Monday, March 29, 2004

Young women who pledge sexual abstinence are far less likely to have a baby out of wedlock than those who do not make such a pledge, said a Heritage Foundation report released today.

Women who pledge to save sex for marriage “are about 40 percent less likely to have a child out of wedlock when compared to similar young women who do not make such a pledge,” said Heritage Foundation researcher Robert Rector, co-author of the report with Kirk A. Johnson.

The finding held up even when other aspects of the women’s lives were considered, and “strongly suggests” that abstinence-education programs, which reinforce the pledge to remain a virgin until marriage, can “reduce teen pregnancy and out-of-wedlock child bearing,” they said.

The data in the Heritage report comes from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, known as “Add Health,” which has been tracking 12,000 teens since 1994.

Add Health surveyed teens about their personal, school, neighborhood and family characteristics; substance use; violence; and sexual activity, including whether they took “a public or written pledge to remain a virgin until marriage.”

Researchers interested in the effect of pledging to remain a virgin until marriage — an idea that caught on in the mid-1990s with groups like True Love Waits — are studying recent Add Health data, since by 2001, most of the teens surveyed have reached ages 19 to 25.

According to the new Heritage report, 29 percent of young women who had not taken a pledge of virginity until marriage had a child out of wedlock, compared with 14 percent of young women who pledged to abstain.

When race, income, family structure, religiosity and other characteristics were taken into account, the data showed that those who took the pledge were 40 percent less likely to have a child out of wedlock than those who did not, said Mr. Rector and Mr. Johnson.

Earlier research on pledges of abstinence until marriage found that about 12 percent of pledgers waited until marriage to have sex. The rest tended to delay sex by 18 months, had fewer sexual partners and married earlier than those who had not pledged.

In new research released earlier this month, Peter Bearman of Columbia University and Hannah Bruckner of Yale University said that preliminary research shows that sexually transmitted disease (STD) rates of those who pledged abstinence and those who did not are “statistically” the same.

“It’s difficult to simultaneously prepare for sex and say you’re not going to have sex,” said Mr. Bearman, adding that their research would not be published until it had been peer reviewed.

Tamara Kreinin, president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, said the STD study shows the flaws of abstinence-only education.

“We know what works,” she said. Sex education that includes abstinence and contraception is “proven to delay sexual activity and increase contraceptive use.”

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