."
Occasionally, she'll meet her matches, but often she'll flake on the real-life date - mainly because of her own insecurities, she says.
She's scared she won't live up to the person they've imagined after meeting online, as had happened to her in the past.
"I've seen a guy physically lose interest in me, the spark go out of his eyes. That hurts. It puts you off to a degree," she said.
She said she finds it easier to talk to men through the app than in real life, where her image is less carefully controlled.
Dr Rosevear said it was that fear that also fuelled people engaging multiple partners for sex.
They have their sexual needs met without having to make themselves emotionally vulnerable.
"People who may not feel accepted or feel they could be vulnerable might use the
attention as a substitute," he said.
"People are pushed into seeking validation from as many sexual partners as they can."
He said where it often gets dangerous is that most of the time, the sex goes hand-in-hand with drug or alcohol addiction.
"They have disinhibited sex under the influence of ice or marijuana or alcohol, so they live in a world of no consequences," he said.
"That recipe of using attention as a substitute for acceptance means they get tunnel vision of only seeing the immediate gratification.
"The simple equation is people who feel valued take care and people who don't feel valuable take risk."
Dr Rosevear said though he was often criticised for speaking out, this was a conversation we needed to have as a society, to help people re-engage with each other socially and emotionally.
"It's becoming more and more frequent and I am not actually talking about it to be judgemental," he said.
"Our society needs to have this conversation to communicate and be with each other. It's very human."