Abstinence pledges work, survey shows
Teens who take public pledges to remain virgins wait about 18 months longer to have sex than those who don't, says a new study published in the American Journal of Sociology. "Adolescents who pledge are much less likely than adolescents who do not pledge to have intercourse," wrote Peter S. Bearman of Columbia University and Hannah Bruckner of Yale University, the authors of the 63-page report. "The delay effect is substantial and robust. Pledging delays intercourse for a long time. In this sense, the pledge works." It works, the scholars say, because taking such a public stand for virginity helps to give teens a sense of identity and community. So, unfortunately, if a school's students overwhelmingly take pledges for virginity (more than 30 percent, says the study), the effect diminishes dramatically. The results come from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which surveyed about 90,000 American teens and found that by 1995 about 10 percent of teen boys and 16 percent of teen girls have taken virginity pledges—that's about 2.5 million teens. "We put the question in the original questionnaire with a smile," the University of North Carolina's J. Richard Udry, who helped design the survey, tells Canada's National Post. "We were cynical about the likelihood that the pledge would produce [significant results]. But we were wrong." One interesting sidenote: one would think that more religious kids would be more likely to make such virginity pledges—and that they'd be less likely to engage in sex anyway. But Bearman tells the Associated Press that pledges still work: "The more religious kids pledge, as do kids who are more oriented toward school. Those are protective effects that would delay their entry into sex anyway. But the pledge effect is in addition to that." Planned Parenthood and similar organizations find the survey depressing—especially findings that teens who break the pledge are more likely to engage in unprotected sex.

But what is abstinence?
But if one survey demonstrates the power of pledges to be abstinent, another shows that teens are confused about what constitutes abstinence. "Researchers, public health experts and health care workers have found that many young people perceive oral and anal sex as something other from sex—and often, even, as abstinence," reports The New York Times. "Health educators themselves are no more clear: a survey last year found that nearly a third believed that oral sex was abstinent behavior." Amy Stephens, head of Focus on the Family's abstinence-education department, says such statistics make abstinence education in schools even more important. "I do think that [teens] learn in schools with government dollars that 'outercourse' and all those behaviors that supposedly come with it are safe," she tells her organization's Family News in Focus. "Now, they're only acting on what they've been told."

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Meanwhile, in Britain …
The Scottish Daily Record reports on a Britain's "first teenage advisory body," called Generation W, which is clearly only trying to shock adults. Not only is the group calling for an end to the British government's £60 million virginity campaign and for free condom machines in school bathrooms, but also that the nation's age of consent be lowered to 12. Danny McLoughlin, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, dismissed the suggestions, saying they "clearly illustrate the age group to which they belong." "In short," translates the Daily Record, "immature and naive."

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