In the early 90’s, a new phenomena swept religious groups: Virginity Pledges. This accompanied a political push to get abstinence-only sex education in schools across the US.
These promises are made by young people to abstain from sex until after marriage, often before their first sexual stirrings. Typically these vows are accompanied by a silver ring, worn as one would wear a wedding ring.
No surprisingly, these vows were also accompanied by non-compliance. It is so easy to promise not to do something before the temptation — or hormones — lure a person to experiment with this very normal human experience.
The research by Antoinette M. Landor and Leslie Gordon Simons followed up on those who took the pledge. Here’s what they found (their words, not mine):
- Twenty-seven percent of respondents in the present study report signing a virginity pledge.
- Approximately two-thirds of virginity pledge signers in the study report not being a virgin and 77 % of pledge signers had engaged in oral sex.
- The finding that pledge signers with low religious commitment have more oral sex partners than non-pledge signers is consistent with previous research suggesting that virginity pledges encourage risky noncoital sexual behaviors as a way for pledgers to “preserve” their virginity.
So, what does all this mean?
As their research suggested, emerging adults are not going to honor their pledge based on what their parents tell them they should. It is how they feel intrinsically, what their personal belief system is, regardless of outward church-going activities.
It also means that when kids sign a pledge to abstain until marriage, sex education will not include condom use, pregnancy/STI prevention, sexual decision-making skills, etc. Because, you know, why bother? They won’t need that! (Um, yeah, they will. Even if they do choose to wait, they still need sexual health guidance.)
This is what happens to young people when we have magical thoughts about abstinence-only sex education:
- They have sex anyway.
- They don’t learn how to prevent unintended pregnancy/STIs from medically-informed sources.
- They will have oral sex to “preserve” they virginity…(oral sex is sex and can cause STIs too).
- They don’t have the verbal tools to say no. Or yes!
- They often have more sexual partners.
- They experience shame for doing the deed — even into marriage. (Think about it, if sex is a sin until marriage, the shame of having sex doesn’t magically disappear when a person says, “I do”.)
Is this necessary??
Truly. Is this necessary? Abstinence pledges do way more harm than good. They instill a sense of shame in individuals if they failed to live up to certain expectations. If a kid is going to abstain from sex of their own free will, they don’t need a ring to prove it. Nor do they need to make a vow to parents.
It honestly makes me wonder, who is this for?? It is surely not benefiting the youth. It is certainly a great way to avoid difficult, but important, conversations about sexuality.
Sexuality, sexual intercourse, oral sex, etc… it’s about relationships, not religion. Perhaps redirect conversations and talk about healthy, consensual relationships and what that looks like…what it feels like. Help your kids figure out what is healthy for them.
Because honestly, shaming kids into a certain kind of behavior is certain to backfire. Be on their team, not on the sidelines waving the yellow flag, to be an effective parent. The little silver ring won’t preserve kid’s sexual health, but education, conversation, and a foundation of trust with their parents will.