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.