Virginity Pledges Broken Half The Time (And That's Just Those Who'll Admit It)

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When I was twelve or thirteen during a very emotional religious revival I walked up to the altar of a Baptist Church in southwestern Virginia and pledged never to take a drink of alcohol. By the time I was a senior in high school that pledge had been long broken. In recent years, Christian sex educators have employed a similar strategy of extracting pledges from teenagers that they would refrain from sex before marriage. According to a new study by Harvard researcher Janet Rosenbaum, such virginity pledges have had about as much staying power as my promise to abstain from drinking Lagavulin. The San Franciso Chronicle reports:

Rosenbaum found that 52 percent of those who said they had signed virginity pledges had had sex within a year. Additionally, 73 percent of those who told the first survey that they had taken a pledge but later had sex denied making such a promise when they were surveyed a second time.

"This may indicate that they are not that closely affiliated with the pledge," Rosenbaum said.

The adolescents also were unreliable in reporting their sexual experiences, Rosenbaum said. Almost one-third of non-virgins in the first survey who later took a virginity pledge said in the next survey that they had never had sex.

Let's hope that when the teens break their pledge that they will have the good sense to use contraception. (Just to be clear–I have nothing against asking for virginity pledges, but it's not a substitute for teaching kids what they need to do to prevent pregnancies should they change their minds about their pledges.)

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  1. The adolescents also were unreliable

    WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA?!?!?!?!?!?

  2. The kids who have made the pledge sound like they may be getting more action than the kids who haven’t.

    Talk about your unintended consequences.

  3. Let’s hope that when the teens break their pledge that they will have the good sense to use contraception.

    OK, do you own stock in any contraceptive manufacturers?

    ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. We never exagerate the number of times we have had sex and we never make up stories about the number of sex partners we have had.

  5. I wonder why anyone thought that pledges would be effective?

    I mean, think of how these pledges are made. Make a person stand in front a large group of their peers who also pledging and they’ll have a hard time going against the grain. So they make the pledge with no intention of keeping it and do what they please later.

  6. I don’t have the links (at work dontcha’ know) to the other studies, but one of the documented hazrds of “abstinence only” is that once kids cross the line they are less likely to use contrceptives (there was at least one southern state that abstinence only students had a higher rate of STDs than abstinence/contraceptive courses).

    On the up side, I’ve heard good things about programs that encourge abstinence, but also teach how to protect oneself. But those are unexceptable to conservatives, since any teaching of birth control is so obviously a sin that will destroy America (and apparently Africa).

    Last time I checked, the Conservative Response to contraception is not unlike the Liberal response to controling malaria in Africa with DDT. (YOU KNOW, better to have people die-get sick-have children they can’t afford than use technology to protect yourself).

    Idiots shouting past each other.

    I hear the Vatican may finally be looking up from their dusty tomes to look at reality, who knows, maybe that is move towards sanity. I’m not putting any money on it though.

  7. Is there a reason to abstain from drinking Lagavulin, in particular? Of course, it’s a pretty complex Islay, perhaps too much of iodine, smoke, and peat to be everybody’s favorite single malt, but why would the Baptists mind whether you might drink Lagavulin or, say Bowmore?

  8. OK, do you own stock in any contraceptive manufacturers?

    Not to mention, single malt scotches!

  9. This is interesting. There was, apparenly, a big article in the NYT Magazine yesterday about the conservative opposition to birth control, which plays into this. One quote, which I lifted from another blog on the subject, from an abstinence advocate:

    “Leslee Unruh, president and founder of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, a South Dakota-based nonprofit that seeks to educate [sic] about abstinence programs, said the growing number of unintended pregnancies among poorer women shows that traditional sex education programs are failing. “Programs for poor women are often so condescending, even degrading,” she said. “They teach how to put on a condom rather than how to take control of their lives.”

    Yeah, condoms don’t work but peer-pressured declarations of chastity will. Right, guys.

  10. “They teach how to put on a condom rather than how to take control of their lives.”

    Is a condom so complex a device that it needs lots of training?

    Abstinence Clearinghouse is a funny name.

  11. Abstinence Clearinghouse is a funny name.

    Makes me think of Publisher’s Clearninghouse. Is Ed McMahon going to show up with a big check for the winners of the prudery contest?

