Hannah Brückner, assistant professor of sociology at Yale University and Peter Bearman, professor of sociology at Columbia University, in new research say young adults who make virginity pledges as adolescents are just as likely to be infected with sexually transmitted diseases as those who do not take virginity pledges, and that virginity pledges may even encourage higher risk sexual behavior.
They were surprised to find that although pledgers have fewer sex partners than non-pledgers, start having sex later, marry earlier, they do not have lower STD rates.
Sexually active pledgers were less likely to use condoms at first sex than non-pledgers and because most are sexually active this increases STD risk. Pledgers were also more reluctant to seek and obtain STD related health care because of increased stigmatization or lack of understanding of the risk of infection. They are less likely to be diagnosed and treated for STD infections, they may be more likely to have those infections for longer periods. This says Brückner is cause for concern.
Some young adults engage in alternative sexual behaviors in order to preserve their virginity. Male virgins-those who have not had vaginal intercourse - are four times more likely to have anal sex; male and female pledgers, six times more likely to have oral sex than non-pledgers. Condom use for anal sex is very low; for oral almost non-existent. Therefore, Brückner said, virgin pledger engagement in riskier behavior may be a factor in higher than expected STD rates.
Pledgers who are married have the same STD rates as non-pledgers who are married. Marriage does not cause STDs; unprotected sex does and knowing how to protect yourself from STDs is important. Most adolescents and young adults have sex so it is important that public health policies are designed to help young people gain the information they need to protect themselves, and others.
Journal of Adolescent Health, 36 (March 18, 2005), pp. 271–278.