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Virginity pledge highest indicator teens won’t have sex, study shows


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Teenagers who take a pledge of virginity, have loving parents and regard religion and prayer as important are the least likely of all adolescents to report engaging in early sexual behavior, according to a recent study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Conversely, teenagers who appear older than their peers, work 20 or more hours a week and have same-sex attractions or behaviors are more likely to have reported having sex at an earlier age, according to the federally funded National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (popularly referred to as Add Health).
The research was conducted to identify risks to adolescent health and to pinpoint specific factors that might guard against those risks. The Add Health study looked at the emotional health of teenagers and their inclination toward violence, substance abuse and sexual behavior. The group of 90,118 students who completed the initial questionnaire represented all U.S. students in grades seven through 12.
Approximately 17 percent of seventh- and eighth-graders surveyed and almost half (49.8 percent) of ninth- through 12th-graders said they had engaged in sexual intercourse.
However, those who reported they had taken a pledge to virginity were at “significantly lower risk of early age sexual debut” — a fact that did not seem to surprise the authors of the study.
“We expect that young people who indicate they have taken a public or written virginity pledge hold a certain set of beliefs about themselves, about relationships, about adolescent sexual behaviors,” said Michael D. Resnick, director of the National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Research Center, University of Minnesota, and one of the authors of the study. “We also expect that these young people would indeed be more likely than their counterparts to indicate a later age of first intercourse.”
Nearly 16 percent of the females and 10 percent of the males reported making virginity pledges. Taking a pledge of virginity was the highest indicator that a teen would not engage in early sexual behavior, the study found.
“This research is the first major, secular study to document that making a promise of abstinence is a very powerful factor influencing teenager behavior,” said Richard Ross, a founding official of the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board’s sexual abstinence campaign, “True Love Waits.”
Created in April 1993, True Love Waits is an international campaign that challenges teenagers and college students to remain sexually abstinent until marriage. Almost a million teens have signed the TLW abstinence pledge, according to Ross.
“As the study notes, a virginity pledge is a far more powerful indicator of sexual abstinence than any other factor studied,” Ross said. “It is going to be very difficult for our critics to discount this research.”
Other indicators that suggested teens would hold off on sex included: parental disapproval of sex and contraception; high levels of engagement/connectedness to parents, family and school; high grade-point averages; appearing younger than peers; and the level of importance given to religion and prayer.
“Among the almost 88 percent who reported having a religion … those who ascribed importance to religion and prayer tended to have a later age of sexual debut and were also less likely to use all substances,” the study reported.
Meanwhile, teens who worked at least 20 hours a week and looked older than their friends were at higher health risks, the study claimed.
“… Twenty or more hours per week of work during the teenage years is associated with higher levels of emotional distress, substance use and earlier age of sexual debut. … Not only did those who perceived themselves as looking older than peers initiate intercourse at a younger age, but they were also more likely to use cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana.”
Funded through a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development with contributions from 17 other federal agencies, the Add Health study was conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A total of 12,118 teens in grades seven through 12 completed a 90-minute, in-home interview. That group was drawn from a total group of 90,118 students from high schools across the country who completed a 30-minute questionnaire.
On April 14, True Love Waits leaders are expected to deliver the results of the latest campaign effort, True Love Waits Goes Campus, to national and state government leaders. The Goes Campus campaign, which was launched on Valentine’s Day 1997 and held again this year, gives teens who make a virginity commitment the opportunity to display their pledge cards at school.
Officials are hoping to have two figures — those who participated in the latest campaign and those who have signed abstinence pledges since the movement was launched in 1993.
Individuals who have signed abstinence pledges in the past and schools, churches or clubs that participated in the Goes Campus event this year may fax their reports to (615) 251-2830, send them via email to [email protected], or issue them electronically through an on-line reporting mechanism at www.bssb.com/tlwbase.htm.
For more information, call 1-800-LUV WAIT.

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  • Terri Lackey