They pledge to wait until marriage to have sex, but more often than not, teens who made that pledge were as likely to have intercourse as other U.S. adolescents, according to a new study.
Published in the January issue of Pediatrics, the results also find that teens who took the pledge were less likely to use birth control pills or condoms as those who made no such promise.
Virginity pledges have been substituted in some states for comprehensive sex education that stress protection to curb pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.
Under President George Bush, funding for abstinence-only sex education programs doubled since 1999. States that do not want to limit what is taught must reject federal money.
In the study, which began in 1996, Johns Hopkins University researchers interviewed 289 middle and high school students who had taken a virginity pledge. They were compared to 645 other teens with similar attitudes, but who did not take a pledge.
The groups were compared after five years on sexual behavior, sexually transmitted diseases and the use of birth control.
Interestingly, 82 percent of those who had taken the oath later denied doing so. Among the pledge group, 53 percent said they had engaged in premarital sex compared to 57 percent who had not.
Among the pledgers, 46 percent report using birth control with 52 percent use among those who didn’t pledge.
“The results suggest that the virginity pledge does not change sexual behavior,” reports Bloomberg quoting author Janet Rosenbaum, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of population, family and reproductive health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “Clinicians should provide birth control information to all adolescents, especially abstinence-only sex education participants.”
Both groups had an average age of sexual activity at 21, higher than the national average of 17.
Why the older age? Rosenbaum explains in her blog,
“The year before taking the pledge, pledgers are more religiously and socially conservative than non-pledgers, and would be predicted to abstain more even without the pledge, so I compared pledgers only with similar non-pledgers rather than the American adolescent population as a whole. I found that pledgers and similar non-pledgers do not differ in sexual behavior, but unmarried virginity pledgers are less likely to use condoms and birth control. The difference in condom use may be because other studies have found abstinence programs present information that is not supported by scientific evidence and cause participants to have negative views of condom effectiveness.”
Proponents of such programs, however, dismissed the study as flawed.
"It is remarkable that an author who employs rigorous research methodology would then compromise those standards by making wild, ideologically tainted and inaccurate analysis regarding the content of abstinence education programs," said Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association..
Abstinence-only is supported by federal mandate which gives about $170 million a year to states to teach the “just say no” approach to sex. Condoms and birth control are discussed in the context of their failure rate.
President-elect Obama supports a more comprehensive approach that focuses on abstinence and educates on contraception, while the National Abstinence Education Association wants Obama to continue abstinence education for youth.
Internationally, Obama plans to reverse a policy that funds AIDS programs in poor regions of the world only if health workers emphasize monogamy and abstinence from sex over condom use. #