Australia has experienced high growth in internet usage and online dating (OD) in recent years. OD is used for seeking romantic and sexual partners. Australia has also recently experienced increases in the incidence and prevalence of some sexually transmissible infections (STIs). Risk factors for STIs are related to sexual behaviour patterns. As such, understanding sexual behaviours, including those resulting from online dating, is of relevance to public health. Risk is a feature of modern society and the concept of risk relates to hazards that are assessed in relation to future possibilities and consequences.
This project examines the behaviours and experiences of people who use OD, and how they may or may not address risk in their use of online dating. Using a qualitative approach, fifteen people who use OD were interviewed online.
The findings reveal that online daters use a variety of methods for managing and understanding the risks they perceive to be associated with OD. Online daters compare the risks of online dating with other activities in their lives to justify their use of the medium. Many feel self-confident in their personal ability to manage and limit risks they might encounter. For some, the ability to be able to scape-goat risk (i.e. to blame others) is a method by which they can contextualise their own experiences and support their risk strategies. For many, the control offered by the online environment is central to risk management. Additionally, the social context in which an individual encounters a potential risk will shape how they perceive and experience the risk.
Online daters do consider the risks involved and they demonstrate personal autonomy in their risk management. From a public health perspective, it is important to understand how individuals experience risk, but it is imperative that interventions are implemented at a population level.