March 18th, 2005

me at star

Study: Virginity pledges don't reduce STD infections in young adults

In a study published today in the Journal of Adolescent Health, two researchers report that:
young adults who took virginity pledges as adolescents are as likely to be infected with STDs as those who did not take virginity pledges. Bruckner, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Yale University, and Bearman, Professor of Sociology at Columbia University were surprised by these findings. "Pledgers have fewer sex partners than non-pledgers, they start having sex later, and they marry earlier, so they should have lower STD rates, but they don't." One reason is that sexually active pledgers were less likely to use condoms at first sex than non-pledgers.
(Full press release available here.)

Another interesting quote from the same press release:
Pledging may lead some young adults to engage in alternative sexual behaviors in order to preserve their virginity. Among virgins - those who have not had vaginal intercourse - male pledgers are four times more likely to have anal sex; male and female pledgers are six times more likely to have oral sex than non-pledgers. Condom use for anal sex is very low; for oral almost non-existent. Thus virgin pledger engagement in riskier behavior may be a factor in higher than expected STD rates.

As I've noted before, I'm currently one of the facilitators for the Our Whole Lives program for grades 7-9 being run by my (and other local) UU congregations. Last week, we were asking the youth to determine what sort of behaviors would fit under the rubric of "abstinence", and our youth were very clear that oral and anal sex were sex.

I'm not sure that anyone could conclude, based on this paper alone, that OWL-style education works better than the sort of "abstinence-only" stuff that the current Administration in Washington is trying to jam down the throats of America's youth. But it does strike me as a clear indicator that focusing solely on a message of "don't have vaginal sex" is ineffective.
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