Not exactly a news flash (and I am not against individuals taking virginity pledges, fyi, but am against teens being made to feel like sex is dirty and wrong and that virginity is the be all and end all of life – see Amanda Robb’s piece on purity balls in Best Sex Writing 2009 for more on this topic).
Both groups lost their virginity at an average age of 21, had about three lifetime partners, and had similar rates of STDs. “And the majority were having premarital sex, over 50%,” says Rosenbaum. Overall, roughly 75% of pledgers and non-pledgers were sexually active, and about one in five was married.
Unmarried pledgers, however, were less likely than non-pledgers to use birth control (64% of pledge takers and 70% of non-pledge takers said they used it most of the time) or condoms (42% of pledge takers and 54% of non-pledge takers said they used them most of the time).
“There’s been some speculation about whether teenagers were substituting oral or anal sex for vaginal sex and I found that wasn’t so,” says Rosenbaum, “but I did uphold a previous finding that they are less likely to use birth control and drastically less likely in fact to use condoms–it’s a ten percentage point difference.”
Rosenbaum is concerned that abstinence-only sex education programs that promote virginity pledges may also promote a negative view of condoms and birth control. The result may be teens and young adults who are less likely than their peers to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies.
Federal funds for abstinence only education programs have increased from $73 million in 2001 to $204 million in 2008. About 25 states apply for such funds each year to educate teens, says Rosenbaum. Sometimes programs are measured by how many teens take virginity pledges, not whether the teens stick to them, avoid sexually transmitted diseases or unplanned pregnancies, says Rosenbaum.
“Studies find that kids in abstinence-only programs have negative, biased views about whether condoms work,” she says. Since such programs promote abstinence only they tend to give only the disadvantages of birth control, she says. Teens learn condoms don’t protect you completely from human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes, which is true, but they may not realize that they protect against all the “fluid-based STDs,” she says. “People end up thinking you may as well not bother using birth control or condoms.”