Study Says Virginity Pledges Work

by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

(June 19, 2008) A new study has found that making a virginity pledge may help some young people postpone the start of sexual activity.

According to the study by Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research organization and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, adolescents who made pledges to remain virgins until marriage were less likely to be sexually active over the three-year period of study than similar youth who did not make a pledge.

“Making a pledge to remain a virgin until married may provide extra motivation to adolescents who want to delay becoming sexually active,” said Steven Martino, the study’s lead author and a psychologist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “The act of pledging may create some social pressure or social support that helps them to follow through with their clearly stated public intention.”

The study surveyed 1,461 adolescent virgins aged 12 to 17 in 2001 and re-interviewed them a year later, then three years later.  About one-fourth of the group reported during the initial survey that they had made a virginity pledge. Forty-two percent of those who did not make virginity pledges had engaged in sexual intercourse within three years, while only 34 percent of those who made virginity pledges reported doing so within the same period.

Some researchers have speculated that abstaining from intercourse might increase participation in other sexual activities, like oral sex. But the RAND study found that those who pledged were no more likely to engage in non-intercourse behaviors than comparable youth who did not take a pledge.

“Waiting until you are older to have sex is good for teens from a health standpoint,” Martino said. They not only eliminate the risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases but are better equipped emotionally for the experience, researchers say.

Proponents of comprehensive sex education programs say promoting abstinence leaves teens at risk for unprotected sex, but the Rand study found that among those teens who signed pledges but did eventually have sex, did not report lower condom use.

The key to making a virginity pledge stick is to be sure the teen is making it freely. “If young people are coerced or are unduly influenced by peer pressure, virginity pledges are not likely to have a positive effect,” Martino said.

The first virginity pledge program in the United States began in 1993 and now includes hundreds of churches, schools and colleges. Estimates of U.S. adolescents suggest that 23 percent of females and 16 percent of males have made a virginity pledge.
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