Another study shows “virginity pledges” are ineffective.

We’ve already seen lots of studies showing that abstinence only sex education is a miserable failure, but what about the popular-among-the-True-Believers virginity pledges where a daughter pledges to her father that she’ll abstain from sex until marriage? As it turns out the best they do is delay how soon someone has sex for the first time from the national average of 17 years-old to 21 years-old. Beyond that they don’t stop people from having premarital sex though they do increase the likelihood that someone won’t use proper contraceptive methods increasing their chances of getting pregnant and catching a STD. Ultimately it seems the pledges themselves have no effect at all compared to a person’s religious viewpoint:

In the new study, Janet Rosenbaum, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, analyzed the large chunk of data used in all the studies that have looked at virginity pledges: the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. In this survey, middle and high school students were asked about their sexual behaviors and opinions starting in 1995-96.

In the analysis, Rosenbaum compared 289 young adults who took virginity pledges in their teens with 645 young people who did not take such a pledge. The researcher was careful to only compare teens who had similar views on religion, birth control and sex in general, regardless of whether or not they took a pledge.

Five years after the initial survey the study subjects were aged 20 to 23. Eighty-two percent of pledge takers denied (or forgot) they had ever taken such a vow. Overall pledge takers were no different from non-pledge takers in terms of their premarital sex, anal and oral sexual practices, and their probability of having a sexually transmitted disease.

Both groups lost their virginity at an average age of 21, had about three lifetime partners, and had similar rates of STDs. “And the majority were having premarital sex, over 50 percent,” says Rosenbaum. Overall, roughly 75 percent of pledgers and non-pledgers were sexually active, and about one in five was married.

So if you’re very religious you’re likely to start having sex several years after the national average, but beyond that you’re just as sinful as everyone else. Plus you’re more likely to not use protection:

Unmarried pledgers, however, were less likely than non-pledgers to use birth control (64 percent of pledge takers and 70 percent of non-pledge takers said they used it most of the time) or condoms (42 percent of pledge takers and 54 percent of non-pledge takers said they used them most of the time).

“There’s been some speculation about whether teenagers were substituting oral or anal sex for vaginal sex and I found that wasn’t so,” says Rosenbaum. “But I did uphold a previous finding that they are less likely to use birth control and drastically less likely in fact to use condoms—it’s a ten percentage point difference.”

Rosenbaum is concerned that abstinence-only sex education programs that promote virginity pledges may also promote a negative view of condoms and birth control. The result may be teens and young adults who are less likely than their peers to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies.

[…] “Studies find that kids in abstinence-only programs have negative, biased views about whether condoms work,” she says. Since such programs promote abstinence only they tend to give only the disadvantages of birth control, she says. Teens learn condoms don’t protect you completely from human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes, which is true, but they may not realize that they protect against all the “fluid-based STDs,” she says. “People end up thinking you may as well not bother using birth control or condoms.”

I guess it’s arguable which is the better situation: People having safer sex at a younger age or unsafe sex at an older age. Personally I’d think the ideal would be to encourage kids to put off sex until they’re older, but to encourage them to use protection if they give in to the temptation. That’s the approach I took with my own daughter and it seems to have worked pretty well.

News item sent in by SEB reader Gary.

9 thoughts on “Another study shows “virginity pledges” are ineffective.

  1. The more I hear about sex education and those for and against it the more I think that it truly is more about “punishing” girls for their behavior.  Boys almost never get the stigma that girls get for the consequences of sex and not teaching about birth control options (which most are for women anyway) it is just keeping girls in the dark and unable to be strong enough to stand up for themselves.

    With that said I intend to teach my kids about all kinds of BC including abstinence.  I also intend to teach my son that he will be held just as accountable if something happens as any girl. Plus the fact I will kick his *ss if he brings a girl home pregnant or gets sick…he should have known better since I will have taught him better.

    My girl on the other hand…I intend to tell her that it is worth waiting only because the sex is better when you are older.  Let’s face it…most teenage boys really could care less if the girl has her fun so may as well wait until the guy has an interest in HER pleasure…let’s just hope it doesn’t translate to her dating much older men.  wink

  2. I guess it’s arguable which is the better situation: People having safer sex at a younger age or unsafe sex at an older age. Personally I’d think the ideal would be to encourage kids to put off sex until they’re older, but to encourage them to use protection if they give in to the temptation.

    Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

    You can’t trust schools to teach teens about sexuality and contraception, which means you have to make sure that yours have the facts straight, the knowledge to use contraceptives, and access to them.

    Sandy, a very good friend of ours laid down the ground rules for their oldest son:

    a) Use a condom.
    b) Use a condom.
    c) Use a condom.
    d) You damn well make sure it’s as good for her as it is for you.

    Since the abstinence-only programs in particular are pushed by religious and social conservative Christians, of course there’s misogynism at play. We all know there’s nothing they fear and loathe more than women who insist on sexual and reproductive self-determination.

  3. “If you want to wear a ring to show you are not having sex, you can damn well get married like the rest of us”

    Marcus ‘Incandecent’ Brigstock.

  4. When will the religious right wake up?

    Um, you’re asking a group of people who regularly do not think critically to suddenly think critically?

    It isn’t going to happen.

    When true believers are faced with undeniable evidence that they are wrong, they insist that they’ll be right. Someday.

  5. The more I hear about sex education and those for and against it the more I think that it truly is more about “punishing” girls for their behavior.

    Exactly. And so is the anti-choice movement.

  6. elwed; wow, I’ve never heard of anyone using 3 condoms before, now that really is safe sex, better safe than sorry though cool smile

    (42 percent of pledge takers and 54 percent of non-pledge takers said they used them most of the time)

    Long way to go then, worth checking the differences in international infection rates although it’s a pity the data is so out of date now.

  7. This reminds me of the old Austrian joke about a planeload of sex tourists about to touch down in Thailand.  The tour guide asks all the passengers, “Do you all have at least fifty condoms?”  They all nod, except for one guy from Burgenland (the fall guy: in Austria, the equivalent of the Polish guy in American jokes) who pipes up and says “I tried my best, but I couldn’t get more than thirty-six of them on”.

  8. wow, I’ve never heard of anyone using 3 condoms before, now that really is safe sex, better safe than sorry though

    It was a reference to stamina.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.