- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

Some teens who pledge to remain virgins until marriage engage in alternative sexual behavior that makes them just as likely to get one of several sexually transmitted diseases as nonpledgers, researchers say in a new study.

Peter Bearman and Hannah Bruckner, authors of a study released yesterday in the Journal of Adolescent Health, said there was a statistically insignificant difference of less than three percentage points between virginity pledgers and nonpledgers who reported having trichomoniasis, chlamydia or gonorrhea.

If virginity pledgers are engaging in risky oral or anal sex and don’t use condoms when they begin to have intercourse, promoting such pledges “may not be the optimal approach to preventing STD acquisition among young adults,” the researchers concluded.

Opponents of abstinence education say the study offers new evidence that sex education without condoms and birth control is folly.

“Not only do virginity pledges not work to keep our young people safe, they are causing harm by undermining condom use, contraception and medical treatment,” said William Smith, policy director at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

“Enough is enough,” he said, noting that the Bush administration has asked for a record $206 million for abstinence programs in its 2006 budget.

Heritage Foundation analyst Robert Rector, who supports abstinence education, said the Bearman study shows virginity pledgers “are half as likely to have a child out of wedlock and half as likely to have a teen pregnancy as the nonpledgers. It’s an overwhelming success story.”

Mr. Bearman and Ms. Bruckner, sociologists at Columbia University and Yale University, respectively, study virginity pledge data in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), which has tracked more than 15,000 teens for a decade.

The researchers found that of 9,072 nonpledgers, 6.9 percent reported having trichomoniasis, chlamydia or gonorrhea. Of 777 teens who said they were virginity pledgers in all Add Health interviews, 4.6 percent reported having one of these STDS.

Of 1,622 teens who said they were virginity pledgers in some of the interviews, 6.4 percent reported having one of these STDs.

Because the differences in these rates were not statistically significant, as expected, Mr. Bearman and Ms. Bruckner looked for explanations. After all, he said, “pledgers have fewer sex partners than nonpledgers; they start having sex later and they marry earlier, so they should have lower STD rates, but they don’t.”

The answers, the researchers concluded, may stem from noncoital sexual activity: Between 5 percent and 13 percent of pledgers reported having oral sex, and 1.2 percent engaged in anal sex. STDs may be passed through such activity.

Also, pledgers are less likely to use a condom when they start having sex, the researchers said. Some 55 percent of pledgers say they used a condom at first sex, compared with nearly 60 percent of nonpledgers.

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