From PEDIATRICS Vol. 123 No. 1 January 2009, pp. e110-e120 (doi:10.1542/peds.2008-0407): Patient Teenagers? A Comparison of the Sexual Behavior of Virginity Pledgers and Matched Nonpledgers, Janet Elise Rosenbaum, PhD, AM; Health Policy PhD Program, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.
The subjects for this study were National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health respondents, a nationally representative sample of middle and high school students who, when surveyed in 1995, had never had sex or taken a virginity pledge and who were >15 years of age (n = 3440). Adolescents who reported taking a virginity pledge on the 1996 survey (n = 289) were matched with nonpledgers (n = 645) by using exact and nearest-neighbor matching within propensity score calipers on factors including prepledge religiosity and attitudes toward sex and birth control. Pledgers and matched nonpledgers were compared 5 years after the pledge on self-reported sexual behaviors and positive test results for Chlamydia trachomatis, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and Trichomonas vaginalis, and safe sex outside of marriage by use of birth control and condoms in the past year and at last sex.
RESULTS. Five years after the pledge, 82% of pledgers denied having ever pledged. Pledgers and matched nonpledgers did not differ in premarital sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and anal and oral sex variables. Pledgers had 0.1 fewer past-year partners but did not differ in lifetime sexual partners and age of first sex. Fewer pledgers than matched nonpledgers used birth control and condoms in the past year and birth control at last sex.
CONCLUSIONS. The sexual behavior of virginity pledgers does not differ from that of closely matched nonpledgers, and pledgers are less likely to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease before marriage. Virginity pledges may not affect sexual behavior but may decrease the likelihood of taking precautions during sex. Clinicians should provide birth control information to all adolescents, especially virginity pledgers.
Yeah, I know. You knew or assumed all that already. But it's worth repeating, and it's a particularly good study to take a look at.
Mind, if a given person feels that a pledge, vow or promise to themselves or others to refrain from any kind of sex based on any personal criteria of value to them, none of this means there's anything wrong with doing that. No matter what choices a person of any age makes about when sex is or isn't right for them as individuals, if they're the consensual choices they feel are in the best interest of themselves (and in alignment with what any sexual partners also feel are in their best interest), we can get behind that.
Rather, it simply is not realistic or wise to view abstinence pledges as something which offers young people real protection from pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection, which prevents or delays sexual activity or which reduces any of the possible negative outcomes of sexual activity.