Building Healthy Online Communities (BHOC) is a consortium of public health leaders and gay dating website and app owners who are working together to support HIV and STI prevention online.
Dan Wohlfeiler and Jen Hecht, who together have more than 50 years of combined experience in HIV and STD prevention, co-founded BHOC in 2014. Jen Hecht is the director of BHOC.
Dan and Jen have built strong relationships with app and website owners and have found many opportunities for collaboration. These include developing profile options that allow users to make informed choices about their partners; coordinating development and placement of public health messaging about STD and HIV prevention and treatment; developing a free home HIV and STD test platform; an anti-stigma program; and an online, comprehensive, medically-accurate and easily understandable sexual health guide. We also developed initiatives to allow users to notify their partners that they may have been exposed to an STD.
After conducting research to determine which online prevention strategies had the support of app and site owners, users, and STD and HIV program directors, BHOC convened a groundbreaking meeting between the app owners and public health leaders in September 2014. Owners were eager to collaborate to promote testing, provide accurate information, reduce stigma, and implement the most effective interventions to reduce the impact of HIV and STDs. They also told public health leaders they wanted guidance on how to best promote gay men’s health. We have been working with them to accomplish these goals and more.
Our public health partners include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NASTAD (the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors), National Coalition of STD Directors, National Coalition for Sexual Health, AIDS United, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Youth:Tech:Health, as well as researchers at Yale, University of Washington, and Emory University.
We have built strong collaborations with a number of apps and sites, including Adam4Adam, BarebackRT, Daddyhunt, Dudesnude, Grindr, Growlr, Jack’d, Manhunt, Scruff, and Poz Personals, and Tinder.
- Ongoing consultation with major app owners to support the health of their users including designing profiles, testing reminders, and messaging content
- Developing Takemehome.org, an HIV/STD testing home platform, promoted by apps
- Launching BHOCpartners.org, providing comprehensive sexual health information in a simple cut-and-paste format; best practices for app owners in how to create healthy, stigma-free environments for their users; links to existing advertising campaigns; a literature review of important articles about online prevention; news updates, and much more
- Ongoing testing and placement of messaging to promote testing, PrEP, condom use, and HIV treatment
- Promoting our award-winning web series and public service announcements, co-produced with Daddyhunt, which have already been seen more than nine million times
- Creation, curation, and editing of blog content (here’s an example)
- Training health departments on best practices in preventing HIV and STDs online, in collaboration with the National Technology Services Workgroup
- Pioneering research with the University of Washington and the American Men’s Internet Survey to assess app users’ preferences about how best to support notifying their partners that they may have been exposed to an STD
- Researching norm-setting strategies to reduce stigma online with Yale University, and developing NiceAF.org, a stigma-reduction project with the first-ever cross-industry collaboration of ten apps and sites
- Creating an inventory of apps’ sexual health features, policies, and contact information
- Creating Tellyourpartner.org, allowing users to inform their partners that they may have been exposed to an STD, and tellyourcontacts.org, allowing individuals to inform their partners that they may have been exposed to COVID-19 (now run by NCSD).
BHOC thanks The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, Gilead Sciences, Inc., and Google for their support of this work.
Meet the Team
Jennifer Hecht, MPH
Jen has 20 years of experience in the field of sexual health and substance use, having worked in syringe access, HIV prevention outreach, and community health clinics. Her work includes program development, evaluation, and community-based research. She has been co-PI and co-Investigator for research projects regarding structural interventions in bars and online and is co-founder and director of Building Healthy Online Communities. She also works at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation where she leads program strategy and evaluation.
Dan Wohlfeiler, MJ, MPH
Dan has worked in HIV and STD prevention since 1987. He has focused much of his career on developing structural interventions and policies to reduce HIV and STD prevention and to create healthy environments, particularly those that affect sexual networks and disparities. He recently retired as the Chief of the Office of Public/Private Partnerships in California’s STD Control Branch, where he worked for 20 years. From 1990 to 1998, Dan directed the programs at the STOP AIDS Project in San Francisco. He has also worked in the Global Programme on AIDS at the World Health Organization, and the AIDS Prevention Program of Catalonia. Dan, a former journalist and documentary filmmaker, holds master’s degrees in public health and journalism from the University of California at Berkeley.
Emmett has worked in community, national, and international health justice for 10 years. He is the former Global Health Projects Manager of Grindr for Equality, where he oversaw projects in Latin America, North Africa, and Eastern Europe, including HIV home testing programs, research on trans and non-binary health priorities, and responding to COVID-19. He got his start in HIV and harm reduction work as a capacity building specialist at AIDS United and doing harm reduction work for queer and trans people in his hometown in Southwestern Pennsylvania. His writing is featured in two anthologies on queer health, The Advocate, and in his regular contributions as a journalist for TheBody.com/TheBodyPro.com. Emmett studied Public Health and Gender & Sexuality Studies at American University. He has a graduate certificate in LGBT Health Policy and Practice from the George Washington University.
