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Keeping the Faith: Are Abstinence-Only Pledges Unrealistic?

Ever think evangelical teens are most likely to be the next Juno? You might be onto something. While religion may be a good gauge for attitudes towards sex, it is not for sexual behavior.

A national survey talked to 3,400 teens between 13 and 17 and found that evangelicals are the most likely to say they do not believe in sex before marriage, yet they are just as likely to have it — if not more. Seventy-four percent say they do not believe in premarital sex, compared to 50 percent of mainline Protestants and 25 percent of Jewish teens. Second only to black Protestants, they lose their virginity on average shortly after turning 16.

While the effectiveness of abstinence pledges that are so popular among evangelicals has long been contested, I never knew inflation was a problem. A pledge movement often collapses in a school when it becomes too popular. As soon as it loses its magical minority milieu — 30 percent is the tipping point — teens feel less unique and pledges get tossed aside like last year’s yellow.

Minding the gap between sexual beliefs and behavior becomes even harder when looking at the outcome of abstinence pledges. To find out how effective they are,


According to a 2001 estimate, 2.5 million people in the US pledged to abstain from premarital sex, yet more than half of them do it anyway. Pledges do have some impact though. Teens who take them lose their virginity 18 months later than those who do not and have fewer partners on average.

Once religious conviction gets factored in, pledges sounded even more effective. Those who scored high on religiosity — defined by behaviors like going to church and praying at home — are more likely to abstain. But better indicators are the strength of social networks and quality of relationships with parents. Teens who live with both biological parents and feel their families understand them, pay attention to their concerns, and have fun with them are the most likely to delay sex — regardless of how religious or what religion they are.

What do you think about abstinence-only pledges? A good guideline? Or unrealistic and only for the most religious?