  12. “I don’t have the links (at work dontcha’ know) to the other studies, but one of the documented hazrds of “abstinence only” is that once kids cross the line they are less likely to use contrceptives (there was at least one southern state that abstinence only students had a higher rate of STDs than abstinence/contraceptive courses).”

    Well duh.

    They had to do a study to show that if Johnny starts of screwing the chearleader in the back of his IROC without a condom that he might prefer that method?

    I mean, teenagers going for the instant gratification rather than taking a more long-term view? I’m shocked, I tell you.

  13. Is Ed McMahon going to show up with a big check for the winners of the prudery contest?

    No, my guess is he shows up with forty virgins. . .

  14. Is a condom so complex a device that it needs lots of training?

    A coworker’s daughter recently called in to tell her mother that she’d been forced to demonstrate how to put on a condom, in her freshman biology class, somewhere in Texas (Austin, I think).

    I don’t recall public health and sex education being taught in my college biology classes, but I do wonder if this is a professor’s response to the abstinence education mandated in Texas. (A separate issue is that the daughter felt she was forced, and was humiliated by the teacher.)

  15. That reminds me: I remember awhile back some comedian had a bit where they talked about the whole abstinence vs contraception thing. They proposed that if people wanted their kids to not have sex they should just loudly brag about how often they fuck, so they’d have the image of their parents pop up whenever they thought about it.

  16. More from the NYT article, via “Feministe,” which has a really long post about it:

    The intellectual force behind the abstinence-education movement is Robert Rector, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Rector wrote some of the federal legislation mandating abstinence education, and he worked on a number of studies that purport to demonstrate its effectiveness. One component of abstinence education is the ?virginity pledge,? and Rector is an author of one study that concluded that teenagers who take virginity pledges ?have substantially improved life outcomes,? and another that showed that ?sexually active teenagers are more likely to be depressed and to attempt suicide.?

    The idea of promoting abstinence over comprehensive sex education (which includes information on various forms of contraception and how to use them) gets to the core of the expanded conservative approach to birth control issues. It really is all about sex. ?There are two philosophies of sexuality,? Rector told me. ?One regards it as primarily physical and all about physical pleasure. Therefore, the idea is to have lots of physical pleasure without acquiring disease or getting pregnant. The other is primarily moral and psychological in nature, and stresses that this is the part of sex that?s rewarding and important.?

  17. Is Ed McMahon going to show up with a big check for the winners of the prudery contest?

    (From National Lampoon) Cartoon: A hotdog with face, arms and legs standing by his mailbox reading his mail. Caption: “You may already be a wiener!”

    Is a condom so complex a device that it needs lots of training?

    “I can’t be pregnant! I put the condom on the cucumber just like in class!”

    Thank you, thank you. I’m here all week.

  18. A girl used an oral contraceptive with me last night.

    She said “no”.

  19. Comment by: Johnny :”Last time I checked, the Conservative Response to contraception is not unlike the Liberal response to controling malaria in Africa with DDT. (YOU KNOW, better to have people die-get sick-have children they can’t afford than use technology to protect yourself).”

    Please check out Deltoid, as Science Blogs, and search for ‘DDT’. You’ll be enlightened.

  20. An old woman in her eighties goes to her doctor. “Doctor,” she says, “I want you to give me perscription for birth control pills.”

    The doctor starts to object but the old woman will have none of it. “Please, doctor, you have no idea! I must have that perscription.”

    Well, they won’t harm her so the doctor relents, writes her the script and months go by until she has her next appointment.

    “So have the birth control pills done their job” the doctor asks with a bemused smile.

    “Oh yes, doctor, yes! They’ve done me a world of good! Every morning, like clockwork, my granddaughter comes to breakfast and every morning I grind one up and put it in her orange juice, and I tell you, doctor, suddenly I’m sleeping like a baby!

  21. Whenever I actually take someone up on their friendly advice to look up something on my own, I generally find the results underwhelming.

  22. uncle walt: Like most teens I did start out imbibing things like Pabst and Mateus (with some sips of Boone’s Farm along the way–shudder), but my tastes improved. If someone prefers a milder sweeter Scotch, I would suggest Glen Morangie.

  23. As a Christian myself, my problem with pressuring adolescents to make such a pledge is that it compounds the sin of premarital sex itself with the sin of a broken pledge. There’s a reason why the Church will not accept vows of celibacy until someone’s already gotten through puberty and learned to deal with their sexual desire.

