Virginity pledges are typically taken by teenagers and young adults who promise to remain abstinent from sexual activity until marriage. Programs promoting virginity pledges began within fundamentalist Christian circles in the United States, but the idea has gained traction in the mainstream, and a number of nonreligious sources (including some public school sex education programs) have adopted secular versions of the virginity pledge.1 Popular media often portrays women as the ones engaging in virginity pledges, but both men and women dedicate to pledges of virginity. From a religious standpoint, these pledges are, a pledge to God, their families, and themselves confirming that they will save themselves for marriage. Individuals from a secular point of view make an argument that virginity pledges lower the rates of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and pregnancies.1
Many people question whether virginity pledges work. And if they work, how effective are they at preventing pregnancies and STIs? This article explores the research on the effectiveness of virginity pledges as well as how to decide if taking a virginity pledge is right for you.
Organizations that Support Virginity Pledges
The first organization to promote virginity pledges was True Love Waits, a subsidiary of LifeWay Christian Resources, which began conducting virginity pledges in 1993 at a Baptist church in Tennessee; it has since grown into a large international organization.2 The text of its pledge currently reads, “Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship.”1
Another abstinence organization, founded shortly after, is Silver Ring Thing, which hosts high-tech live stage events and gives out silver rings to teenagers willing to make the promise to be abstinent until marriage.3 Silver Ring Thing attempts to reach young people by portraying abstinence as a brave counter-cultural decision, stating that “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. In our meet up, hook-up, break-up culture, it’s hard to stand for something that goes against the flow… [our program] is empowering students to resist conformity and choose to be different – a Godly different.” Lifeway Christian Resources seeks to expose any messages that have been distorted about purity and love. Silver Ring Thing wants to get away from the current hook-up culture of today and inspire teens to build a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Do They Really Work?
Despite the noble goals of virginity pledge organizations, objective evidence shows only mixed effectiveness at best. One study on the topic found that young people who took virginity pledges had sex later than those who did not, and had fewer sexual partners, but that the vast majority (88%) of those who took virginity pledges still engaged in premarital sex.4 Furthermore, those who took virginity pledges and ended up having sex were far less likely to use condoms than people who never took the pledge. As a result, STI rates were the same between those who took the pledge and those who did not. Furthermore, even those who made virginity pledges frequently engaged in other forms of sexual activity, such as oral and anal sex. These pledgers were also unlikely to use condoms when engaging in these sexual activities. Another study found that virginity pledges did work, but only in situations where there was a limited amount of individuals participating.1 For example, if a group of students is given the option to pledge and only a small number of them chose to participate, the program would be more likely to work than if the entire class takes the pledge. Furthermore, in the study evaluating “successful” virginity pledges, data shows that it simply delayed the onset of sexual activity for an average of 18 months longer than their peers who had not pledged.1 A similar study found that more than half of adolescents who had taken virginity pledges denied having taken such pledges when surveyed merely a year later5; another study by the same author found that 1/3 of those who make virginity pledges have sexual intercourse within three years of their commitment to abstinence.6 This last study found no significant difference at all between the sexual behavior of pledgers and non-pledgers.
Positive Outcomes of Virginity Pledges
This list of positive outcomes is important to consider when making a decision toward taking a virginity pledge. A virginity pledge is a big commitment and one should be considered at length before dedicating to a virginity pledge. The following list many positives that accompany this pledge:
- Once a person is fully committed to a virginity pledge, and abstain, from all forms of sex, they are fully protected from risks associated with pregnancy, STIs, or any contraception malfunctions.
- Virginity pledges can instill a sense of pride in the individual who makes a commitment to this responsibility.8
- Pledging can be a way to create a deep emotional bond with a partner, and can prove the patience they have for each other and their future.
- It can reduce pressure that some feel from their peers to lose their virginity, and allow an individual to lose their virginity at their own pace.
Sex is a very stressful issue for many people throughout the world, and abstaining can relieve this stress. Thinking about these positives and weighing them with the negatives listed below can help a person form a decision by evaluating both sides of an argument.
Negative Outcomes of Virginity Pledges
Now matter how good the intentions, there can also be negative results that accompany a virginity pledge. Evaluating these negatives as an individual decides whether or not to engage in such a pledge can be greatly beneficial:
- They place a stigma on sex that can later cause sexual performance issues, even when the pledge is over; this is because the idea that “sex is dirty” has been instilled in the mind of the young man or woman.7
- Individuals are often left unprepared to form a realistic idea of what constitutes a healthy, sexual relationship.7
- Psychological problems such as anxiety, guilt, and shame can form and therapy may be needed as a result of being convinced to pledge your virginity at a very young age.8
- Virginity pledgers may be less likely to wear a condom or other forms of contraception.7
- Rates of sexually transmitted infections are higher among people who pledged their abstinence than in the general population.7
- Individuals taking this pledge are encouraged to keep their minds clear of sexual thoughts, and by doing so they are more likely to ignore many important questions they may have about their body and other sexual functions.
