Take the Pledge: Study Says Virginity Pledges Work

Programs like “True Love Waits” – in which teens pledge to abstain from sex until marriage – have long been touted by pro-family groups as effective countermeasures to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and teen pregnancy. But critics have long argued that there is little scientific evidence that such programs work.

No longer.

A major study released in the newest issue of the American Journal of Sociology found that teens who took an abstinence pledge were 34 percent less likely to engage in premarital sex, and were far older when they finally did begin to have intercourse.

Among black females, for example, the median age of sexual debut for those who took the virginity pledge was 18.6, compared with 16.3 for those who did not take the pledge.

The median ages were 19.9 and 16.7, respectively, for non-black females. “Pledging” males showed similar delays in the onset of sex.

“The delay effect (for intercourse) is substantial and almost impossible to erase,” wrote researchers Peter Bearman, of Columbia University, and Hannah Bruckner, of Yale University, in their report. “Taking a pledge delays intercourse for a long time. The pledge effect is not a selection effect. It is real and it is substantial.”

Pro-family groups are pleased with the validation the study provides.

“What this study shows is that, contrary to what we hear on the news and see on TV, teenagers are not all predestined to have sex and get sexually involved early,” said Peter Brandt, director of issues response for Focus on the Family.

Dr. John Diggs, of The Physicians Consortium, a coalition of state physicians groups, went a step further, adding that teens who took the pledge were at less risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease (STD).

“The odds that a teen will contract an STD or have a baby is highly correlated with sexual experiences starting at an early age,” said Diggs, whose group produced a companion report to the Bearman/Bruckner study.

He clarified that virginity pledges are not “some sort of magic cure-all,” but added that “what the pledge represents is that people take the time to make a personal commitment to work towards restricting their sexual activity.”

Roughly two million teens are estimated to have made abstinence pledges nationwide.


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