Virginity Pledges Do Not Curb STD Rates, Study Shows

Young adults aged 18-24 who took pledges as teenagers not to have sex until marriage were just as likely as nonpledgers to contract an STD according to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The government-funded study, which examined the effectiveness of virginity pledges in reducing STD infection rates, found that although the pledgers are consistently less likely to be exposed to risk factors, their STD rate does not significantly differ from nonpledgers. The data was compiled from a nationally representative study of students enrolled in grades 7-12 in 1995, and a follow-up survey in 2001-2002. The findings show that pledgers were less aware of their STD status and were less frequently tested for and/or diagnosed with an STD than nonpledgers. Additionally, results show that pledgers are “significantly less likely” to report seeing a doctor out of fear of having contracted an STD.

According to the study, by 1995, about 2.2 million adolescents, or 12 percent of US teenagers, took virginity pledges after “True Love Waits” began a movement to encourage adolescents to pledge abstinence until marriage. “The sad story is that kids who are trying to preserve their technical virginity are, in some cases, engaging in much riskier behavior,” said Peter S. Bearman, a professor at Columbia’s Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy and a lead author of the study. “From a public health point of view, an abstinence movement that encourages no vaginal sex may inadvertently encourage other forms of alternative sex that are at higher risk of STDs,” reports the Washington Post.

Although most adolescents report having learned about STDs in school, according to the Journal of Adolescent Health, other studies have found that many underestimate their infection risk and are misinformed about what protects them from STDs and what does not. “Not only do virginity pledges not work to keep our young people safe, they are causing harm by undermining condom use, contraception and medical treatment,” said Bill Smith, public policy vice president for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), reports the Washington Post. Despite recent studies highlighting the ineffectiveness of taking an abstinence-only approach toward teenagers and sex, according to the Post, President Bush has requested $206 million in federal funding for abstinence-only education programs this year.

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Journal of Adolescent Health 1/14/05, Washington Post 3/19/05

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