May 12, 2006
A recent Harvard study found that 52 percent of surveyed young people had sex within a year of signing a virginity pledge. Researcher Janet Rosenbaum analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a survey conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the only government-sponsored study that asks about virginity pledges.
The 14,000 survey subjects, ages 12-18, were interviewed in 1995 and re-interviewed in 1996 and 2001. Of those who had sex after telling the first interviewers they had taken the pledge, 73 percent denied having taken the pledge in their second interview. "This may indicate they are not closely affiliated with the pledge," Rosenbaum said.
Rosenbaum found adolescents were unreliable in reporting their sexual experiences. More than one-fourth of nonvirgins who later took a virginity pledge said in the second interview that they had never had sex.
"That puts a lot of error in these studies," Rosenbaum said. She noted that virginity pledgers were likely to give unreliable data about their sexual history, and that medical testing is a more reliable gauge of adolescent sexual activity than teens' own reporting.
The study's findings have been disputed by Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America. "This study is in direct contradiction with trends we have been seeing in recent years," Crouse said. "Those who make virginity pledges have shown greater resolve to save sex for marriage."
The Christian Sex Education Project introduced virginity pledges in the early 1990s. By some estimates, some 2.5 million adolescents around the world have vowed to postpone sex until marriage, including virgins and those who were previously sexually active.
The full report, "Reborn a Virgin: Adolescents' Retracting of Virginity Pledges and Sexual Histories," was published in the American Journal of Public Health (2006;doi:10.2105/AJPH.2005.063305).