With evidence mounting that abstinence-only programs are terribly ineffective, we’re now seeing that simplistic approaches like “virginity pledges” also fail the test of reality when it comes to teens and sex.
Teens who take virginity pledges are just as likely to have sex as teens who don’t make such promises — and they’re less likely to practice safe sex to prevent disease or pregnancy, a new study finds.
“Previous studies found that pledgers were more likely to delay having sex than non-pledgers,” said study author Janet E. Rosenbaum, a post doctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “I used the same data as previous studies but a different statistical method.”
This method allowed Rosenbaum to compare those who had taken a virginity pledge with similar teens who hadn’t taken a pledge but were likely to delay having sex, she said. She added that she didn’t include teens who were unlikely to take a pledge.
“Virginity pledgers and similar non-pledgers don’t differ in the rates of vaginal, oral or anal sex or any other sexual behavior,” Rosenbaum said. “Strikingly, pledgers are less likely than similar non-pledgers to use condoms and also less likely to use any form of birth control.”
That pledgers are less likely to use condoms when they do have sex shouldn’t be surprising. “Virginity pledges” are often part of abstinence-only programs that either ignore condoms and other methods of responsible pregnancy and disease prevention or seriously downplay their effectiveness. In fact, they often actively discourage the use of condoms.
It’s way past time that public policymakers stop bowing to the abstinence-only fraud and start promoting education programs that deal with reality. Texas would be a good place to start.
Nearly 14 years ago, then-Gov. George W. Bush persuaded the Texas Legislature to make abstinence the primary component of sex education in the state’s public schools. Section 28.004 of the Texas Education Code requires that sex education materials “present abstinence from sexual activity as the preferred choice of behavior” for unmarried persons of school age. The materials must also “devote more attention to abstinence from sexual activity than to any other behavior” (such as using condoms). On its face, the law seems to make sense. After all, it’s hard to imagine any parent who thinks it’s a good idea for teens to have sex. But many school districts (and — no surprise — certain members of the State Board of Education) have recklessly interpreted the law as an excuse to teach abstinence-only-until-marriage.
So despite having the highest teen birthrate (tied with New Mexico) among the 50 states, Texas teaches most teens almost nothing about how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases except for remaining abstinent — something many teens clearly are not doing. In other words, faced with a serous public health crisis, many Texas policymakers think ignorance will protect our kids. Brilliant.
Polling shows that the vast majority of parents know that promoting ignorance is foolish and actually want schools to teach students about both contraception/disease prevention and abstinence. That’s just common sense.
The Texas Freedom Network is sponsoring one-day Leadership Development Institute trainings that will help advocates learn the skills they need to promote responsible sex education policies. You can learn more about these training opportunities here.