May 8, 2006

Shocking news: youths break their virginity pledges!

The L.A. Times reports:
For the Harvard report, 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. It is the only government-sponsored study that asks about virginity pledges.

The 14,000 survey subjects were interviewed in 1995 and reinterviewed in 1996 and 2001. They ranged in age from 12 to 18 and came from across the country.

Rosenbaum found that 52% of those who said they had signed virginity pledges had had sex within a year. And of those who had sex after telling the first interviewers they had taken the pledge, 73% denied in the second interview having made the pledge.

"This may indicate that they are not that closely affiliated with the pledge," Rosenbaum said.
I love that line "This may indicate that they are not that closely affiliated with the pledge." That's putting it diplomatically.

39 comments:

Troy said...

Politicians break campaign promises!

College faculties whine about... everything!

Teenagers drive fast!

Law review articles too long!

This research is groundbreaking. Boy I'm glad I know this so I won't believe everyone will always keep their promises anymore! Thanks!

David said...

I wonder how many millions they spent to find out teenagers, and most others for that matter, pledge virginity until their hormones say otherwise?

Your lips say "NO" but your eyes say "YES, YES, OH GOD YES!"

Patrick Martin said...

Here's another shocking survey result: Teens lie about how much sex they've had! "Medical testing is a more reliable gauge of adolescent sexual activity than their own reporting, Rosenbaum said."

But seriously, the one flaw I see in the study is that it did not compare sexual activity levels in a control group. That the pledge only works half the time does not mean it doesn't work. For example, if 75% of all teens of that age group have had sex, and only 50% of the teens who take the pledge, then that's more effective than nothing.

Also, it's unclear from the article how they were defining sex. It would be quite helpful to know, for example, whether pledge takers were more or less likely to engage in oral sex as a substitute to intercourse.

ChrisO said...

I don't think the study is stating the obvious. There's been a lot of talk about the new focus on abstinence among teens, with a lot of implications that they are rejecting the lifestyle that their parents enjoyed as teens. So if the study does indeed say it's business as usual then it is news.

Dave said...

Reminds me of something a friend said in college: "My abstemiousness is in direct proportion to the length of the legs of the girl walking in the skirt in front of me."

We were walking from a rocks for jocks class which, as I recall, was filled with various ratios (proportions) so the comment was a propos at the time.

Bob said...

Didn't I read a while back about researchers who fudge the data on studies in order to achieve the results they wanted? Also, this seems like the kind of study that started out to prove something they knew all along.

Dave said...

I find it remarkable that some people genuinely believe that "abstinence-only" programs are adequate sex education for teenagers.

That seems a remarkably naive position to take. Just because one wants something to be true doesn't mean it is true.

Joe Baby said...

Sorry, ChrisO, this study doesn't prove a dang thing, IMO. People make pledges they can't/don't keep, break the pledges, then deny they made them. Numbers are probably near 100% for kids who promised to take the trash out before mom had to tell them.

Indeed, if more kids are taking the pledge and the % who broke the pledge stayed even, it would mean that more kids are waiting to have sex. But I doubt we'll be seeing that study.

jeremy said...

This study was given as a talk in the Institute where I'm affiliated. My understanding of this study was that even the people who did not have sex showed poor recollection of whether they had taken the pledge or not.

knoxgirl said...

There's enough caveats in that article for a John Kerry speech!

SippicanCottage said...

When I was a teenager, my father told me: Son, girls are nice, and soft, and smell good, and you're gonna like them.

Dad was right.

I don't recall any kind of pledge though.

Eli Blake said...

This is why we need real sex education, NOT Abstinence-only!

Kids will fool around, that is a story as old as time. I chose not to engage in sex (despite several very available opportunities) in high school or in four years of undergraduate college, but I'm the first one to say that's the exception, not the norm.

What we need to do is go back to where we were a few years ago and teach a full curriculum of sex ed. Including discussions of safe sex, birth control etc. Such discussions certainly include abstinence with the caveat that it is the only 100% safe and effective option for sex, but to do what conservatives have been successful at introducing into school districts and insist on abstinence-ONLY education is frankly stupid.

Sex in and of itself is natural. That doesn't mean that we should all run out and roll around with the first people we run into, but it also doesn't mean that it is up to the schools to push only one point of view about it. Traditional sex ed teaches abstinence AND safe sex, which is a much better way to go about it given the diversity of students (some of whom are already sexually active even before they hit the sex ed class).

What really amazes me is that the same people who insist that nobody should learn how to use a condom, are invariably anti-abortion. This despite the fact that condoms are 98% effective (meaning that 49 out of 50 unwanted pregnancies that occur when a condom is not used, would not occur if it were). What this tells me is that it is less about trying to stop abortion than it is about trying to force somebody else's child to live according to their religious/moral beliefs.

