WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH PURITY PROMISES?
Despite widespread sexual messages in the media and sexual activity among young adults, virginity pledges or purity promises continue to be popular. Often, students make these pledges after a religious message about purity or at a religious gathering.
The popularity of these pledges stems from several sources. Of course, many religions value virginity (including Christianity) and believe marriage to be sacred–encouraging young people to save themselves for their marriage partner. In addition to this, nonreligious individuals have encouraged the pledge as a means of helping young people avoid sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and teen pregnancy. Abstinence-only education (for which there continues to be some federal funding) has also driven the idea of virginity pledges.
DO VIRGINITY PLEDGES WORK?
Despite support from both religious and non-religious sources, research looking at whether virginity pledges work has had varying results (see Bruckner & Bearman, 2005 and Martino et al., 2008). A recent study by Landor and Simons (2014) addressed the role religiosity may play in the effectiveness of virginity pledges.
These authors surveyed a group of over 1,000 “emerging adults”–young college students between the ages of 18-24 years. These students supplied information related to their sexual histories, their virginity status and their experiences of making virginity pledges.
Of the students in this study, 27% reported having signed a virginity pledge at some point. Yet, making a promise against sexual activity did not stop these individuals from having sex – 65% had engaged in intercourse and 77% had engaged in oral sex.
The question remains–does religiosity impact these numbers? It basically depends on the person’s religious experience. The authors discuss two different forms of religiosity:
* External religiosity/religious participation – the person goes to church, youth group or religious ceremonies but does not report an internal religious experience or commitment
* Internal religiosity/religious commitment – the person reports praying and seeking spiritual comfort, basically reporting that religion influences his/her daily life
RELIGION AND VIRGINITY PLEDGES
Landor and Simons found an interesting interaction between virginity pledges and the form of religiosity endorsed by the students.
Highly committed pledgers and non-pledgers looked different compared to pledgers and non-pledgers with low commitment.
HIGH RELIGIOUS COMMITTMENT
- pledgers were less likely to have intercourse than non-pledgers
- pledgers had fewer intercourse partners than non-pledgers
- pledgers had fewer oral sex partners than non-pledgers
LOW RELIGIOUS COMMITTMENT
- pledgers were more likely to have intercourse than non-pledgers
- pledgers had more intercourse partners than non-pledgers
- pledgers had more oral sex partners than non-pledgers
THE IMPORTANCE OF RELIGIOUS COMMITMENT
When young adults (emerging adults) choose to sign virginity or make purity promises, the pledge tends to be more effective when the person experiences a commitment to their religious beliefs. Instead of just attending church, these committed students say that their spiritual lives are of daily importance. For these students, the commitment to the pledge is an important part of their overall religious commitment.
Although the pledge doesn’t necessarily keep religiously committed students from pre-marital sex in all circumstances, it does appear to decrease their risky sexual behaviors. They postpone sex, have fewer sexual partners and engage in oral sex less often (oral sex with multiple partners is liked to STIs).
In opposition to these findings, pledge signers who show low or no religious commitment are more risky in their sexual behaviors than non–pledgers.
Why is this? Maybe low committed pledgers experience a sort of rebound effect after they break their pledge for the first time. It’s possible that once they break their promise they feel a sense of failure and develop a “what the heck” attitude toward sex and risky behaviors. Without a religious commitment to fall back on, they act out sexually (despite having made a pledge against it).
Based upon these findings, Landor and Simons question the value of virginity pledges for the general population of emerging adults. They also question the use of government funds for abstinence-only education. They suggest the use of comprehensive sex education which includes contraception information and information about protection against STIs.
A Christian Perspective
Advocates for abstinence-only education as well as purity pledges are found throughout the Christian community. Do these study results and other equivocal results related to these programs mean that Christians should deny their usefulness and move in the direction of the general culture?
Actually, these results actually give weight to the Biblical view of purity before marriage.
• “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor 6:18)
• “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thess. 4:3)
• “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
These results support the idea that a commitment to these Biblical commands and an overall religious commitment are important when it comes to purity pledges. Virginity pledges in religiously committed individuals appear to make a difference. The key is the level of commitment–the daily impact of the person’s spiritual life. Christians can use this information to remind young people that making a purity pledge isn’t just about following the crowd–it’s about a personal commitment to God and following His calling to live a life of purity.
For those who take ahold of this idea, the virginity pledge may not just be the key to fewer sexually risky behaviors but also abstinence until marriage. (Click here to visit my Bible Study blog.)
Until next time – Veola
Limits of this study:
The study only used college students
Religious commitment and religious participation were measured with a total of just 3 questions – the type of religious commitment was not specified (ie: evangelical Christian, Catholic, etc.)
It’s unclear when the students took the virginity pledge
References and Further Reading
Brückner, H., & Bearman, P.B. (2005). After the promise: The STD consequences of adolescent virginity pledges. Journal of Adolescent Health, 36(4) , 271-278.
Landor, A., & Simons, L. (2014). Why virginity pledges succeed or fail: The moderating effect of religious commitment versus religious participation. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 23(6), 1102-1113. doi:10.1007/s10826-013-9769-3
Martino, S. C., Elliott, M. N., Collins, R. L., Kanouse, D. E., & Berry, S. H. (2008). Virginity pledges among the willing: Delays in first intercourse and consistency of condom use. The Journal of Adolescent Health : Official Publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 43(4), 341–348. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2008.02.018
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