These negatives can have powerful implications on one’s life, so it is encouraged to think deeply about these issues and how they might pertain to one’s life. These points are only one side of an evaluation of virginity pledges and are here to invoke additional questions that one may have before committing to this responsibility.
It Is Up to You
Many individuals feel pressured by their church, their parents, or even their peers to remain abstinent. Many other people feel pressured by their friends, their peers, and their social groups to lose their virginity as soon as possible.Ultimately, only you can decide what is best for you; and while it may be beneficial to consider suggestions from other people, you are in charge of your choices. It is your body and your virginity that you are taking care of; losing your virginity can be just as special before marriage as it can be after. It can be harmful to blindly follow the orders of people who are attempting to impose their own views on you. Take note of what others have to say, but do your own research on the matter and take time to consider your options. Sex is an important part of many people’s lives, so ponder the situation that seems right to you. Think about your own happiness and the choices that might lead you there; the only “right time” is when you feel comfortable and excited about having sex. To any teenagers or young adults reading this, remember that to remain abstinent or lose one’s virginity is a highly complex personal decision, and ultimately you can make the choices that you feel are right for you. Although the statistics about virginity pledges are not always encouraging, you are in control of your own life, and you can make the choice to be abstinent. If you do choose to become sexually active, however, using contraceptives to avoid STIs and pregnancy will be important aspects to consider. Engaging in sexual activities without the use of barrier and/or hormonal contraceptives is risky so it is crucial you to get tested for STIs. Testing is strongly encouraged because many STIs are easily treatable and may get worse if left untreated. If you are worried about your privacy, you can visit a clinic anonymously to get tested, and they will only disclose the results to you. Visit Planned Parenthood to find a clinic near you.
Research has shown that teenagers who take virginity pledges are less likely to get tested or see a doctor about STIs, so it is recommend that you speak to a doctor, or to an organization such as Planned Parenthood, if you have any STI-related concerns.4 In the meantime, we encourage you to read more about these topics on our website and to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible before having sex.
This information is intended to be a resource for people of all cultures and religious beliefs, and we understand that abstinence until marriage is an important goal for many people. However, we encourage parents and other adult authority figures to consider the fact that virginity pledges often do not have the intended effect—and may in fact have unintended negative effects by presenting an “all or nothing” view that indirectly encourages young people who do engage in sex to avoid using contraceptives. For those who value the benefits of teaching young people to be abstinent, we encourage you to also educate them about the proper use of condoms and birth control—so that even young people who do not live up to the standard of abstinence until marriage are still empowered to protect themselves against pregnancy and STIs. We believe that if young people are given as much knowledge as possible on the topic of sex, their chances of making safe, well-informed decisions will vastly increase.
For information on clinics near your area and the services they offer, follow the links listed below:
- “’I Swear I Won’t!’ A Brief Explanation of Virginity Pledges.” Siecus.org. Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, August 2005. Web.15 April 2014.
- “History of True Love Waits.” Lifeway.com. LifeWay Christian Resources. Web. 15 April 2014.
- SilverRingThing.com. Silver Ring Thing, Web. 15 April 2014.
- Brückner, Hannah, and Peter Bearman. “After the Promise: The STD Consequences of Adolescent Virginity Pledges.” Journal of Adolescent Health 36.4 (2005): 271-78. Print.
- Rosenbaum, Janet E. “Reborn a Virgin: Adolescents’ Retracting of Virginity Pledges and Sexual Histories.” American Journal of Public Health 96.6 (2006): 1098-103. Print.
- Rosenbaum, J. E. “Patient Teenagers? A Comparison of the Sexual Behavior of Virginity Pledgers and Matched Nonpledgers.” Pediatrics 123.1 (2009): E110-120. Print.
- Culp-Ressler, Tara. “How Virginity Pledges Can End Up Hurting Kids.” ThinkProgress. ThinkProgress, 23 Sept. 2016. Web.
- Pugsley, Samantha. “I Took a Christian Virginity Pledge As a Child And It Nearly Destroyed My Life.” Alternet. N.p., 5 Aug. 2014. Web.
Last Updated: 7 February 2017.