Either that, or they are just plain jealous and vindictive that somebody younger than them is having more fun than they are.

Fitz said...

Interestingly enough, the Catholic Church as an institution does not subscribe to these virginity pledges. Ones Baptism & confirmation is though sufficient. I find the approach to stark, setting young people up for a all or nothing mindset regarding sex. (well! I broke the contract, guess I’m already in breach- might as well continue to fornicate at my leisure)

I do support a rebuilding of an overall emphasis on sexual morality. I see this as a natural corrective to the sexual revolution and one long overdue. In such a context, virginity pledges may be a useful tool, or a failed experiment in a long line of cultural engagements towards a (hopefully) successful outcome.

Jeremy said...

I can't imagine why an interviewer would believe a teenager's claim to have had or not have had sex.

My other thought is that if you really want to cut down on teen sex, neither safe-sex-ed nor abstinence-only is enough. You've got to somehow induce social pressure against it. I don't know if that means convincing movie studios to include non-shagging teen as product placement or what.

My impression/experience has been that the message teens get is typically "You're gonna want to wait until you're ready, or at least until you're older, because this is really important....Nah, just kidding. Have a great time, just don't get pregger."

That's sad to me.

Eli Blake said...

Jeremy:

Why is it sad?

I have two nine year old girls. I hope they do wait. But if they don't, I want them to practice safe sex. Then if they have fun, but keep their grades up and keep focused on their long term goals, I won't be too concerned about it. My oldest did not practice safe sex so she got pregnant at fifteen. That is what I want them to avoid, so they already know what a condom is (I didn't tell them until they asked about it-- in fact, when they were seven standing in line at the supermarket and the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine had something on it about getting better orgasms, so they asked me what an orgasm was and I told them and we went on from there and had a full discussion of sex.)

They still plan to wait, but they also know that if they don't, I expect them to practice safe sex.

But with teenagers getting involved with drugs, alcohol, gangs, crime and cigarettes, there are frankly a lot of worse things they could be involved with than sex. If they are sexually active while they are in high school and get good grades and go to a good college, I will be glad that they went to college, not complaining because they had some fun in high school.

Ann Althouse said...

Jeremy: I think it would make a difference to a lot of females (and some males) to just present abstinence as a respectable alternative, that it's something that's good to do if you can and that you shouldn't let anyone feel there's something wrong with you if you do. Just knowing this is something you can do would mean a lot to some people, and it's important to reach them.

Tom said...

I think Mr. Martin brought up a relevant point when he asked for the definition of sex. In my experience, many people today have a much more narrow definition of sex than existed in the past. I have two nieces who both took abstinence pledges, yet both of them were caught by their mother involved in various acts of nudity with a boy. When reminded of their abstinence pledge, they said "I was just giving him a blow job, that doesn't count. That's not sex." In their minds, they were maintaining their abstinence, though I'm not sure that's what the people who came up with the pledge idea had in mind.

Balfegor said...

I chose not to engage in sex (despite several very available opportunities) in high school or in four years of undergraduate college, but I'm the first one to say that's the exception, not the norm.

It's not the norm, but it ought to be.

On the other hand, abstinence education in the current social environment seems doomed to failure, to me. It's easier to avoid temptation if you don't put yourself in temptation's way (i.e. if you do not put yourself in a position where A can lead to B can lead to C), but at the present moment, I think the "culture" -- so to speak -- of middle and high school tosses temptation up in peoples' faces. I mean, this is why people used to demand that young couples be chaperoned when they would otherwise be in private together, that unmarried young men and women never be in a closed chamber together, etc. No? I may be mixing Eastern and Western cultural traditions here, but that's at least the set of expectations I grew up with (my parents enforced these strictures even at a young age, even with sisters, cousins, etc.) Abstinence in the face of temptation is a losing proposition.

Re: promises, though, I wonder whether the circumstances of the promise matter? E.g. if it is religious, I can imagine a kind of moral hazard "the Power of Christ will compel me!" effect, such that people, trusting in the power of their Saviour, will actually put themselves in higher risk situations as a result. Maybe, maybe not, but I can speculate.

And re:

I think Mr. Martin brought up a relevant point when he asked for the definition of sex. In my experience, many people today have a much more narrow definition of sex than existed in the past. I have two nieces who both took abstinence pledges, yet both of them were caught by their mother involved in various acts of nudity with a boy. When reminded of their abstinence pledge, they said "I was just giving him a blow job, that doesn't count. That's not sex." In their minds, they were maintaining their abstinence, though I'm not sure that's what the people who came up with the pledge idea had in mind.

