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Virginity Pledges Show Signs Of Success

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A new study suggests that adolescents who take virginity pledges delay having sexual intercourse longer than kids who are similar to them but do not take a pledge.

Only a third of participants ages 12 to 17 who pledged to avoid having sex until marriage proceeded to break their pledge over the next three years, according to a survey. By contrast, 42 percent of adolescents who had similar values and backgrounds began having intercourse during that period.

“Our data suggest that it is a good idea for teens who are inclined to delay sex to make a pledge, because they're more likely to delay sex if they do so,” said lead study author Steven Martino, a behavioral scientist at RAND in Pittsburgh. “A public statement or commitment to do — or not do — something makes it more likely that you will follow through on your stated intention.”

To determine if pledgers postponed sex longer than comparable non-pledgers did, the researchers interviewed 1,461 adolescents in 2001 and followed up with them one year and three years later. Researcher chose the children randomly from across the nation and received permission from their parents before interviewing them.

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The researchers focused on children who had not yet had sex to see how taking a virginity pledge — or not — affected their future behavior.

The study results appear in the October issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The study results do not prove definitively that virginity pledges make teens less likely to have sex, Martino said. He added that the pledges are not a panacea: “You also need a comprehensive program of sexual education for young people who are not inclined to delay sex and for virginity pledgers who eventually break their pledge.”

Douglas Kirby, a senior research scientist at ETR Associates who studies sex and education, said the study findings are consistent with previous research, but far from conclusive. For one thing, the researchers did not evaluate how many of the pledges were big productions, perhaps with parents being involved, versus pledges made without much forethought, he said. “If it’s a big deal, it’s more likely to have an impact.”

According to Kirby, the only way researchers accurately can gauge if virginity pledges work is to launch a study in which some randomly selected adolescents would take the pledges and others would not. “Only then can you know,” he said.