Virginity Pledges Delay Sexual Activity

“Virginity Pledges Among the Willing: Delays in First Intercourse and Consistency of Condom Use,” Journal of Adolescent Health, 43 (2008): 341–348.

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Purpose: We examine longitudinal relationships between virginity pledging in adolescence and both sexual initiation and condom use. Prior studies have had mixed results and may not adequately control for prepledge differences between pledgers and nonpledgers.

Methods: Data came from a national sample of 12- to 17-year-olds surveyed in 2001 and reinterviewed 1 and 3 years later. Logistic regression models estimated the association between making a pledge and each outcome. Selection bias was reduced through propensity-score weighting and a rich set of demographic and psychosocial covariates.

Results: Pledgers and nonpledgers differed substantially in preexisting characteristics. However, after propensity weighting and statistical controls, pledging was still associated with delayed intercourse. We estimate that in the absence of pledging 42.4% of virgins with characteristics indicating an inclination to pledge initiate intercourse within 3 years; in the presence of the pledge, 33.6% of such youth initiate intercourse. Among those who had sex during this period, pledging was unassociated with condom use. Among those who did not have sex during this period, pledging was unassociated with engagement in noncoital sexual behavior.

Conclusions: Making a virginity pledge appears to be an effective means of delaying sexual intercourse initiation among those inclined to pledge without influencing other sexual behavior; pledging does not appear to affect sexual safety among pledgers who fail to remain abstinent.