Oh heavens.

amba said...

I do support a rebuilding of an overall emphasis on sexual morality.

Me too. How about (we can dream!) having abstinence be the cultural norm and ideal till age 18 &/or you leave your parents' house? High school kids do not need the distraction and anxiety of full-out sex -- most are not ready to handle it -- they're still forming their brains, judgment and identity. When they get older, they're more likely to do something because they genuinely want to/ like someone rather than to gain status and compete. And they're more likely to have the sense to be careful and avoid inopportune pregnancy. Of course there would be exceptions, there always have been, but many kids would be grateful for the shelter of such a norm. Jeremy's "You're gonna want to wait until you're ready, or at least until you're older, because this is really important," and mean it.

If I ruled the world, I'd also say, not "Save sex for marriage" but "save sex for love, moving towards marriage." There are many interpretations of "love" and everyone's youth is about finding out the differences among love, "love," and LOVE, and some mistakes and pain are part of the learning process. But everyone knows the difference between using sex to get off and using sex to communicate and explore another person. There is a middle term between promiscuity and sacrament.

Jeremy said...

eli-
It's sad because when children have sex it usually ends in heartbreak. She thought he said he loved her, he thought he did. How could that not be sad?

Eli Blake said...

Jeremy:

Then that is sad because people don't talk enough with their kids about the difference between love and sex, so they learn the hard way. Too many people are limited in their talks with their kids to 1. No, you can't see him, and 2. Because I said so.

I've always been honest with my kids, and we have talked about some pretty mature themes. I would much rather that they enter their teen years with all the wisdom I can give them, than the 'sugar coated' version that parents try to lay on their kids, still visualizing the innocent five year old that wanted to wait up and hug Santa Claus.

Brendan said...

I too have relapsed.

Jeremy said...

eli-
You are right, indeed. Kudos to you and yours. But there are value judgements in there that you're helping your kids with. Those tend to be ignored in standard classroom sex-ed, which opt for more straight ahead mechanical/instructional approach. As result, kids aren't getting the whole picture, just the how, but not the why and why not.

Aspasia M. said...

The real question is how to teach about sex and relationships in the context of a health class.

Does anybody remember the class on alcohol? We had someone from MAAD come in and tell the class that to drink any alcohol before we were 21 years old was going to damage our brains.

That went over real well in a senior year health class.

A "just say no" curriculum isn't going to go anyplace in a high school class. However, if someone put together a complex curriculum, discussing critical ways to think about relationships, that might actually be helpful.

Particularly if useful information about contraception, health and such was also integrated into the class.
-----------
In the Netherlands they advocate something called "Double Dutch" when they teach about contraception. (Using two forms of contraception. As their abortion rates are far below US rates, I'd say that it's working for them.)

Aspasia M. said...

Does anybody know if high schools are excluding teaching about the clitoris from sex-ed classes?


My high school biology teacher told us that they weren't allowed to talk about the clitoris or put it on drawings of female genitalia. Does this still happen in schools?

Sean said...

Last I checked, large numbers of people break their marriage pledges (the part about "forsaking all others . . . ."). I'm not sure why no one waxes self-righteous about the stupidity of such pledges, or advocates "real" marriage education, or whatever.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

And of those who had sex after telling the first interviewers they had taken the pledge, 73% denied in the second interview having made the pledge.

No, that's not what I said at all. I said I pledged to... go to... Virginia. Yeah, that's it, Virginia. And after that, Ohio. And that is a pledge I take very seriously.

Menlo Bob said...

So we can agree, no one should take any sort of pledge to do anything that is difficult because not everyone will succeed. Instead, let's assume people will engage in unhealthful activity and provide for that reality. Great, where do I get my school supplied filtered cigarettes in case I decide to smoke?

Susie said...

I went to a single-sex school for 6 years (7th to 12th grades). Having participated in after-school sports and activities (newspaper, yearbook, etc), my peers and I came home at dinner time. We had no time to meet boys until college.

I would personally like to see single-sex public schools or, at the very least, single-sex classrooms, so that hormones aren't dictating how much learning takes place.

And it would be great if kids were encouraged to take on after-school activities and jobs, so they don't get involved in crime or underaged sex.

Aspasia M. said...

Menlo Bob and Sean,

You can try it with your kids if you think it's a good idea.

(Or if you're not married, you can take a virginity pledge. Some people then wear a ring as a symbol of their pledge.)

proudtobealiberal said...

