Tuesday, May 14, 2013

To Trust or Not to Trust? That Is the Question.

Andrey Popov via Shutterstock
The camera zooms in on a 20-something man who looks anxious.  He’s about to meet someone he met online and who he has identified as his dream girl.  She’s a model who found him on Facebook and he’s become attached to her.  He thinks there might be an opportunity to move closer to her and start a new life.  He says he’s both excited and nervous to finally meet his online love.

Next, we see him standing in his driveway as a woman steps out of a car.  She looks nothing like the photos on the model’s Facebook page and, in fact, it’s someone he knows from high school.  She’s been creating fake profiles online to establish relationships.  She’s a catfish and he’s confused.  He’s been betrayed and his hopes have just been crushed.
In the last year, both the success of the show “Catfish” and the Manti Te'o fake girlfriend hoax have elevated the discussion about just how far people will go to be dishonest in relationships.  While these are extreme examples of deception, they do pose valid questions for all of us.  What can you trust? And when? And what should we be asking people before we fall in love or fall into bed with them?
Recently, the BeforeWeDo team conducted a series of interviews with men and women about testing for sexually transmitted infections (STI’s).  Frequently, those surveyed told us they had not been tested or had not brought up the discussion about test results with partners because they “trusted” them.
And want to know what the impact of that “trust” is?  For at least one of our interviewees, it resulted in a sexually transmitted disease, a course of antibiotics, and the break up of an important relationship.
Understanding that people are engaging in risky behavior as a matter of what they call “trust,” generated a lot of questions for me.
Isn’t Trust the Foundation of a Relationship?
First, I started to wonder if it’s possible that people have misunderstood the rule that trust is the foundation of a relationship.  Obviously, it is true that trust is a critical component in our relationships with everything from people to the products we use.  However, to ensure we don’t misuse this idea, it might be worth looking more closely at this analogy.
When new structures are being built, the foundation cannot be poured until other preparation takes place first.  The land has to be tested and graded, and then some rudimentary systems need to be put in place.  Only after these steps are taken, can the foundation be poured.
So if we want to hold to the idea of trust as a foundation, it should be understood that questions and getting to know someone are simply the necessary first steps.
Trust or Blind Faith?
Next, I started to ask myself if people are labeling behavior correctly.
According to Dictionary.com, “trust” is “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc. of a person or thing; confidence.”  So, trust builds based on consistency between words and behavior.  We can rely on someone because he has shown that he does what he says he will do.  Characteristics of trust include a basis of knowledge and repetition that provide a sense of certainty.
Meanwhile, “blind faith” is defined by Dictionary.com as “belief without true understanding, perception, or discrimination.”  
The term “blind faith” seems to better fit a situation in which someone believes a partner is STI-free without having any reason to believe.  
Is This Just Excuse Making to Avoid Difficult Conversations?
Is the concept of trust simply being used as an excuse to avoid difficult conversations?  Rather than acknowledge that they are uncomfortable with testing and STI discussions, are people calling themselves trustworthy because they don’t want to refer to themselves as scared?
If this is the problem, it’s time to confront those fears because getting an STI is scarier than asking a question.  Imagine how you might have to adjust your sex life and the conversations you will have to have if you contract an incurable STI like genital herpes.  For more information on the complications that occur after getting an STI, check out this blog post that explains the problems:  “Ask Dr. Sherry: He Gave Me an STD and Now I Can’t Move On.”

Don’t Trustworthy People Get STI’s?

Every year millions of honest, trustworthy people contract STI’s and in many cases, they may not be aware that they are infected.  According to the CDC, more than 50% of sexually active adults will get human papillomavirus (HPV) and most will not be aware they have it because they do not have symptoms.  Meanwhile, strains of HPV can cause everything from genital warts to vaginal, anal, and penile cancer (among other types of cancers).  In the case of HPV, if a person has not received the vaccine against it, they can get infected even if using condoms.  And while HPV is the most widespread STI, it is estimated that more than 50 million Americans are infected with genital herpes.  As many as 90 percent of those infected may not be aware.    

Questions to ask?

So what are some of the questions that should be asked in order to make an educated decision about sexual health?  Below are a few to get you started:
·      When were you last tested for STI’s and what were the results?
·      Which tests have you taken?
·      Have you had other partners since you were last tested?
·      How often do you get tested?
·      Want to see my results?  (Results can be shared via services like Qpid.me).

