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Study: Abstinence Pledges Aren't Enough

New research says the mere act of taking a public vow won't keep teens from sex.

A new study on "virginity pledges" suggests that they are ineffective and perhaps dangerous. Should we rethink how we approach teenagers about sex?

This month's issue of Pediatrics includes a study by Janet Rosenbaum of Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health on the effects of "virginity pledges" — public vows to abstain from sex until marriage. Using a newer, more effective method to analyze data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), Rosenbaum finds the mere act of taking a public vow of abstinence ineffective and likely to lead to riskier choices if (or when) teens have sex.

The study found that teens who took a virginity pledge have sexual relationships that are nearly identical to those of similar teens who did not make such a pledge. The one area in which the pledge does make an impact is negative: Teens who took a virginity pledge and did have sex were less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control.

The bottom line: Taking ...

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