Asia’s HIV rates and mobile applications

The newest UN report produces frightening statistics regarding the surge of gay Asian men using mobile dating applications could hinder the global HIV goal. The correlation between apps and promiscuity is established, with the UN spokesperson pointing out that due to the prevalence of young gay Asian men using these apps for sexual gratification, their risk of contracting HIV has increased by the sheer number of sexual partners that they can find on these apps. In other words, these apps almost become the sole perpetrator of spreading the epidemic.
I will have to admit, that the technological affordances offer by these apps do enable the possibilities for their users to connect with more people, and it is definitely way easier to seek out sexual gratification through these apps; but there lies a crucial instance where researchers will have to ask: do people always ended up having sex? They have forgotten that a process of negotiation happens when people are soliciting sex; most people ended up being rejected in this process. Hence wanting to have sex does not always immediately result in it happening instantaneously.
New technology and the moral panic that come along with it are nothing new. For instance, the fear of television corrupting the young minds; the fear of the Internet provided too much unregulated freedom and the list goes on for a while. These panics are mostly due to the fact that we don’t take into the social and cultural aspects of technologies that shape the ways in which we use them. Technology is mostly a tool to convey the way of how we live. They themselves are not the root of evil at all. The users themselves are responsible for how the apps are being utilised. Technology, in this instance, becomes the scapegoat of blame attribution, when the focus should be on the incompetence of most Asian governments when it comes to acknowledging LGBT basic human rights.
Technology aside, a lot of research has been published on the uses and gratification aspect of these mobile apps. Most of them are focused on western users and their reasons of using these apps, but these research cannot be, and should not be treated conclusively as to why Asian gay men use these apps. The cultural differences and attitudes towards LGBT people and the knowledge towards same sex intimacy have to be taken into account as well. Being gay in most Asian countries mostly implies being invisible in order to stay safe. This is due to the condemnation of homosexual identities by the government’s policies and the family’s negative attitude towards gay individuals. Simply put, when being gay is punishable by the very law that is suppose to protect our interest and rights, apps in this instance provided a powerful channel for gay Asian men instead to communicate with each other under the government’s and the family’s radar.
The lack of governmental support and acknowledgement also leads to the absence of knowledge and awareness in this relevant area. Safe sex campaign is rarely featured, not just because of the continuous denial of LGBT individuals’ rights, but sex in itself is seen as a taboo in most Asian countries, which is commonly associated with guilt, shame and dirtiness. If the government can’t even address sexual aspects of the heteronormative sexual practices, how are we going to expect them to tackle sexual issues that are currently plaguing the LGBT community?
The focus on mobile applications as the sole reason for HIV rates to spike in Asian countries is a skewed one. These apps in a roundabout way, actually provides more educational opportunities than ever in comparison to the governments’ effort (or lack of). I am not suggesting that these apps are all angelic and educational to the point that will raise a ton of awareness (after all, they are commercial entities that seek profit more than anything else), but they at least have provided a forum for gay Asian men to meet others. This in itself has done more than what the state could have possibly done. We have to bear in mind that gay online spaces like such are a ‘renewed’ format of the act of cruising. The likelihood of gay men in Asia getting caught while cruising the public area is high and undoubtedly risky. Mobile applications can actually reduce this particular risk by allowing their members to identify others, without having to expose themselves to unwanted attentions and risks. In comparison to most governmental actions and unjust legal parameters that jeopardise gay asian men’s personal safety, I suggest that these applications do more than the official discourse does.
This is not a debate on whether mobile applications are extremely beneficial or spectacularly bad; it is about pointing out the flawed and oversimplified logic of mobile applications equals to promiscuity and therefore increasing HIV rates. Social and cultural climates in these Asian countries have to be taken into consideration when making a prima facie claim like such that often ignores the premises of power and marginalised communities. These are the individuals that are not given a voice to speak out about their positions, and research like this will only silence their voice further, without even considering their reasons of why they use these apps in the first place.
In order to tackle the issue of HIV and sexual behaviour more effectively, I would suggest that the understanding of cultural attitude towards sex and homosexual identity is crucial. It is often easier to just reduce people into numbers and statistics; but these numbers become redundant when the actual root of the problem itself is not being addressed adequately. The power of the state in oppressing marginalised community like the LGBT which causes them to burrow underground needs to be examined appropriately in order to unveil why unsafe sexual practices are practiced in the first place. Behavioural studies might be the next best step, but a wider cultural study on the culture and the power structure of the states in relation to sex and intimacy will warrant a more comprehensive perspective on controlling HIV rates in Asian countries.
© 2015 Joe Xie Quin Lim

Is your friend interested in meeting an Asian man for a date?

Somehow I think this is pertinent to some areas of my PhD research, albeit it is still a half-formed idea in my brain. This particular post has a little background story on it:

When I had a conversation with my friend the other day, we talked about relationship in general and the difficulties of gay men who are non-scene oriented to meet their potential partners offline. Out of a sudden, my kind and helpful friend mentioned that he has a friend who is single and interested to meet up for a date. I asked for a few details of his friend, and then I caught myself asking this question: “is your friend interested in meeting an Asian gay man for a date?”

