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Teens don't stick to abstinence pledges, finds study
Earth Times
Darya Zarin
May 4, 2006

In what undermines the power of 'virginity pledges', a survey has found that many teenagers sign such a pledge and then go on to have premarital sex, denying that they ever undertook the vow to remain virginal till marriage. In addition, many who have already indulged in sexual intercourse and then signed such a pledge report their sexual history falsely, making it difficult to accurately gauge how well they keep the pledge.

"We can say that evaluating the effectiveness of virginity pledge programs is more difficult and complex than we may have thought. A better and more reliable measure than adolescents' self-reported sexual history might be the straightforward results of medical STD tests," said Janet Rosenbaum, the author of the study and a student of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Under the study, Rosenbaum studied data on 13,568 American adolescents who were participants of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which focused on virginity pledges. The survey asked the adolescents questions about the pledge and their sexual habits at the beginning of the study and then a year later. The results showed inconsistencies in the adolescents' account of their sexual history. In addition, around one third of those who had reported that they had had sex in the first survey and then took a pledge said they were virgins in the second survey. The chances of youngsters who were sexually active and then took virginity pledge recanting their earlier statement was four times more than those who hadn't taken the pledge.

Also, a whopping 52 per cent of the adolescents who reported virginity pledges in the first survey said they hadn't in the second one. What's more, 73 per cent of those who reported pledging in the first survey and then reported sexual activity in the second survey denied they had taken the pledge. The chances of denying such a pledge were the highest among those who had indulged in sexual intercourse. This shows that the commitment towards such vows was not strong enough and the drop-out rates were high.

According to Rosenbaum, the findings show that the children perceive their sexual histories differently when they take such pledges, making it difficult not only to conduct accurate studies about their sexual health but also know about their risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STD). A detailed report of the study has been published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States' Monica Rodriguez said the study clearly shows that the pledges don't safeguard teens against STDs. "The study adds to the growing body of evidence that virginity pledges have limited effectiveness in delaying sexual intercourse among adolescents, and that we need to continue to look for strategies that work," she added.

But Concerned Women for America (CWA) expressed outrage at the findings. "This new 'finding' by Harvard is misleading and deceptive. Those who have committed to saving sex for marriage are to be congratulated and encouraged. This study is in direct contradiction with the trends we have been seeing in recent years – both teen pregnancies and teen abortions are down, and evidence indicates these trends are related to increased abstinence among teens," said Dr Janice Crouse, a CWA spokesperson.

Christina Espenscheid, of not-for-profit group Abstinence Clearinghouse, echoed Crouse's sentiments. "Abstinence education is the only truly effective health education for young people. No condom-based sex education program has ever been shown to decrease teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. (American children) deserve abstinence education," she said.

Original Text