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Promoting Intimacy and Other-Centered Sexuality


Virginity Pledges >> STDs
Source: Sexual Intelligence; Issue #62

If you've ever promised yourself you'd stay away from something and did it anyway, this will come as no surprise: the abstinence vows and virginity pledges made by high school and college students get broken. A lot. The latest twist is that these kids are putting themselves at higher risk of STDs.

A study of 12,000 adolescents in the April Journal of Adolescent Health documents what sex education proponents have been saying for years: teens who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are more likely to take chances with other kinds of sex. The report by Yale and Columbia University researchers reveals that teens who pledge abstinence:

* are more likely to have oral and anal sex than other teens who have not had intercourse;
* are just as likely to have STDs as their non-abstinent peers;
* if they're boys and haven't had intercourse, are 4 times more likely to have had anal sex;
* are 6 times more likely to have oral sex than teens who have remained abstinent but not as part of a pledge;
* are less likely to use condoms during their first sexual experience;
* are less likely to get tested for STDs, or to know their STD status.

Kids who pledge abstinence are told that they're bad if they have sex. Thus, they refuse to prepare for it, and are less equipped to cope with it or its aftermath. They are torn between the power of their sexual interests and the desire to be a good person (as defined by the abstinence curriculum). Lacking decision-making skills or real knowledge to lean on, they simplistically decide that non-intercourse sex isn't sex. This allows them to have their (abstinence) cake and eat their (pleasure) cake, too.

Leslee Unruh, president of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse, called the scientific study "bogus," disputing that those involved had pledged true 'abstinence.' "Kids who pledge abstinence are taught that any word that has 'sex' in it is considered a sexual activity," Unruh said. "Therefore oral sex is sex, and they are staying away."

What the abstinence crowd stubbornly refuses to accept is that this is what 'abstinence' looks like to a 15-year-old: stretching the rules. Making "mistakes." "Forgetting." "One thing led to another." "But we were in love." As we've said before (#27, 42), it's why abstinence is not the perfectly reliable method our government claims it is. 'Abstinence' as an abstract concept is totally different than abstinence the method in real life situations. Kids aren't abstractions--they're real people making real decisions in complex circumstances. 'Abstinence' doesn't equip them to make these decisions. Just like people who use the rhythm method are called parents, kids who use abstinence are called sexually active. 88% of teens who pledge abstinence have sex before marriage.

This study, by the way, is science at its finest. It details a truth at variance with many people's "common sense." It shows how one public policy--abstinence programs--leads to an unwanted public outcome--increased STDs. It's a great rebuttal to anyone (like our Congress) who says we don't need sexual science.

Speaking of being out of touch with reality, your federal government just posted a website ( designed to help parents prevent their teens from having sex. It's laden with one-sided values, contains expressions like "unborn child," and features inaccurate information, such as a major link between abortion and infertility. It's like the grownup version of the inaccurate federally-funded sex education curricula criticized by Congressman Waxman (#59).

But Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt says the website is on target, "designed for parents who are embarrassed about talking with their children about sex."

His response to the concerns of physician groups and others is to defend abstinence. He says that with abstinence, teens don't have to worry about STDs and pregnancy. What he doesn't seem to understand is that teens already don't worry--they're teens. They certainly don't worry during moments of passion, love, or peer pressure--the same way many adults respond.

Let's invite the government to prove its sincerity. Statistics tell us at least half the nation's married governors, senators, mayors, and Cabinet members had sex before they married. We invite each of them to stand up and say "I regret having premarital sex"--if, of course, they mean it.

You may quote anything herein for personal, non-commercial use only, with this attribution:
"Reprinted from Sexual Intelligence, ©Marty Klein, Ph.D. ("

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