Sexual Health

Can Virginity Pledges Work?

November 25, 2018

Recall when virginity pledges were all the rage? It looks like only yesterday when the Jonas Brothers, Jessica Simpson, and Miley Cyrus were snapped by paparazzi sporting purity rings.

Enough time has passed to wonder if previous virginity pledges do the job. More to the point, from a medical perspective, we can now examine the prudence of federally funded abstinence-only education.

Virginity Pledges Defined

Writing for the said novel, Pediatrics, writer Dr. Janet Elise Rosenbaum states,”A sexual abstinence or’virginity’ pledge is an oral or written promise to refrain from sexual activity, usually until marriage, administered following a multi- or single session program in religious youth groups, parochial and public schools, or large group events”

Looking back, virginity pledges were an invention of evangelical bands and first made their debut in 1993. In no time, many Protestant and Catholic groups adopted such pledges and made them their own. Although some young guys did take those pledges, abstinence pledges were mostly directed at adolescent women and frequently involved fathers (think Purity Balls). By 1995, an estimated 13 percent of American adolescents had reported taking virginity pledges.

Most concerning, virginity pledges are coupled with abstinence-only education.

In other words, organizers at abstinence-only programs teach that the just  approach to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) before marriage is to prevent sex before marriage.  As the vast majority of us understand, unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases can both be avoided by properly using condoms.

Research on Virginity Pledges

Research virginity pledges and abstinence-only education fluctuates somewhat, but overall it’s clear that such interventions don’t work–at least not in the manner that many hope.

Outcomes from a high-power and longitudinal study (countless participants surveyed five years after pledging abstinence before marriage) written by Rosenbaum and printed in Pediatrics indicates the following:

  • Both pledgers and non-pledgers participated equally in premarital sex, anal sex, and oral sex
  • Pledgers differed from non-pledgers neither in amount of lifetime sexual partners nor age of first sexual encounter
  • Fewer pledgers compared to non-pledgers used birth control and condoms
  • Although both pledgers and non-pledgers were less likely to develop gonorrhea as compared with the general U.S. teenage population, equally pledgers and non-pledgers were equally prone to develop chlamydia and trichomoniasis as individuals from the general populace
  • 82 percent of pledgers denied ever pledging in the first place

Of note, in this analysis, pledgers and non-pledgers were matched as closely as possible with an ambit of pro-abstinence program standards. Additionally, Rosenbaum suggests that the reason why pledgers utilized less contraception and condoms probably has to do with the stance taken by abstinence-only programs that dismisses such interventions as unsuccessful.

Results from a different longitudinal or long-term research printed in the Journal of Adolescent Health indicates that although pledgers (compared with non-pledgers) transition into sexual relationships later and have significantly less sexual exposure in cumulative terms, there were no differences in sexually transmitted disease exposure rates among these two groups.

These results suggest that although abstinence-only pledge programs may delay the age of first sex in certain, by an epidemiology standpoint, this advantage is countered by limited use or appreciation of contraceptive methods among pledgers. To put it differently, even if a person were to have a virginity pledge, from the time she finally does have sex, this gender is more likely to be unprotected.

Fortunatelywe live in a state where it’s a person’s right to choose a virginity pledge and also don a purity ring. However, many of these abstinence-only applications are financed by the national government.  In reality, during the past two decades, hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into abstinence-only apps which makes them apps that we, as taxpayers, finance. Even through the Obama government, money was poured into these programs for reasons that are unclear. What’s more, according to some sources, the government fails to monitor whether these applications succeed rather focusing on program census or participation numbers.

Bottom Line

Because these applications are in part financed by our cash, these programs ought to be liable to consensus standards that benefit the public and heed the recommendations of researchers, doctors and public health officials in the United States. More especially, as a method of birth control and disease prevention and if used correctly, condoms work.  Purity pledges and abstinence-only applications should be managed in a context that acknowledges the importance of protected sex. Presently, abstinence-only programs adopt abstinence at all prices and deny the efficacy of protected sex–a mutually irresponsible position.