An article in today's Wall Street Journal begs to differ on the ineffectiveness of virginity pledges, as shown in a new Johns Hopkins study, among others. But their arguments are totally puzzling to me:
In fact, the only way the study's author, Janet Elise Rosenbaum of Johns Hopkins University, could reach such results was by comparing teens who take a virginity pledge with a very small subset of other teens: those who are just as religious and conservative as the pledge-takers...
The first to notice something lost in the translation was Dr. Bernadine Healy, the former head of both the Red Cross and the National Institutes of Health. Today she serves as health editor for U.S. News & World Report. And in her dispatch on this study, Dr. Healy pointed out that "virginity pledging teens were considerably more conservative in their overall sexual behaviors than teens in general — a fact that many media reports have missed cold."
What Dr. Healy was getting at is that the pledge itself is not what distinguishes these kids from most other teenagers. The real difference is their more conservative and religious home and social environment.
I'm not sure what the issue is here. The study compares apples to apples by comparing (usually religious) pledging teenagers to equally religious non-pledgers. The virginity pledges don't change their sexual activity in any meaningful way, except to make them riskier.
Dr. Healy goes on to applaud the modest sexual habits of all religious teens with off-key statistics:
...When you compare both groups in this study with teens at large, the behavioral differences are striking. Here are just a few:
- These teens generally have less risky sex, i.e., fewer sexual partners.
- These teens are less likely to have a teenage pregnancy, or to have friends who use drugs.
- These teens have less premarital vaginal sex.
- When these teens lose their virginity they tend to do so at age 21 — compared to 17 for the typical American teen.
- And very much overlooked, one out of four of these teens do in fact keep the pledge to remain chaste — amid much cheap ridicule and just about zero support outside their homes or churches.
These teens may indeed have less premarital vaginal sex, but instead many engage in other very risky sexual behaviors — like oral and/or anal sex — precisely because vaginal sex is prohibited. 'Losing your virginity' at 21 says nothing about your prior sex life except that there was no vaginal penetration.
And because pledgers are taught that condoms don't work, they're less likely to use anything to prevent STDs. Once they did become sexually active, which according to the above stats 3 out of 4 did, they had no information on effective birth control. The pregnancy rate among unmarried evangelical teens is actually pretty high. No, really.
This story just makes no sense to me.