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