New Study: Virginity Pledges Don’t Work

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A new study published in Pediatrics has found that those who take virginity pledges are just as likely to have sex as their non-pledging peers and are more likely not to use birth control.

Instead of comparing pledge-takers with the general teenage population, this new study used a refined methodology that controlled for the likelihood that a teenager would delay sex. So, while other studies have found that those who take virginity pledges are more likely to delay sex than the general teenage population, this current study found that the pledge-takers don’t end up delaying sex any longer than peers who are similarly likely to delay sex but who haven’t taken a pledge.

Basically, some teenagers are likely to delay sex for a variety of reasons. Taking a virginity pledge doesn’t prolong that delay. And worse, there is a correlation between pledge taking and the failure to use birth control.

That last bit is, intuitively, not surprising. Virginity pledges portray premarital sex as a sin. We tend to sneak around or be impulsive about things that make us feel guilty. We tend to take more reasonable approaches to things that don’t make us feel guilty.

What this study didn’t control for (and what I don’t think can be controlled for) is whether or not the pledge takers would have approached premarital sex with a high level of guilt and the same aversion to birth control even if they hadn’t take a pledge. What comes first? The view that premarital sex is a sin? Or the pledge?

I have a feeling that this study won’t change the minds of those who believe virginity pledges are worthwhile.