  24. Before anyone brings up the priestly molestation scandal, I should edit that to read “…and presumably learned to deal with their sexual desire.”

  25. One last copy-and-paste from the NYT, via Echidne of the Snakes: R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on the destructive effects of the contraceptive pill:

    But then, from this perspective, the pill began to do terrible damage. “I cannot imagine any development in human history, after the Fall, that has had a greater impact on human beings than the pill,” Mohler continued. “It became almost an assured form of contraception, something humans had never encountered before in history. Prior to it, every time a couple had sex, there was a good chance of pregnancy. Once that is removed, the entire horizon of the sexual act changes. I think there could be no question that the pill gave incredible license to everything from adultery and affairs to premarital sex and within marriage to a separation of the sex act and procreation.”

  26. The kids who have made the pledge sound like they may be getting more action than the kids who haven’t.

    As a seminarian in my diocese once excitedly told me, “Chicks dig celibates!”

    His eyes glossed over in confusion, when I pointed out to him that if he was serious about his celibacy, that would be more of a curse than a blessing. Critical thinking isn’t one of the things they look for in potential priests in this diocese, I guess.

  27. Is a condom so complex a device that it needs lots of training?

    Comment by: David at May 8, 2006 11:50 AM

    not lots of training, but a willingness to read the directions is helpful. my ex-girlfriend (a nurse, no less) wasn’t aware of the necessity of making sure to eliminate air bubbles in the reservoir tip.

    don’t say I never did anything for you, ladies

  28. “don’t say I never did anything for you, ladies

    Comment by: biologist at May 8, 2006 02:13 PM”

    prob’ly they’d thank you more, if they got some benefit at the end of the process, not right at the beginning…

    ๐Ÿ™‚

  29. actually, vm, I was opaquely referring to my willingness to pose for the extremely educational beefcake photos at the linked page:)

  30. “The intellectual force behind the abstinence-education movement….”

    Reading that made my head hurt.

  31. I still remember a conversation in high school (And this was over a decade ago) between two girls, discussing if one of them could possibly have gotten pregnant. She was quite worried, but her friend assured her that since she had “been on top” she couldn’t possibly be pregnant.

    I choked on my food — I had always assumed that bit of stupidity was a myth — and got sharply asked “What’s so funny”. I had to explain to her that yes, indeed, she could be pregnant. I ended up giving her the syponsis of the week-long sex-ed portion of the mandated health class we’d had two years before, which apparently she’d slept through.

    She got lucky, and I almost got my ass kicked by her boyfriend because she started demanding he wear a condom. Luckily, one of his buddies (a guy I’d never thought of as particularly reflective) told him to lay off, as I’d done him a favor — did he really want to knock her up?

    If there’s one thing I learned in high school and college about sex, it’s that the geeky ones with internet access were the ones you wanted. They fucking knew about safe sex, followed it religiously, and were willing to try all sorts of shit.

    It was the jocks, cheerleaders, and ‘popular kids’ who didn’t know which end of a condom was which, and whose idea of foreplay left bruises.

  32. Little anecdotes like Morat’s make me realize how old I am. When I graduated high school, the internet was restricted to the Department of Defense, and most of the public didn’t know about it.

    NYT via Karen:

    One component of abstinence education is the virginity pledge, and Rector is an author of one study that concluded that teenagers who take virginity pledges have substantially improved life outcomes, and another that showed that sexually active teenagers are more likely to be depressed and to attempt suicide.

    Funny, my life experience tells me the opposite. When I was a virgin, I often felt depressed. When I started having sex, my head was in the clouds. Sometimes people don’t need prozac, they just need to get laid.

    I’m not sure if moralists intentionally want to keep kids depressed, or it’s just a byproduct of their own ignorance.

  33. This reminds me of a recent SNL, in which Tina Fey was discussing some story relating to unwanted pregnancies, and said “now would be a good time to plug my controversial upcoming book, ‘Your Mouth Can’t Get Pregnant'”

  34. It was the jocks, cheerleaders, and ‘popular kids’ who didn’t know which end of a condom was which, and whose idea of foreplay left bruises.

    I deeply resent the implication of that remark.

  35. but her friend assured her that since she had “been on top” she couldn’t possibly be pregnant.

    You should have told her that was how men got pregnant as
    This Movie illustrates.

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