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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Ax Gets Laid

This is easily the worst set of "scientific" reasoning I've seen in the last year.

First, we are told, based on the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health that virginity pledges don't work. Two groups of teens matched for religious views were divided into two groups - pledge-takers and non-pledge-takers. They were checked five years later to see how much effect the pledge had.
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 percent," says Rosenbaum. Overall, roughly 75 percent of pledgers and non-pledgers were sexually active, and about one in five was married.
In short, virginity pledges - the teen sex version of the altar call conversion - don't seem to work. For a Catholic, this should not be a surprise. Why should such a pledge work?

After all, altar calls don't work.

We've known for decades that the Protestant altar call, a once-saved, always-saved, spur-of-the-moment decision to give your life to Christ, doesn't stand the test of time. Ecclesial communities, fundamentalist and/or evangelical Christian groups who depend on them to run up membership always find that they have "converted" thousands of people in the course of a year, but none of them actually stick. The number of regular attendees simply doesn't increase.

So, the belief that a one-time virginity pledge is going to make a huge difference is really based on a flawed Protestant understanding of the human person.

But the "scientists" who ran the study had larger ideological axes to grind. The purpose of the study was to promote contraception, and darned if they didn't find out that pledge-takers were less likely to use contraception. Here's their worry:
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.
Ok, I don't get it. The teens in question apparently didn't remember that they took a pledge, or didn't put much weight on that pledge later in life, according to the article.

Yet the training which caused them to take the pledge lightly, even though the pledge was very heavily emphasized, caused them to disregard contraceptive use?

How does that work?

Did the teens disregard the pledge because it WAS heavily promoted, but they disregarded birth control because it WAS NOT heavily promoted? They paid attention to the negative birth control part of the lesson, but dozed during the positive virginity pledge part? Every day?

Isn't it a lot more likely that these kids had a pretty negative view of contraception even before the training, which is why they took the pledge? Isn't it possible they saw what contraception was doing to the marriages their own parents were involved in and didn't really like the results?

But, no, we aren't allowed to walk down that road. It must have been the TRAINING that created such negative attitudes. Kids don't know nothin' unless we teach them:
"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."
Well, yeah. And they would have good reason to think that using birth control or condoms is not worth the bother. Here's the kicker, hidden in the last sentence, fourth paragraph from the bottom:
The new study does not suggest that virginity pledges are harmful, says Andrew Goldstein, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, because they were not associated with an increase in STDs or unplanned pregnancies.
So, if the young people who were NOT using contraception had the same rate of STDs and unplanned pregnancies as the young people who WERE using contraception, what does that say about contraception?

Wouldn't it be safe to conclude that contraceptives are as useless as virginity pledges?

Not if you have an ax, I suppose.

UPDATE:
Here's a story about a researcher who looked at the VERY SAME DATA and came to dramatically different conclusions...

Update Two:
Another interesting take on the study from the Wall Street Journal (hat tip to Jordanes). It includes this observation:
Most parents appreciate that a pledge of virginity -- a one-time event that might be made at an emotional moment in a teen's life -- is not some talisman that will magically shield their sons and daughters from the strong and normal desires that grow as they discover their sexuality.
It also points out a radically important aspect of the study that I failed to notice: since the two cohorts being studied were matched for religious and conservative views, a large chunk of the teen population available to the study was left out of the analysis. To be precise, the kind of activity engaged in by non-religious, non-conservative teens was ignored.

When EITHER of the two study cohorts are compared to the general teen population, we find that BOTH conservative, religious cohorts acted more responsibly towards their own sexuality than did the non-religious, non-conservative teens who were left out by the researchers.

So, my original point holds: the virginity pledge is almost identical to an altar call.

But what no one noticed - except, apparently, for me - was that contraceptive use has ZERO effect on either pregnancy rates or STD rates.

Contraceptives are as useless as the virginity pledge.

Your live your worldview.

Seen in this light, condoms are really just the secular form of the altar call - it's a one-time decision that doesn't affect outcome.

12 comments:

Jordanes said...

Well, what immediately jumped out at me was that this alleged "longitudinal" study lasted only FIVE YEARS! In other words, this is pseudoscience, sheer phlebotomistic quackery. When looking at human behavior of children and adolescents as they grow, longitudinal studies that last less than 15 years are rubbish -- to really learn anything you need to start the study when the children are small and follow them until they're in their early 20s. No abstinence program has been functioning that long, so there is no scientific study that can tell us if, or what kind of, abstinence program works.

