No Sh-t: New Study Finds 'Virginity Pledges' Ineffective, Promoting Unsafe Sex

Bad (yet not surprising) news for parents whose idea of sex education is making their kids pinky-swear to not have premarital sex: it doesn't work. And not only does it not work, it's not safe.

As the Washington Post reports, a new study conducted by Janet E. Rosenbaum of the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that teens who take "virginity pledges" are not less likely to engage in premarital sex than their non-pledging peers.

The study compared teens who take "virginity pledges" — who tend to come from families that are more religious and conservative and less sex positive — with teens who did not take a pledge but who come from similar backgrounds. In the past, studies of abstinence programs compared religious and conservative teens with more liberal and sex positive teens, which Rosenbaum says is like comparing "apples to oranges." By comparing pledgers with peers who come from a similar backgrounds, Rosenbaum was able to test how effective the "virginity pledge" was in reaching its desired audience... and discovered that the pledge was ineffective: by 2001 she found that 82 percent of those who took the pledge had retracted their promises and there was no significant difference in sexual activity from their peers. In fact more than half of both of the groups studied engaged in fairly typical sexual behavior: they had engaged in different types of sexual activity, had an average of three partners and had sex before they were 21, even if they were unmarried.

The most disturbing part of the study was that it found that teens who took the pledge were less likely to use protection when they eventually did have sex. (This morning on the Today show, Meredith Vieira discussed the study with psychotherapist Laura Berman.)

Ultimately, the study suggests that abstinence programs are ineffective since, as Rosenbaum notes, abstinence is more of an "individual conviction rather than participating in a program." Unfortunately, abstinence programs like "virginity pledges" can create poor sexual practices by not educating teens about different forms of contraception, yet our government spends more than $176 million annually on funding similar, abstinence-focused programs. As Dr. Berman said to Vieria, this is exciting news for the sex education-positive incoming Obama administration.

Study: Teenage 'Virginity Pledges' Are Ineffective [Washington Post, via MSNBC]