Science & Tech

‘Virginity pledges’ by adolescents may bias their reports of premarital sex

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Adolescents who sign a “virginity pledge” and then go on to have premarital sex are likely to disavow having signed such a pledge, according to an analysis of survey data by Harvard School of Public Health researcher Janet Rosenbaum published in the advance online edition of the American Journal of Public Health’s June 2006 issue.

Conversely, adolescents who have had premarital sex and then decide to make a virginity pledge are likely to misreport their earlier sexual history. This misreporting of sexual experience will make it difficult to accurately assess virginity pledges’ effects on early sexual intercourse, according to the author.

Moreover, the fact that the majority of adolescents recanted their vows within a year may suggest that the virginity pledge programs have a high drop-out rate and that adolescents do not make a strong affiliation with the pledge, said the author.

Rosenbaum, a doctoral student in health policy at HSPH, examined data from 13,568 adolescents who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a survey sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the only large national study of its kind that has asked questions about virginity pledges, defined as “a public or written pledge to remain a virgin until marriage.”

The analysis of this nationally representative sample compared respondents’ reports of virginity pledges and sexual histories in an initial 1995 survey with their reports in a follow up survey a year later. The researcher looked for whether participants failed to report either a previously reported pledge or sexual experience during the second survey.