Abstinence only sex education seems to presume that knowledge of birth control and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases will inevitably lead to sexual experimentation outside of marriage -- and therefore ignorance and fear of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease is the best way to encourage abstinence.

Because they think that fear is an important motivator, they obviously do not trust in their moral message. Someone with a strong moral commitment to chastity until marriage will maintain that commitment even if knowledgeable about birth control or prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

Studies do show that parents who discuss sex with their children are more likely to have children who delay sex.

Sean said...

Try what with my kids, geoduck2? So far as you know, I am one of the legion of married 40-something men who's boinking a 20-something babette at the office, and enjoying every minute of it. Good thing she didn't take a virginity pledge!

At least I'm not sanctimonious about the whole thing.

Aspasia M. said...

Last I checked, large numbers of people break their marriage pledges (the part about "forsaking all others . . . ."). I'm not sure why no one waxes self-righteous about the stupidity of such pledges, or advocates "real" marriage education, or whatever.

I read this statement as you being for virginity pledges. (But maybe you're not for marriage vows?)

Eli Blake said...

Jeremy:

Thank you for the compliment. However, the classroom approach is about far more than just mechanics (which people generally don't need instruction with anyway.) They also teach the effectiveness of different methods of avoiding pregnancy, STD's (and yes, they include abstinence as a method) as well as some strategies to be able to avoid sex on a date if their date has different ideas than they do (in fact, most sex ed curricula suggest that they discuss this with their dates or potential dates before even going on a date so that everyone has the same expectation). True, there is a lot they don't cover but they are a lot more than just a 'put the condom on and drill away' kind of curriculum.

Sean:

Last I checked, large numbers of people break their marriage pledges (the part about "forsaking all others . . . .")

Not the same thing at all. Marriage is about much, much more than sex. It is a wider contract, that involves responsibilities including support, raising kids together, building a future together and making a commitment to help another person in every aspect of their lives.

True that some people choose to ignore those vows, but that only underscores the whole matter of how ridiculous virginity pledges are-- if adults (who incidentally in a healthy marriage also get sex out of it) can't keep their pledges to each other, then it is completely irrational to think that most kids will keep theirs. OK to hope for it, and to encourage it, and to give them ideas for avoiding it, but we better arm them with the knowledge of what to do if/when 'plan A' fails-- because it will fail.

Balfegor said...

Abstinence only sex education seems to presume that knowledge of birth control and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases will inevitably lead to sexual experimentation outside of marriage

It's a moral hazard argument. "Inevitably," no, but will it affect behaviour on the margin? Almost certainly.

Maxine Weiss said...

".....standing in line at the supermarket and the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine had something on it about getting better orgasms, so they asked me what an orgasm was and I told them and we went on from there and had a full discussion of sex.)"---Eli

Eli: That must have been some earful for the people standing in line behind you, double coupons in hand, at the grocery store!

Peace, Maxine

Bruce Hayden said...

The thing about this sort of pledge is that it is often done is a group, and, thus, has some peer pressure behind it. The other thing that it does is make it clear that it is ok not to have sex.

The social pressure to have sex is not just from the media. There is also a lot of peer pressure. HS girls compare experiences, and some of the girls who aren't experimenting yet are made to feel, well, socially inept, or something.

I am all in favor of abstinence pledges - but not to the exclusion of teaching about safe sex. Rather, teaching that abstinence is good for a number of reasons, but if you can't wait, then this is what you should do.

Bruce Hayden said...

Susie,

You can get the same effect with mandatory athletics after school. For example, in one private coed school I know of (well), atheletics run until about 5:30 every day, then home to dinner, and then studying until bed time. Rarely any time left to just hang around and get into this sort of trouble. And weekends aren't much worse, with games, concerts, and studying taking up a lot of them.

The thing though that single sex schools would seem to do though is to limit availability of members of the opposite sex. If you don't meet the guys in school, and don't have the time or energy to do so afterwards, you are most likely fairly safe from temptation.

Bruce Hayden said...

Final comment (at least for awhile).

I see the big problem being that we are fighting against human nature here. We, as a species, are designed to be getting married and having kids at the age of our high schoolers. Sex drive for the guys is at an all time high, and all they think about much of the time is sex.

Yet, we often want them to wait until they are twice the age when they went through puberty before getting married. We expect them to wait until an age when some of their ancestors had had a half dozen kids.

That said, the longer girls wait to have sex, the better their life outcomes are likely to be. Waiting at least until college significantly increases both their likely wealth, and the likelyhood of a successful marriage.

This is a case of deferred gratification, and I am in favor of anything that helps deferring it, at least for a couple of years. But I am also realistic about human nature.