Virginity pledges: fail

Some interesting research that may interest harm reduction proponents. Anyone who’s worked in health promotion / community development knows there’s significant overlap between sexual health and ATOD topics.

The research below illustrates the potential downfalls of an abstinence based approach without wider strategies in place for those who don’t choose abstinence. In the case of this research it was in regard to ‘virginity pledges’ and their likelihood of preventing sexual activity in younger people.

The abstract:

Patient Teenagers? A Comparison of the Sexual Behavior of Virginity Pledgers and Matched Nonpledgers
Janet Elise Rosenbaum, PhD, AM
Health Policy PhD Program, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland

OBJECTIVE. The US government spends more than $200 million annually on abstinence-promotion programs, including virginity pledges. This study compares the sexual activity of adolescent virginity pledgers with matched nonpledgers by using more robust methods than past research.

SUBJECTS AND METHODS. The subjects for this study were National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health respondents, a nationally representative sample of middle and high school students who, when surveyed in 1995, had never had sex or taken a virginity pledge and who were >15 years of age (n = 3440). Adolescents who reported taking a virginity pledge on the 1996 survey (n = 289) were matched with nonpledgers (n = 645) by using exact and nearest-neighbor matching within propensity score calipers on factors including prepledge religiosity and attitudes toward sex and birth control. Pledgers and matched nonpledgers were compared 5 years after the pledge on self-reported sexual behaviors and positive test results for Chlamydia trachomatis, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and Trichomonas vaginalis, and safe sex outside of marriage by use of birth control and condoms in the past year and at last sex.

RESULTS. Five years after the pledge, 82% of pledgers denied having ever pledged. Pledgers and matched nonpledgers did not differ in premarital sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and anal and oral sex variables. Pledgers had 0.1 fewer past-year partners but did not differ in lifetime sexual partners and age of first sex. Fewer pledgers than matched nonpledgers used birth control and condoms in the past year and birth control at last sex.

CONCLUSIONS. The sexual behavior of virginity pledgers does not differ from that of closely matched nonpledgers, and pledgers are less likely to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease before marriage. Virginity pledges may not affect sexual behavior but may decrease the likelihood of taking precautions during sex. Clinicians should provide birth control information to all adolescents, especially virginity pledgers.

Thanks to Paul D on the ADCA Update list for the heads-up. What are your thoughts – any surprises in the findings for you?

2 thoughts on “Virginity pledges: fail

  1. Andrew

    Naidim’s posted comment by way of a link says a lot. The question of abstinence as an approach to handling sexual disease, teen pregnancy and other related issues is such a politicized issue, that’s its hard to trust a lot of what is said.

    The gist of the post (above) is that the actual information revealed by the study is not actually what a large portion of the media says it is. The report does not in fact indicate that pledges don’t work. Rather, it simply indicates that it is not the pledge itself that makes the difference, but the mindset and worldview behind those taking the pledge. But there is a difference.

    While abstinence doesn’t address everything, we also need to recognize that the problems are complicated, because they are entrenched, and that we do need long-term, cause-addressing approaches, not band aid solutions that in the long term are ineffective in changing human behavior, and the problems that result.

Comments are closed.