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Monday, May 05, 2008

Teen Virginity Pledges: Can They Work?

"Half of teens who take virginity pledges deny it a year later. But many sexually active teens become born-again virgins after taking the pledge, a new study shows...

Becoming a born-again Christian -- or taking a virginity pledge -- was linked to teens retracting self-reported sex... "It is probably more about what they had for breakfast on that day. Teens are very labile on what they do or say at any one time...

If you are from a fundamentalist denomination, there is less likelihood your child will engage in premarital sex. That may be because the mores of this religion are so strong. But after they leave the protective nest of their observant household, they may go wild with experimentation. Not just with sex but with alcohol, drugs, whatever."...

"Demonizing sexual activity makes it hard for teens to be honest," Bennett says. "So the teen goes into the doctor with a genital rash but says, 'No, I have never had sex.' There is where the real health problem comes in. It creates a barrier to open communication to have that expectation of abstinence."

Bennett also notes that religious teens who say they are virgins -- even though they previously said they'd had sex -- aren't hypocrites.

"When kids come into religion, they are actually told that if they take the virginity pledge they are born-again virgins. God wipes their sex away," Bennett says. "Sexually experienced teens who say, 'I have never had sex,' aren't lying -- they go into denial."...

"Would I bet my money that a teen of 16 is really going to be affected by an abstinence message? No way. She is probably already having sex."...

Bennett finds that both abstinence-only education and abstinence-plus-sex education work. However, when kids do have sex, those who got the abstinence-plus education are better off.

"Both types of program seem to work, but in teens already having sex or those who start sex, those exposed to abstinence-plus were much more likely to use contraceptioncontraception," she says. "Both abstinence-only and abstinence-plus programs seem to decrease sexual activity, but in teens that do end up having sex, they are worse off without safe-sex information."

Parents, Smith and Bennett each note, are very likely to think that teens interpret sexual education as permission to have sex. This isn't the case, Bennett says.

"In 27 studies I reviewed, kids in abstinence-plus programs are not more likely to initiate sex," she says. "The idea kids will take safe-sex information and have wild, rampant sex -- that is not supported in the scientific literature at all.""
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