Friday, March 18, 2005

Adolescents, Virginity Pledges and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

ABC News describes the findings of a study by doctors Brückner and Bearman published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Here's a link to more detailed description of the conclusions (I haven't gotten hold of the original article).

It seems that a group of adolescents who "pledged" that they would remain virgins until married had the same incidence of sexually transmitted diseases as non-pledgers. I'm not clear on the details of the pledge but I would file this under the law of unintended consequences:

"Among virgins—those who have not had vaginal intercourse—male pledgers are four times more likely to have anal sex; male and female pledgers are six times more likely to have oral sex than non–pledgers. Condom use for anal sex is very low; for oral almost non–existent."
I'm always a little wary of sociological studies especially when I haven't had a chance to review the actual methodology but these findings do seem rather plausible to me. Another line of reasoning to account for the study's results:

"...sexually active pledgers were less likely to use condoms at first sex than non–pledgers. Because most pledgers are sexually active (88 percent of the pledgers), lower rates of condom use increases STD risk. Brückner and Bearman also note that pledgers were less likely to seek and obtain STD–related health care, possibly because of increased stigmatization or misperception of infection risk among pledgers. Because pledgers are less likely to be diagnosed and treated for STD infections, they may be more likely to have those infections for longer periods than non–pledgers."
Leslee Unruh, president of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse in Sioux Falls, S.D. didn't waste much time in forming her response to the data: "bogus". One wonders whether this opinion is ideologically driven. She may just not like the conclusions and what they say about this approach to a serious public health issue.

She does make a good point however: "Kids who pledge abstinence are taught that any word that has 'sex' in it is considered a sexual activity...Therefore oral sex is sex, and they are staying away." In other words, maybe the actual pledge needs to be reworded and its true essense clarified to those who would take it. However, before discarding the study outright, I think this does deserve serious discussion.

On the other hand see this. This is not a news article but a press release sent to U.S. by the National Abstinence Clearinghouse. It seems to completely restate the study's results. I'm dying of curiosity so now I just have to read the original study!


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