January 24,2013

Warning: people lie about their sexual histories!

I mentioned in my last blog that a woman who has sex with a bisexual man is at increased risk of getting STIs, including HIV. But how does she know he’s bisexual?

Well, she could ask. That’s what the sex ed industry believes she should do: question potential “partners” about past sexual behavior and STIs. In an ideal world, that would work. But in this world, people lie.

Please raise your hands, anyone reading this, who knows a young person who is naïve, who trusts nearly everyone, and who thinks all people are essentially good and honest.

My hand is up, and I’m sure yours is too.

It’s nice to imagine, a la John Lennon, an ideal world. But our children need to live in this world, and understand difficult truths.

Among them:

  • People often lie about past sexual behaviors and HIV status.
  • This occurs with higher frequency among men who have sex with men (MSM) and men who have sex with both men and women (MSM/W). One study indicates that between 33% and 75% of bisexual men don’t tell their female partners that they have sex with men.
  • People often do not disclose their HIV status. One survey of HIV positive individuals found that 42% of those who were MSM or MSM/W reported having sex without disclosure of their status. Among those who identify as heterosexuals, the rate was lower, but still high.

If the sex ed industry truly wanted to educate young people about safeguarding their health, these statistics would be highlighted in every curriculum. Instead they tell teens, “Do what feels right to you.”

When will educators begin to tell our children tough truths about the real world? I’m not holding my breath, and you shouldn’t either.


1. Ciccarone, DH et al. “Sex Without Disclosure of Positive HIV Serostatus in a US Probability Sample of Persons Receiving Medical Care for HIV Infection.” American Journal of Public Health 93 (2003):949-954

2. Levin, EM et al. “Characteristics of Men Who Have Sex with Men and Women and Women Who Have Sex with Women and Men: Results from the 2003 Seattle Sex Survey.” Sexually Transmitted Diseases 36.9 (2009) 541-546


  1. Martha Greatwoman - reply

    The woman mentioned in your first paragraph could also take responsibility for her own sexual health and insist on the use of a condom with spermicide.

    But that’d undermine your message, wouldn’t it?

    I prefer to be well informed and confident in my ability to make good decisions and mitigate risks, whilst at the same time able to express my sexuality with (or without) any other consenting adult.

    By denying sex education to our young people, how do you expect them to be well informed when they are older? Or do you want them to stumble into adulthood, blind to the risks and joys of healthy sexual relationships?

    By the way, ever wondered why bisexual and gay men aren’t always honest about their sexual pasts (which is their prerogative, surely)? Probably because there are ignorant people in this world who hold discriminatory beliefs about them as a group, usually because they don’t see them as human beings just like the rest of us. Education is the key.

  2. MiriamGrossman - reply

    Thank you for your comment. I am pleased that you visit my site, even though we see things differently. Your questions deserve a thoughtful reply, and I will try to do that.

    The woman mentioned in the blog is still at risk, even if a condom and spermicide are used. Condoms are estimated to decrease HIV transmission by about 85% during vaginal intercourse. Perhaps you’re unaware that spermicides can actually INCREASE HIV transmission; see http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1076559

    I’m not sure what you mean by undermining my message. My message is that there are lots of dangerous bugs out there, concentrated in groups that participate in high risk behaviors. A significant percentage of infected people, and people at risk of being infected, lie to their sexual partners. Isn’t that important for people to know?

    I’m astonished that you’ve been on this site and believe I want to deny sex ed to young people – the opposite is true. The purpose of my blog, my site, my talks and books is to educate youth, especially girls, about biological truths that impact their sexual and emotional health. I’m against sex ed that whitewashes the dangers out there, and gives people a false sense of security for which they often pay dearly.

    Finally, you say that people aren’t necessarily obligated to tell partners the truth about their sexual pasts. I disagree. If there is a potential for harm, there’s a moral obligation to alert the other person.

    You also need to look at the big picture, not just individual rights and responsibilities. We are in our fourth decade of the HIV epidemic. We have improved methods of diagnosis and treatment, but the incidence is stable since the mid-nineties at about 50,000 a year. (http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/2012/HIV-Infections-2007-2010.pdf) How are we going to thwart this terrible disease, if we are more concerned with the privacy rights of the infected, than the right of the uninfected to stay healthy?

    I hope we can continue this discussion.

  3. Chris Miller - reply

    But the statistic you posted that Martha is commenting on is the one saying that many MSM and MSM/W don’t tell their female partners that they’ve had sex with men, not the one about people with HIV (which I agree they should be disclosing). Your reply is conflating these men with people who have HIV, which is one of the very discriminatory attitudes that Martha refers to. Anyone can have HIV and with the ease of global travel especially different statistics in different countries seriously muddy the water – for example in many parts of Africa, including South Africa, HIV rates are soaring among women (both straight and otherwise). Do you also think that people should disclose whether they’ve had sex with a woman from Africa, and do you not think that this would lead to cementing negative beliefs about Africans in general and African women in particular? Rather than insist on previous same-sex activity being a big massive thing that needs to be disclosed as though it in and of itself is going to spontaneously cause HIV (which, I note, can be outright DANGEROUS if you disclose to the wrong person), why not focus on regular testing, insisting on your partners (not sure why you scare quoted that word, btw) getting regular tests, and knowing how to use protection?

    That seems like it would be more effective anyway, because people are more likely to go “Oh, you’re right, that sounds like a good idea, I don’t want to get an STI” than “Oh man, you’re right, I should stop hiding my potentially life-changing and possibly fatal infection from my sex partners, duh on me!” I mean, people who do the latter are most likely going to be [word edited out] whose minds won’t be changed by a blog post, even if you do have “md” in your domain name.

  4. MiriamGrossman - reply

    I would argue that what’s discriminatory is not warning African-American women about how often AA men lie about their sexual histories, because these women pay the highest price.

    The phrase you use, “Anyone can get HIV”, which has been pushed at us relentlessly for decades, is a half-truth. Technically, yes, anyone could be infected by HIV. In reality, in this country (Africa is an entirely different matter that I cannot address here) if you are not born of an HIV+ mother, not a MSM, an IV drug abuser, or someone who has sex with a member of one of those groups, you are not going to get HIV. Like it or not, it’s true.

    The message “anyone can get HIV” does more harm than good, because those at no or minimal risk worry needlessly, and waste precious resources getting tested. Those at high risk are not sufficiently alarmed.

    I suggest you read more about this, and the politics of HIV in general, in the classic book, “And the Band Played On” By gay activist and true hero Randy Shilts, may he rest in peace. I hope you’ll continue visiting my site.

  5. GrizzlyBearMom - reply

    For religious reasons I waited for sex until marriage. I still got an STD from my husband’s cheating and deceit about doing so. Considering that my now ex husband waited for sex with me, he was highly unlikely to have cheated. My MD let it go until it because Pelvic Inflammatory disease destroyed my ability to have children and required three weeks of bed rest. It could have been HIV. Considering that even 80% of people in the church are sexually active outside of marriage, I see great potential for re-infection, particularly as an individual who with this kind of scar tissue. For these reasons I have little hope of ever dating someone with like values, remarrying, or having sex. What is your advice for women?

    • MiriamGrossman - reply

      Hi grizzly bear mom, and thanks for writing.

      I am so sorry to hear of the awful experience you had with PID, it’s
      Unfortunately pretty common.

      I don’t think you should give up about finding the right person. It’s tough
      Out there, yes, but you only need one. A man can be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea,
      The two bugs that cause PID.

      I would say go slowly, be cautious, really get to know the person and his
      Friends and family. But don’t give up!

      Dr Grossman

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