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21 March 2005
No-Sex Pledges Linked To High-Risk Sexual Behavior
by George Atkinson

Researchers have found that adolescents who take virginity pledges are as likely to be infected with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as those who do not take virginity pledges. The study, in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that virginity pledges may even encourage higher risk sexual behavior such as unprotected oral and anal sex.

The study authors, Hannah Brückner from Yale and Peter Bearman from Columbia University, were surprised by the findings. "Pledgers have fewer sex partners than non-pledgers, they start having sex later, and they marry earlier, so they should have lower STD rates, but they don't," said Brückner. One of the worrying behaviors uncovered in the study is that sexually active pledgers were less likely to use condoms than non-pledgers. The researchers also found that pledgers were less likely to seek and obtain STD-related health care, possibly because of increased stigmatization or misperception of infection risk among pledgers.

"If pledgers have infections for longer periods of time than non-pledgers, this is a reason for concern," said Brückner. The fact that they were less likely to use condoms earlier could be why their STD rates remain high since they are less likely to be diagnosed. "Putting a condom on after getting an infection does not make the infection go away," Brückner commented.

The researchers also noted that pledging may lead some young people to engage in alternative sexual behaviors in order to preserve their virginity. Among virgins - those who have not had vaginal intercourse - male pledgers are four times more likely to have anal sex whilst male and female pledgers are six times more likely to have oral sex. Condom use for anal sex is very low and for oral almost non-existent, said the researchers. "Virgin pledger engagement in riskier behavior may be a factor in higher than expected STD rates," Brückner concluded.

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