He was rather bedazzled by that question of mine. He wasn’t sure why I was asking that. And I elaborated it further to him: “some people have a particular ethnic preference when it comes to who they date.” He nodded, and then the conversation sort of faded away, with both of us realized that ethnic discourse somewhat became a reality in modern dating practices. Moreover, I think the term ‘preference’ is highly contested and loaded.

In relation to that (however remote it could be), this conversation makes me realized about the impact that these gay hook-up/ dating mobile applications can have in my offline environment. Since when I start to question whether my ethnicity is desirable or problematic to others? I try very hard to recall my days back home in Malaysia, thinking about the ways in which I used to date. I do not remember ethnicity being a factor that I have to be wary about. And if that conversation that I had with my friend happened in Malaysia, I am pretty sure I will not be asking the same question at all. Perhaps I will be saying yes and go on a date  instead of being worried about my ethnicity.

However generalized and assumptious this might sounds like, I do think that the these mobile applications(being one of the most widely use methods for gay men to look for another) play a significant part in constructing my perception of the dating scene in relation to my own ethnicity. These apps make me aware of my own ethnic identity; they make me think about my ethnic identity in a conscious way that I would have otherwise ignored in my daily life. The interface of these apps put my ethnicity into categories that I can select and make it visible to others.

As our mundane daily life is intertwined with technology, we are made aware of these online environments could indeed, impact on our offline settings in an unprecedented scale. Tudor (2012) argues that mobile application like Grindr blurs the distinction between online and offline, and it has the fascinating capacity to queer our offline space. To queer in this sense, is not as simple as just turning a space into a designated queer space; it is to queer the identity between online and offline. It confuses you between your online and offline identity, and issues that are normally ignored in our routinised daily life are now being brought onto the surface. Additionally, to queer in this notion also implies that ethnicity is being queered and questioned; do we all fit into these cookie-cutter ethnicity selections? What does it mean to possess a certain ethnic identity in relation to online dating? I have more questions now than answers.


Tudor, M. (2012). Cyberqueer Techno-practices: Digital Space-Making and Networking among Swedish gay men. Retrieved from
© 2015 Joe Xie Quin Lim

A Brief Note on Location-Specific Cybersubculture

The intriguing aspect of studying geo-location enabled mobile applications is how the users’ experience will change depending on the location that they are in. Additionally, subculture within these applications changes from location to location. Of course, there will always be similarities in these apps universally (such as the critical functions of sexual gratifications and meeting potential romantic interests), but the differences are far too striking to be ignored.

Gay hook-up/dating mobile applications, such as Grindr and Jack’D, tend to cater to different subcultures and audience within the gay community. For instance, Grindr in New Zealand  is seen as the prominent ‘cybercottage’ for the purpose of sex-cruising, whereas Jack’D is seen as a social networking platform with less focus on hook-up. This preliminary suggestion/assumption is based on my initial observation on both of these applications.  Grindr has significantly more users with topless pictures of themselves, and Jack’D in comparison, has more users with pictures of their face on their profiles instead of topless/naked pictures of themselves. However, as pointed out by Zhou (n.d.) in his recent study of cyberqueer techno-practice in China, Jack’D has a totally different audience base in China, in which its users are seeking for sexual gratifications rather than social networking on it. This is completely different in comparison to the cyber-subculture of Jack’D in New Zealand.

This leads back to my earlier point on how the users’ experience, the subcultures within these applications is very location specific and oriented. The geo-location technology that comes with these mobile applications, or commonly known as GPS, transmits location-specific data that are meaningful to its users. It makes these data relevant to its users, allowing them access to information that is  pertinent to their geographical location and context. In relation to gay hook-up/dating mobile applications, the location specific information translates into particular cyber-subcultures that reflects local expectations and social codes. In other words, the ways in which people might use Grindr here in New Zealand might differ from how people in Los Angeles use it.The purpose and the orientation of these mobile applications differ accordingly, and the users have to be able to socialise into these positions and expectations before they could expect any positive results from these applications. For instance, the possibilities of someone successfully establishing a meaningful relationship with others on Grindr is lower than on Jack’D in New Zealand. This is of course, a rather simplistic and deterministic claim, as the possibilities are also depending on a lot of other factors, such as ethnicity, age, and physical appeals. The difference lies within the fact that these applications are labelled with certain social codes that attract different audience, and for some people, they might choose to use certain applications because it has a certain reputation that fits into their expectations of what type of interactions and crowds they will get from it.

My impression (which derives from my own experience of using these mobile applications)is that they have different crowds and types of interactions on these different platforms. For instance, if I am looking for a casual hook-up, I would consider Grindr instead of Jack’D. There are definitely overlaps in terms of the types of interaction, and it is not mutually exclusive. This means that there are still some people looking for casual hook-up on Jack’D, but the overall interactions on Jack’D is still very much social networking-oriented. As for Grindr, there are users that might be looking for a meaningful relationship or looking to establish their social network, but the general impression and environment is very focused on sexual hook-up due to their interface designs (which I will elaborate further in another post).

On this note, the cyber-subculture within these mobile applications differs from location to location. These applications not only are grounded by its physical location, it is also being localised and have its functions reinvented by its users within a specific location.



Zhou, T. (n.d.). Techno-practice and Offline Gay Male Experience in Contemporary China. Retrieved from


© 2015 Joe Xie Quin Lim