Anonymous said...

So your logical attack on this study seems to miss many key points. Your overarching point seems to be that the use of contraception had no connection to virginity pledges. Your reasoning that if the teens ignored the virginity pledge they must have ignored the information on contraception as well is ludicrous. Frankly these teens are having sex because it feels good, if their information on contraception has been slanted then they are less likely to use them. Sex feeling good has no baring on condom use.

As to Jordanes, I am sorry but you are just flat wrong. Behavioural models from practical survey results can be generated in 5 years quite easily. Given the length of time that sexual education is give is 4 years, and that abstinence only has been around for longer than that, your point is invalid. Unless you know of a school system that begins teaching sex ed in kindergarten your assertion that no study can tell us its effectiveness is just plain wrong.

Jordanes said...

Some nameless individual said: Your overarching point seems to be that the use of contraception had no connection to virginity pledges.

Since he didn't make that point at all, we can be pretty confident that that isn't his overarching point.

Your reasoning that if the teens ignored the virginity pledge they must have ignored the information on contraception as well is ludicrous.

Ludicrous might be a good word to describe your straw man misreading of what he said.

Frankly these teens are having sex because it feels good

You're talking about "teens," but the study is primarily talking about young adults in the 20s. Also, there are probably more reasons why they are fornicating besides "it feels good."

if their information on contraception has been slanted then they are less likely to use them.

They also might be less likely to use them if they're told the truth about contraception, which sex education does not do.

Sex feeling good has no baring on condom use.

No "baring," eh? Calling Dr. Freud. But really, sex feeling good certainly does have bearing on non-use of condoms, since sex doesn't feel as good when you use a condom. That's one of the big reasons why people generally prefer to poison our women to make them barren rather than trying to slip a sheath of latex on the male member.

As to Jordanes, I am sorry but you are just flat wrong. Behavioural models from practical survey results can be generated in 5 years quite easily.

I'm sorry, whoever you are, but you are just flat wrong. Good, useful longitudinal studies take far longer than 5 years to do. There's no way to control for all the variables that might account for the behavior with just a 5 year "shortitudinal" study.

Given the length of time that sexual education is give is 4 years

An unjustifiable assumption.

and that abstinence only has been around for longer than that, your point is invalid.

Given the fact that human sexual development begins prior to and apart from whatever a public school might say or do, your point is meaningless.

Unless you know of a school system that begins teaching sex ed in kindergarten your assertion that no study can tell us its effectiveness is just plain wrong.

Again with the straw man fallacy. I didn't say that no study can tell us its effectiveness, I said that THIS study does not tell us its effectiveness. Anyway sex education begins at home, not at school, usually thanks to harmful images on broadcast television, but chiefly through attitudes, messages, and behavior modeled by the parents (or more often than not these days, by the single mother and her string of boyfriends).

Eelco Hillenius said...

Virginity pledges by teens. You don't need to be a scientist to understand the futility of that. Very sad that such programs get tax payer money to start with.

Ann said...

It seems to me that the underlying problem with both "virginity pledges" and contraceptive use is the same problem as in many other areas. Parents have turned their authority as the primary educators of their children over to the schools and government programs. Abstinence, taught on a moral basis rather than a health basis, works because kids are taught that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and should be kept pure and that sex is something that is between married couples, as God planned it. No where in that approach does it talk about sexually transmitted diseases, condom use, etc. So, if your whole premise is to keep the young person safe then the most important thing to keep safe is the welfare of their immortal soul. If, however, your purpose is to denigrate the human person and put them on the same level as animals, then you use the same arguments that they have been using for illegal drugs - they are going to do it anyway, so let's make it (1) easier, (2) safer, (3) legal - choose your option and fill in the blank. Why not use that same argument for stealing, rape, or murder - oh yeah, they do use it for murder only they call it a "choice".

Anonymous said...

This is one of the reasons why the rest of us (the rest of the world) cant wait for the American Empire to pass.

Jordanes said...

This is one of the reasons why the rest of us (the rest of the world) cant wait for the American Empire to pass.

Amazing! Every single non-American on earth thinks the EXACT SAME THING! And our Somebody-or-other here knows what they think!