Publications and Meeting Reports
- Gay Dating App Users Support and Utilize Sexual Health Features on Apps, AIDS and Behavior, January 2022
- Increasing Access to HIV Testing Through Direct-to-Consumer HIV Self-Test Distribution — United States, March 31, 2020–March 30, 2021, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), September 2021
- NiceAF 2021 Results, Building Healthy Online Communities, 2021
- “Dating apps pose a unique opportunity to promote sexual health information and services,” STD Prevention Conference 2020
- “Detailed Profile Options on Dating Apps Increase Awareness about Sexual Health,” Poster session, International AIDS Conference, July 2020
- Rapid Uptake of Home-Based HIV Self-testing during Social Distancing for SARS-CoV2 Infection in Oregon, AIDS and Behavior, June 2020
- Acceptability of Using Geosocial Networking Applications for HIV/STD Partner Notification and Sexual Health Services. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, October 2019
- Attitudes About the Use of Geosocial Networking Applications for HIV/STD Partner Notification: A Qualitative Study, AIDS Education and Prevention, March 2019
Here is a report on the September, 2014 meeting between site and app owners and HIV/STD prevention leaders. For more information on the formative research survey used to guide prevention efforts online, please see the resources linked below:
- How Can We Improve Online HIV and STD Prevention for Men Who Have Sex with Men? Perspectives of Hook-Up Website Owners, Website Users, and HIV/STD Directors, Article in AIDS and Behavior, 2013
- How can we improve HIV and STD Prevention Online for MSM? Assessing the Preferences of Website Owners, Website Users, and HIV/STD Directors, 2011 Report
Building Healthy Online Communities held a meeting with STD/HIV program directors, HIV community-based organizations, and CDC representatives on Dec. 9, 2015 to discuss next steps in prioritizing interventions and research for prevention on dating sites and apps. Here is a report of the December 2015 meeting.
Bhocpartners.org was designed by Annabel Mangold. A special thanks to Michael Marcel, Susannah Champlin, Stephen Hicks, Lindsay O’Keefe and Emily Newman for all of their help in writing and editing. We’d also like to thank the hundreds of colleagues working in dating sites and apps, as well as in HIV and STD prevention, for providing their content and expertise.
BHOC thanks The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, Gilead Sciences, Inc., and Google for their support of this work.
BHOC in the News
Dating app users are disclosing STI and vaccine status for safer encounters and queer apps are leading the way
(The Conversation, 12/15/21)
Dating apps for gay men join forces to fight online insults and abuse
(San Francisco Chronicle, 12/9/21)
“No Fats, No Femmes, Clean Only”: Fighting Stigmatizing Language on Hookup Apps
(San Francisco AIDS Foundation, 11/3/21)
HIV Self-Tests Boost Testing Among MSM
Queer dating app users want less toxicity
(The Bay Area Reporter, 10/6/21)
TakeMeHome Ushers in a New Era of HIV Self-testing
Five Ways Gay Dating Apps can Reduce Stigma and Racism
(POZ Magazine, 9/8/21)
Covid-fueled boom in at-home tests may next extend to STDs
Insignia and Partners Support CDC Demonstration Project for Uptake of Self-test Kits for HIV
Once On The Brink Of Eradication, Syphilis Is Raging Again
Get Tested for HIV and STIs at Home, for Free
What STDs Can Tell Us About How To Fight Covid
LGBTQ Dating Community Launches NiceAF Campaign
(Global Dating Insights, 06/19/20)
Queer Dating Apps Come Together for Fighting Online Stigma in NiceAF Campaign
HIV patients left vulnerable amid pandemic, experts say
How some — but not all — dating apps are taking on the STD epidemic
Interview with BHOC Director Dan Wohlfeiler
(Online Personals Watch, 10/29/19)
5 reasons why 3 STDs are roaring back in America
Heterosexual Men Are Using Grindr to Meet Trans Women
Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Does the surge in cases spell a crisis?
(CQ Researcher, 2/22/19)
You Up? This Public-Health Partner to Hookup Apps Sure Hopes So
Grindr, other dating apps are working to add STD notification features
An Update from BHOC
(National Coalition of STD Directors, 4/20/18)
Grindr Aims to Help Improve HIV Testing Rates
(Contagion Live, 4/2/18)
Can Grindr Notifications Improve HIV Testing Rates?
