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Virginity Pledges Don't Stop Teen Sex

Teenagers who take virginity pledges are no less sexually active than other teens, according to a new study.

But the results, published in the journal Pediatrics, suggest that these virginity pledgers are less likely to protect themselves against pregnancy or disease when they do have sex.

Researchers say the findings suggest that virginity pledges may not significantly affect teenagers' sexual behavior. Instead, they may decrease the likelihood of teenagers taking precautions, such as using a condom or using birth control when they do have sex.

Researchers say the federal government spends about $200 million annually on abstinence promotion programs, which include virginity pledges. Two previous studies have suggested that virginity pledges can delay sex, but researchers say those studies did not account for pre-existing differences between pledgers and non-pledgers.

In this study, researchers compared the sexual behavior of 289 teenagers who reported taking a virginity pledge in a 1996 national survey to 645 non-pledgers who were matched on more than 100 factors, such as religious beliefs and attitudes toward sex and birth control.

The results showed that five years after taking the virginity pledge:

  • 82 percent of pledgers denied ever having taken the pledge.
  • Pledgers and matched non-pledgers did not differ in rates of premarital sex, sexually transmitted disease, or oral or anal sex behaviors.
  • Pledgers had, on average, 0.1 fewer sexual partners in the past year but did not differ from non-pledgers in the number of lifetime sexual partners and the age of first sex.

    The biggest difference between the two groups came in the area of condom and birth control use. The study showed that fewer pledgers used birth control or condoms in the past year or any form of birth control the last time they had sex.

    Researcher Janet Elise Rosenbaum, Ph.D., of Harvard University, says the findings suggest that health care providers should provide birth control information to all teenagers, especially virginity pledgers.
    By Jennifer Warner
    Reviewed by Louise Chang
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