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Virginity pledge

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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 denominations.


The first virginity pledge program was True Love Waits, started in 1993 by the Southern Baptist Convention,[1] which now claims over 2.5 million pledgers worldwide in dozens of countries.[2] 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.[3] 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. 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.

Examples of pledges

True Love Waits 1993 pledge read as follows:[4]

"Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, those I date, and my future mate to be sexually pure until the day I enter marriage."

True Love Waits more recent pledge reads:[5][6]

"Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children to a lifetime of purity including sexual abstinence from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship."

True Love Waits recent pledge (2009)

      "I am making a commitment to myself, my family, and my Creator, that I will abstain from sexual activity of any kind before marriage. I will keep my body and my thoughts pure as I trust in God's perfect plan for my life."
      (quote on card) "It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his/her own body in a way that is holy and honorable." 1 Thess 4:3-4

Studies of virginity pledges

There have been numerous peer-reviewed studies of virginity pledges with varying results. Four of the five 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 of Columbia and Hannah Brueckner of Yale) 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.[7] 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.[8]

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 Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and at least as high proportions of anal and oral sex as those who have not made a virginity pledge. They deduced that pledgers may substitute oral and anal sex for vaginal sex. The data for anal sex without vaginal sex reported by males does not reflect this directly.[7] [9] 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.[10]

A fourth peer-reviewed study — by Harvard public health researcher Janet Rosenbaum published in the American Journal of Public Health in June 2006 — found that over half of adolescents who took virginity pledges said the following year that they had never taken a pledge.[11] 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 fifth peer-reviewed study, also by Janet Rosenbaum published in the journal Pediatrics in 2009, found no difference in sexual behavior of pledgers and similar non-pledgers five years after pledging, but found pledgers were 10 percentage points less likely to use condoms and 6 percentage points less likely to use birth control than similar non-pledgers. Rosenbaum's study was innovative for using Rubin causal model matching instead of relying on regression analysis which makes potentially untrue parametric assumptions. Past research findings that virginity pledgers delayed sex may have been affected by their statistical method's inability to adjust fully for pre-existing differences between pledgers and non-pledgers: pledgers are much more religious and negative towards sex prior to even taking the pledge, so would be predicted to delay sex even if they hadn't taken the pledge. Comparing pledgers with similar non-pledgers is the only way to be certain that the effect comes from the pledge rather than the pre-existing greater religiosity of pledgers.

References and further reading

  1. LifeWay: True Love Waits
  2. Baptist Press - True Love Waits launches community-wide initiative - News with a Christian Perspective
  3. American Civil Liberties Union : ACLU of Massachusetts v. Secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  4. Robinson, B.A. (2005-03-20). "Virginity/sexual abstinence pledges". Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Retrieved 2005-03-29. 
  5. "True Love Waits Commitment Card". LifeWay Christian Resources. 2007. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  6. "The TLW Pledge". LifeWay Christian Resources. 2007. pp. PDF. Retrieved 2009-05-19. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Virginity Pledges Don't Cut STD Rates". 
  8. "Appraising Evidence on Program Effectiveness: Do Virginity Pledges Cause Virginity?". Public Health Institute Center for Research on Adolescent Health and Development. 
  9. Brückner and Bearman (April). "After the promise: The STD consequences of adolescent virginity pledges". Journal of Adolescent Health. pp. Volume 36, Issue 4 271-278. 
  10. Bersamin MM, Walker S, Waiters ED, Fisher DA, Grube JW (May 2005). "Promising to wait: virginity pledges and adolescent sexual behavior". J Adolesc Health 36 (5): 428–36. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2004.09.016. PMID 15837347. PMC 1949026. 
  11. Elizabeth Mehren (2006-05-08). "Some may play fast and loose with virginity pledge, study finds". San Francisco Chronicle. 

See also

Template:Sexual ethics

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