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.)