But perhaps you can clarify why they can't wait for the alleged American Empire to pass. Is it because our teenagers can't keep it in their pants, or because not enough of our young unmarried men wear latex sheaths on their reproductive apparatus, or because America has at times made a few tax dollars available to finance efforts to encourage young people to remain chaste until marriage, or what?

Virginity pledges by teens. You don't need to be a scientist to understand the futility of that.

Yes, because everybody knows that all teens fornicate. (Well, at least they do if they are strongly encouraged to do so, as they are in modern America and elsewhere in what used to be called Western civilisation.)

YaknYeti said...

Could one conclude from this study that we should be teaching our young people more conservative & religious beliefs to keep them from having sex before marriage? After all, if this is a more determinative factor than abstinence pledges, we should follow where the science leads.

Anonymous said...

"Isn't it a lot more likely that these kids had a pretty negative view of contraception even before the training, which is why they took the pledge? Isn't it possible they saw what contraception was doing to the marriages their own parents were involved in and didn't really like the results?"

What can contraception really do to a marriage, especially in a negative or detrimental way? I don't understande this comment at all??? I guess I can imagine a situation where a husband wants another child and the wife doesn't, so maybe conflict could arise, but really what marriage suffers strife from a latex condom??? And Jordanes, what are you talking about "our women" and "poisening" them making them infertile? Is this a particular group of your girlfriends? It is true that promiscuity leads to infertility in women, but is pretty negligible unless your talking about a lot of partners, but either way its her body and her choices to have sex, not yours or mine or any other mans. The choice of having or not having sex is largely a womens, men play the role of pawns. To this extent men control the choice of staying with an individual for life, also known as marriage. Either way a chunk of the people I knew who took the virginity pledge in HS were pregnent the next semester or were already widely known to have given it up and wore their pledge ring as a fashion statement, seems to me its about as useless as reclaiming your viginity.

Jordanes said...

First Things has an insightful little comment on this "study":

http://www.firstthings.com/blog/2009/01/07/religious-teens-differ-little-in-sexual-behavior-whether-or-not-they-take-a-pledge/

Jordanes said...

What can contraception really do to a marriage, especially in a negative or detrimental way? I don't understande this comment at all???

Contraception corrodes the marital bond, since it means the spouses are holding an important part of themselves back when they had promised each other to give of themselves totally and unreservedly. It also reconstitutes the marriage's purpose as providing fulfillment to the man and/or the wife rather than providing a nurturing, loving foundation and environment for life-giving love: a love that gives life not just to children but to the spouses.

http://www.holyspiritinteractive.net/columns/edwardpsri/loveandresponsibility/11.asp

I guess I can imagine a situation where a husband wants another child and the wife doesn't, so maybe conflict could arise, but really what marriage suffers strife from a latex condom???

Millions of them do. My parents' marriage sure did.

And Jordanes, what are you talking about "our women" and "poisening" them making them infertile?

Contraceptive drugs are poisons. They are chemicals designed to make a woman's body sick so that her reproductive system is incapable of functioning properly.

Is this a particular group of your girlfriends?

There's no call for such insults here. Sticks to issues and ideas, and do not attack persons.

It is true that promiscuity leads to infertility in women, but is pretty negligible unless your talking about a lot of partners

Contraception makes women infertile too. That's why women take contraceptives: so that they will be infertile and thus not conceive children when they have sex.

but either way its her body and her choices to have sex, not yours or mine or any other mans.

Sure is convenient for us men when she chooses to take contraceptive poisons. Anyway no one has complete moral authority to do with their bodies as they please. We may choose to do evil with our bodies, but if we do we will have to give an account for it now and in the next life. No one can escape the consequences of their sins.

The choice of having or not having sex is largely a womens, men play the role of pawns.

On the contrary, men have been pretty successful at convincing women to have sex.

To this extent men control the choice of staying with an individual for life, also known as marriage.

Yep, it is often the case that men have fewer familial burdens when a marriage ends: usually the mother keeps the kids, and the man has to pay child support but can move on to a new sexual partner.

Either way a chunk of the people I knew who took the virginity pledge in HS were pregnent the next semester or were already widely known to have given it up and wore their pledge ring as a fashion statement, seems to me its about as useless as reclaiming your viginity.

Yes, virginity pledges are probably not going to do much to improve matters. "Reclaiming virginity" isn't useless, though -- repenting of sexual immorality is always a good thing.

KC said...

Seen this? http://www.demographicwinter.com/index.html