Virginity pledge

Virginity pledges (or abstinence pledges) are commitments made by teenagers and young adults to refrain from sexual intercourse until marriage. They are most common in the United States, especially among Evangelical Christian denominations.


The first virginity pledge program was True Love Waits, started in 1993 by the Southern Baptist Convention,LifeWay: True Love WaitsŪ which now claims over 2.5 million pledgers world-wide in dozens of countries.Baptist Press - True Love Waits launches community-wide initiative - News with a Christian Perspective A torrent of virginity pledge programs followed.

A later, prominent virginity pledge program was the Silver Ring Thing (SRT), which was the subject of a lawsuit by the ACLU in 2005.American Civil Liberties Union : ACLU of Massachusetts v. Secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services SRT presented a two-part program, the first part about abstinence; the second about Born again Christianity. The ACLU claimed that federal funding given to this program (see Abstinence-only sex education for background) violated the separation of Church and State. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services settled the lawsuit by suspending SRT's federal grant until it submitted a "corrective action plan." In 2006, SRT decided not to seek further federal funding so it could continue its message.

Virginity pledge programs take a variety of stances on the role of religion in the pledge: some use religion to motivate the pledge, putting Biblical quotes on the cards, while others use statistics and arguments to motivate the pledge. Regardless of the approach, the vast majority of virginity pledge programs are run and staffed by individuals with ties to Christian organizations, mostly evangelical, although the Catholic Church sponsors both secular and a religious virginity pledges. Advocacy of virginity pledges is often coupled with support for abstinence-only sex education in public schools. Advocates argue that any other type of sexual education would promote sex outside of marriage, which they hold to be immoral and risky.

Studies of virginity pledges

There have been numerous peer-reviewed studies of virginity pledges with varying results. Three of the four peer-reviewed virginity pledge studies and the non-peer-reviewed study discussed below use the same federal data, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), in which 13,000 adolescents were interviewed in 1995, 1996, and 2000. The other peer-reviewed study used a study of virginity pledges in California.

The first peer-reviewed study of virginity pledgers - by sociologists Peter Bearman and Hannah Brueckner of Columbia and Yale, respectively - found that in the year following their pledge, some virginity pledgers are more likely to delay sex than non-pledgers; when virginity pledgers do have sex, they are less likely to use contraception than non-pledgers. This study found, however, that virginity pledges are only effective in high schools in which about 30% of the students had taken the pledge, meaning that they are not effective as a universal measure. Their analysis was that identity movements work when there is a critical mass of members: too few members, and people don't have each other for social support, and too many members, and people don't feel distinctive for having taken the pledge. This study was criticized for not being able to conclude causality, only correlation, a criticism which applies to all studies of virginity pledges thus far.

A second peer-reviewed study, also by Bearman and Brueckner, looked at virginity pledgers five years after their pledge, and found that they have similar proportions of STDs (Sexually Transmitted Disease) and at least as high proportions of anal and oral sex as those who have not made a virginity pledge. They inductively determined that pledgers may substitute oral and anal sex for vaginal sex. Curiously the data for anal sex without vaginal sex reported by males does not reflect this directly.

This study also estimated that male pledgers were 4.1 times more likely to remain virgins by age 25 than those who did not pledge (25% vs 6%), and estimated that female pledgers were 3.5 times more likely to remain virgins by age 25 than those who did not pledge (21% vs 6%). The study also noted that those who pledge yet became sexually active reported fewer partners and were not exposed to STD risk for as long as nonpledgers.

A third peer-reviewed study - by Melina Bersamin and others at Prevention Research Center, in Berkeley, California - found that adolescents who make an informal promise to themselves not to have sex will delay sex, but adolescents who take a formal virginity pledge do not delay sex.

A fourth peer-reviewed study - by Harvard public health researcher Janet Rosenbaum - found that over half of adolescents who took virginity pledges said the following year that they had never taken a pledge. This study showed that those who make the pledge but have sex are likely to deny ever pledging; and many who were sexually active prior to taking the pledge deny their sexual history, which, it is speculated, may cause them to underestimate their risk of having STDs.

A 2006 Harvard Journal of Medicine article found that 45% of those girls who signed a virginity pledge engaged in other sex activities such as oral or anal sex.

See also

External links



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