Picture this: you’re walking down the street, a gorgeous person catches your eye, and – on the spur of the moment – you decide to make a move. First, you make eye contact, you get nearer and nearer as the suspense and adrenaline build up in your system: will they stop, or won’t they? To your surprise, they do. Seems like you caught their eye as well, but wait– there’s a plot twist. They don’t ask you for your phone number, they don’t ask you to add them on Facebook. Instead, they ask to trade STI histories with you. How you might ask? People don’t just walk around carrying a list of everyone they’ve slept with. Like everything else in this fast-paced, technology-driven world, when it comes to sharing sexual history, there’s an app for that.
MedXCom Patient is a physician-created smartphone application that allows for the storage of all your personal, doctor-certified medical records, right on your mobile device. A specific feature of this app, MedXSafe, allows users who have previously installed this app on their phone to “bump” devices and exchange each other’s STI status. The founders claim that “This physician-created, free app is helping college students, responsible adults, and divorced singles learn if the person they meet is free of sexually transmitted diseases.” It also allows for the exchange of more mundane information, such as email addresses and telephone numbers.
When you download the app, you are asked to build a profile — your name, date of birth, numbers — before building a health profile. What’s your blood pressure? Are you a smoker? Do you have any allergies? Have you ever had surgery? After you are done, you are asked to add a “Health Team”, where you authorize a doctor or clinic to view and update your health profile. Just like that, all your medical records, whether STI related or not, can be stored on this one app, with the help of your physician. It also reminds you when to take your medication.
Granted, the MedXSafe feature of this app would facilitate a smooth flow of medical information between two consenting individuals who decide to engage in something more intimate together. Maybe it is easier than recounting all your past encounters with people and sharing their histories in turn. It has all the attributes of the 21st century: time efficience, cheap, fast information.
In a world where most, if not all, of our personal information, is no longer private, can we expect any less? Users can always refuse to bump phones, and what happens then? Do the lines of communication between people instantly break on the basis of a lack of mutual trust? If two mutually consenting people decide to bump phones, and one of them turns out to have an history of STIs, what would be the reaction then? There is nothing stopping the second party from spreading news about this person’s records to everyone in their immediate circle, effectively marginalizing the person with an STI positive history.
Michael Cody Clarke, a McGill Health Services employee at the Shag Shop, recommends conversation if a person’s STI medical history is extensive. “A lot of couples,” he says, “live with herpes, a common STI, and it doesn’t affect their lives nearly as much as they think it would.” It’s up to the couple: they can either let their STI histories get in between them – and be the elephant in the room that no one talks about – or learn to live with it and help each other. As Clarke put it, knowledge is power. “You can either share just your symptoms or just the STIs that you have, depending on whether you are being more promiscuous. Just let people know what they’re getting themselves into.”
Nonetheless, he admits that this shared information can get out of hand, “just like any tool, [the app] can be misused.” So, would he recommend McGill students download this app onto their smartphones? “I recommend for them to download the app and at least learn about it, and they can make their own choices concerning it. For some it might be worthwhile, for others it might not.”