If you need more help figuring out how to talk with potential partners, visit Tips and Scripts for Talking to Your Partners on SoTheyCanKnow.com.  You can also find suggestions in “The Hookup:  Let’s Talk about STD’s” on MTV’s It’s Your Sex Life site.
But Don’t You Trust Me?
For people who care about their sexual health, questions from you about STI’s and testing should not be upsetting and instead welcomed.  Conversely, be leary of people who do get upset when questioned because it can indicate they have something to hide or don’t have the emotional wherewithal for sexual involvement.  Below are a few responses in case a potential partner protests with the question “Don’t you trust me?”  
  • No, I’m just getting to know you and trust builds over time.
  • Yes, I trust you but there are 20 million new STI infections a year in the U.S. and I don’t know your past partners and their histories.
  • You may not be aware that you have an infection.  People are often carriers and able to transmit some STI’s without even knowing they are infected.
  • Because I trust what I know of you so far, I want to have sex with you.  And because I want to have sex with you, I need to ask questions about a topic we haven’t discussed yet.

You might also just decide to end things right there if asked “don’t you trust me?”  No one deserves to be manipulated or bullied into having sex without getting the facts straight about a potential partner’s STI status.  Writer La Truly explains how this becomes an issue of self-worth in her blog about a man who questioned her trust when she refused unprotected sex.
Questions for You
Our mission at BeforeWeDo.com is to eradicate STD’s and we are constantly seeking to understand better the dynamics of testing and having conversations about sexual health.  Please help us learn by sharing your answers to the below questions in the comments section.
  • Do you bring up the conversation about STI’s with potential partners?  
  • If not, what stops you from addressing it?  
  • Have you ever trusted a partner wasn’t infected only to learn later that he or she was?  What happened?


  1. Ah this is a very difficult topic. And I know also from personal experience that the better I know someone, the more I trust them and would be inclined not to have this conversation.

    I also had situations in the past where I felt that "trust" was more an excuse to not have this "when did you get tested last?" conversation. And this is especially important for diseases that have skin-based infection like Herpes and HPV - where condoms don't provide an effective protection. Actually, most blogs that I read online where people complain that their partner 'gave' them an STD was around Herpes - something where it is impossible to actually determine who gave it to who since the virus can be dormant for a long time and cause an outbreak later (e..g when the immune system is weakened).

    But yes, Sheree, I totally agree - having the conversation is certainly a must and in my opinion also a sign of trust itself - you woldn't share your last results or previous cases of STIs (lets face it, most of us do have HPV and at least HSV1) if you didn't trust them.

    Thank you for writing this up!

  2. It is really hard to feel like you can "trust" your partner. Even if something inside you tells you NOT to...you want to believe it. I think we tend to want to avoid having the conversation and crack it up to "oh, its because i trust him/her." I just don't usually say anything because I'm afraid of being offensive...but now maybe next time i'll think twice.

  3. Wonderful blog post. That is the problem with online dating- how do you ever REALLY know who the person is? 20% of relationships are started online, leaving the rest to people that we meet at the bar, work, church, etc....

    Trust truly is the foundation of a relationship- this is why you should wait to date somebody until you 100% know who they are.

    Our new social app TrintMe solves this problem. It helps you take the next step with friends and friends of friends (the people you trust!). Not only that, but it allows you to do so without the risk of rejection. Check us out! www.trintme.com

  4. Great blog. We can all learn to have adult conversations. And it's good to realize that some STDs are extremely common (like herpes), so (1) we need to be careful and (2) it is easily treated and not the end of the world. There's a lot of stigma with STDs that keeps us from having important discussions.

  5. Uncurable STD stigmas need to be addressed. Herpes is demonized and causes people with to not talk about other STDs they could have or get from their partners.

    If the public was more educated that herpes can be handled with virtually no outbreaks without expensive medications with nasty side effects for the rest of their lives, there would be more dialogue about STDs.

    Unfortunately, people have to deal with rage fueled by lack of education. Herpes management includes life changes that would benefit all people. Simple diet switches, stress management, and l-lysine & ashwagandha supplementation are inexpensive.

  6. I think above all the trust issues here, you should learn first to trust your instinct and go get a vaccine. Even people without HPV does it, because they want to prevent it. If we want not to be asked by such question, affirm them that you're safe because you did something for yourself and your partner.

    1. Thanks you for your encouraging comment, Ted. I feel a strong anti-vaccination against HPV when I talk to people here in California. Good to read a pro-vaccination comment from you.


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