Study Shows Teens Unfaithful to Virginity Pledges
What do Americans who took virginity pledges have in common with those who voted for George W. Bush for President? For one, many people in both groups later denied they did any such thing. And to be sure, they got screwed just the same.
Those are just two of the findings from a new study by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Looking at previous data regarding premarital sexual behavior, the analysis focuses "on teens who had similar values about sex and other issues before they took a virginity pledge." As author Janet E. Rosenbaum put it, "Taking a pledge doesn't seem to make any difference at all in any sexual behavior, but it does seem to make a difference in condom use and other forms of birth control that is quite striking." The Washington Post summarized the findings:
The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a "virginity pledge," but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers.
Like the Bush voters who now claim they backed John Kerry or Al Gore, the virginity pledgers quickly retracted their promised support for abstinence. Previously, Rosenbaum found that 53% of adolescents in large, federally-funded studies denied doing so a year later. By 2001, 82% of those first interviewed in 1995 had broken their vows. And as the new report detailed, these teens go on to engage in the same gamut of sexual practices at virtually identical levels as non-pledgers, only with a much lower use of condoms and other forms of contraception. (Another 2005 study revealed that "adolescents who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are more likely to substitute high-risk sexual behaviors that increase the likelihood of transmitting sexually transmitted diseases.")
The new analysis is just the latest blow to the Republican agenda of federal funding for abstinence only education. (The pregnancy of would-be vice presidential daughter Bristol Palin, of course, was another.)
As the data consistently show, abstinence-only sex education programs don't work. In April 2007, a study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. of Princeton, N.J. for the U.S. Administration for Children and Families found that children who took part in abstinence-only programs became sexually active at about the same age and had as many sexual partners as those who participated in broader sex education classes. Despite spending $176 million annually and $1.5 billion in the past decade on abstinence programs nationwide, the United States has recently experienced increasing rates of sexual transmitted diseases and pregnancy among teens. (The 3% jump in teen pregnancy rates is the first increase in 15 years.) It's no wonder that by June 2008, 22 states opted out of President Bush's abstinence education program and turned down millions of dollars of federal funding that came with it.
And as with so many measures of social pathology, teenage pregnancy rates are highest in exactly those states that voted for George W. Bush in 2004. In 2006, the Guttmacher Institute compiled data showing rates of teen pregnancy and lives births to teen mothers for each state. As it turns out, 9 of the 10 states with the highest teen pregnancy rates voted for Bush in 2004; all 10 with the highest rates of live births among women ages 15 to 19 are reliably Republican. (The Distrct of Columbia is a notable outlier.) Virtually all of them are among the 28 states which continue to receive federal funds for abstinence education. Conversely, 9 of the 10 states with the lowest rates of teen births voted Democratic in 2004; North Dakota was the only red state to crack the top 10. (Sarah Palin's home state of Alaska is in the middle of the pack at number 23.)
Today's findings from Johns Hopkins can't be good news for all those fathers who took their hopefully chaste daughters to so-called "purity balls." As the numbers suggest, these elaborate rituals and solemn pledges ultimately will fail father and daughter alike. Just like George W. Bush, the man they no doubt similarly once supported.