March 21, 2005

· Gender · Sociology

Nothing like teen sex to get sociology in the newspapers. Here’s more interesting stuff from the AddHealth dataset, and more particularly from Peter Bearman and Hannah Brueckner. This is the most recent in a line of papers on abstinence pledges and adolescent sexual activity more generally. A summary from the L.A. Times:

Young adults who as teenagers took pledges not to have sex until marriage were just as likely to contract a venereal disease as people who didn’t make the promise, according to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. … The study found that 88% of sexually active people who took the pledge had intercourse before marriage. Sexually active pledgers were less likely to use condoms the first time they had sex, Bruckner said. The study found that people who took an abstinence pledge were less likely to get tested and treated for venereal disease. They may then be infected longer than other people.

An earlier paper, Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and First Intercourse addressed the question of whether abstinence movements like “True Love Waits” worked like they were supposed to:

Since 1993, in response to a movement sponsored by the Southern Baptist Church, over 2.5 million adolescents have taken public “virginity” pledges, in which they promise to abstain from sex until marriage. This paper explores the effect of those pledges on the transition to first intercourse. Adolescents who pledge are much less likely to have intercourse than adolescents who do not pledge. The delay effect is substantial. On the other hand, the pledge does not work for adolescents at all ages. Second, pledging delays intercourse only in contexts where there are some, but not too many, pledgers. The pledge works because it is embedded in an identity movement. Consequently, the pledge identity is meaningful only in contexts where it is at least partially nonnormative. Consequences of pledging are explored for those who break their promise. Promise breakers are less likely than others to use contraception at first intercourse.

In short, true love doesn’t wait, except to when it comes to going to the clinic.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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