(MD Magazine, 3/28/18)
Grindr Now Offers Reminders For Users To Get Regular HIV Tests
(Huffington Post, 3/27/18)
Syphilis rates are on the rise, and dating apps may be playing a role, experts say
(USA Today, 7/11/17)
Daddyhunt: The Serial: Hot Men Talking Sex, Romance, and HIV
Daddyhunt: The Serial Returns for Second Season with a Focus on PrEP
Grindr, largest gay hookup app, adds fields for HIV status, undetectable, and PrEP use
(Minus Virus, 11/10/16)
For Gay Men Seeking HIV Info, Hookup Apps Are Good for More Than Dates
Are Hookup Apps Fueling A Spike In Sexually Transmitted Diseases?
(Huffington Post, 2/2/16)
Gay Dating Website & App Owners Join the Fight Against HIV
About This Site
Are you the owner or manager of an online dating app or website? Are you interested in promoting gay men’s health? Then this site is for you.
(If you are in public health or a researcher interested in HIV and STD prevention for gay men, then scroll down to see what this site can do for you).
Dating apps and websites provide an easy, fun, and efficient way for gay, bi, and trans men to meet. They also create a unique, effective opportunity to reach a community disproportionately affected by HIV and STDs.
What owners have repeatedly said to BHOC is that they want to help. They want to promote testing, provide their users with clear, accurate information, and be able to learn about and implement the most effective online prevention strategies.
We built this website to address those needs, and to provide a central, go-to source for information and resources to help you promote the health of your users.
This website will help you to effectively, efficiently, and at the lowest cost possible, take a more active role in transforming the way we approach sex ed and promote gay, bi and trans men’s health. Implementing strategies for your users to share personal sexual health preferences with each other, getting information into the hands of your users, and building a supportive and friendly online community will create a better user experience and keep your users healthy.
So what exactly will you find here?
In the “Making Your Site Healthier and Kinder” section we provide easy-to-follow ideas for how to integrate key features into your site that make it a kinder, healthier, and more supportive environment for your users. This means allowing users to share sexual health and preference information with each other more easily, and creating an online experience that combats stigma and is safe for everyone. “Making Your Site Healthier” includes information on:
- Creating profile options that support users in sharing sexual health and preference information
- Sharing anti-stigma efforts used by some dating apps and websites
- Sharing ad campaigns that promote HIV testing, treatment, and fight stigma
- Articles about dating and hook-up sites
- LGBTQ and health awareness days you may be interested in knowing about
In the “Sexual Health Info” section you will find sex-ed content you can share with gay, bi, and trans men on your dating app or website. This information has been written in such a way to make it easy for you to drag-and-drop specific content into your app/website. However, the way this information makes it to your users is up to you. You may find it more suitable to link directly to our website, or to other online resources we have provided within the site. This content can also be customized to fit the language you use on your app or can be translated into an article for your website’s health blog. We value your feedback in making this information the most useful for your users. “Give Users Good Info” includes:
- Sex-positive content, videos, tutorials, and links to other online resources for health information tailored to gay, bi and trans men’s needs
- The latest and most accurate information on sex, HIV/STDs, condoms & lube, PrEP, Treatment as Prevention, PEP, mental health and drugs, and testing
- HIV and STD testing reminder services
In the “Help Users Notify Partners” section you will find information on how you can make it easy for users to let their partners know that they may need to get tested based on a recent exposure to an STD. There are several different ways to do that. Some gay men like to do it themselves; others have found it easier to ask a health department or community clinic professional to do it for them. Partner notification is a well-honed, confidential way to make sure that users who are most at risk for STDs get offered the opportunity to get tested and treated. “Help Notifying Partners” includes:
- An explanation of partner notification
- The evidence behind the effectiveness of internet partner services
- Resources including links and language for how to describe it to your users
If there’s something you don’t see here – and you want it – please contact us. Thank you for your ongoing leadership and support in gay men’s health.
Are you in public health or a researcher interested in HIV and STD prevention for gay men in dating apps and sites? Then this site is also for you.
If you’re here, you already know that dating sites and apps can play an important role in preventing HIV and STDs. They can help educate millions of users about how to take care of themselves. They can help users make informed choices about their sexual health, and to communicate effectively with their partners. This site is aimed at helping all of us – public health, researchers, and site and app owners – support those efforts as effectively and efficiently as possible.
In this site, you’ll find state-of-the art – and scientific – information on how to promote gay men’s health online. We’ve included information on how to buy ads online, examples of ad campaigns and contact information if you want to borrow them, and comprehensive sex ed information. We’ll also be supporting health departments and community organizations’ efforts to get alerts out to users when there’s an urgent outbreak.
If there’s something you don’t see here – and you want it – please contact us. Thank you for all you do and your commitment to gay men’s health.
This site was designed by Annabel Mangold. A special thanks to Michael Marcel, Susannah Champlin, Stephen Hicks, Lindsay O’Keefe and Emily Newman for all of their help in writing and editing. We’d also like to thank the hundreds of colleagues working in dating sites and apps, as well as in HIV and STD prevention, for providing their content and expertise.