Join The Conversation
Jessiebanana Jessiebanana 8 years
Dave I take sexual compatibility seriously. Since you're going to take that analogy literally... Oh and my mom has has he Toyota Corolla station wagon longer than I have been alive and I am in my twenties. Its been stolen and had a few issue throughout the year, but it still runs great (and the design was modern when she bought it). She'll probably keep that car till she can't drive anymore. She picked the right car. PS Exchanging cars every few years didn't happen in my family or neighborhood. No one had that kind of money to waste. Plus if you maintain your car and take it in for small tune ups and repairs you can avoid big blow ups.
UnDave35 UnDave35 8 years
"With all that said, personally I would never want my wedding day to hurt and I would want to test a car before I bought it." - Jessiebanana And you throw away a car after a few years. Any coincidence?
Newsjunkie80 Newsjunkie80 8 years
When I was younger, I took an abstinence pledge along with my friends. To the best of my knowledge most, but not all of us, kept that pledge. I waited, and I'm glad I did. My husband was also celebate. Our wedding night was very special.
Shadowdamage Shadowdamage 8 years
"With all that said, personally I would never want my wedding day to hurt and I would want to test a car before I bought it." - Jessiebanana :ROTFL: Loved it. On a more mature note, though I find some cars drive a lot better once they are broken in a bit. Just sayin!!! /flee
Shadowdamage Shadowdamage 8 years
"And if not, then that's okay too." - to clarify this, I mean that my mother said If I rather WAIT, that's okay too! (Not that I would be unprotected, lol!) Its so frustrating that these posts don't have a "preview or edit" option, blargle!
Shadowdamage Shadowdamage 8 years
I saw a lot of comments here which I agree with. I am staunchly pro-sex education insofar as some kids go without it, and also insofar as our culture is increasingly sex-saturated and youth-saturated. Teens will be teens and our parents were up to this long before we started debating it, but I think there is nothing wrong if a teen makes a PERSONAL choice for abstinence, its entirely their right, and more power to them. However, understanding why it can be difficult and also understanding the ramifications of not abstaining are crucial to helping that teen stay with his or her choice. Myself, I was lucky enough to have a mother that said "Look, if and when you feel you do want to do this, or think you might, just let's talk it out. I want to be sure you are protected. And if not, then that's okay too." Maybe our family were different but quite honestly that was all I needed, though it helped that I never really wanted kids - that definitely tempered my curiosity (but only so far-hey, I'm only human! haha). Quotes I liked: "I just think that on a public health level, it isn't the best policy." - Bellasugar "It scares me that people are thinking about sex policy for teenagers on a national level." - Organicsugr (And I am not sure this is what is happening here, Organic. However, the idea of mandates for anything involving the 3 words "teen, sex and federal" made me shudder - though I still insist that schools have the right to teach sex education from a biological and technical perspective, and to educate on sexual diseases and other ramifications of going through with it. "I say if you're making this pledge, keep it to yourself...don't make a spectacle of it." - I liked this too, Indielove, for the simple reason that it is a personal decision, and I don't like the idea that somehow abstinence is superior morally, it should remain a decision kept close to the heart and not waved in self-righteousness against teens that have chosen to "dive in" at 16, 17, 18, what have you. I realise kids have sex younger than that (I wish they didn't) but I think education helps deter them more than just say NO and expect them to keep their digits out of the cookie jar. ;) "All I know is that if every teen had to sit through the speech and slide show that my school did, they'd think twice about being unsafe or promiscuous." - Word, GS, I remember the films I saw too and the words soft porn DID NOT APPLY. If anything they went a bit too far, I remember we giggled more than once as they had this distinctly "World War II anti-prozzie" feel to them which had us eye-rolling. Still, it hammered home the point in a plain-facts kind of way. "If you teach abstinence, teach it such that you say, wait till marriage... but if you don't you need to be safe, use condoms- all that jazz. Just saying DON'T to a teenager is more effective than saying DO." - Supercharger I agree with this - at least in my family, this worked properly. My mother's primary concern was not that I would give in, but that IF I DID, I understood upfront the consequences and was protected. "Truth be told it is very unrealsitic to think that in a world saturated by images of sex and the notion that all you have to do is go naked or make a sex tape and you'll be an instant star most teens will abstain. Sex is everywhere you turn and in the world of teens peer pressure is as real and as bad as it gets. It pays to know what options you have should you change your mind and what to do to keep you out of harm's way." - Nya Amen, and it seems to be worse in the past decade for whatever reason...though its always been there, this inter-relationship between culture, influence, and youth, I would say probably starting with the 50s, and the Baby Boomers. Lots of good thoughts on this thread, but I must get back to work - enjoyed reading them!
Meike Meike 8 years
I don't think it's unrealistic to abstain until marriage. At the same, I do believe such couples ought to discuss what their expectations for sex would be after the marriage because nothing kills a relationship faster than one person having a high libido and the other having low libido and no compromises. I failed to mention that my husband, then-boyfriend and I test-drove as well. I guess it's lucky being each other's first and loving each other enough to marry. The point I was trying to make was that I do think that sex ed deters a lot more kids from doing the deed earlier in their teenage to young adult life.
UnDave35 UnDave35 8 years
Yeah, I have a feeling it's only unrealistic to the people who have very little self control. We all have feelings and urges, but we also have a brain that is designed to be in control of everything.
tweet-hotpants tweet-hotpants 8 years
i did the true love waits thing and i waited until i was married. it's not unrealistic and i'm glad i waited. just sayin
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 8 years
"As a parent I can counteract those images and supply good sex.." :rotfl: At first I was like, SAY WHAT? PROVIDE THEM WITH WHAT?!? :rotfl:
ilanac13 ilanac13 8 years
well i think that in today's society it's not nearly as realistic as people think that it could be. i think that these pledges are made with the best of intentions, but a lot of teens find themselves in situations that they are having pre-marital sex, and then you end up hating yourself for disappointing your family.
ceej ceej 8 years
Well yes I don't believe in the overt sexualisation of young girls either. As a parent I can counteract those images and supply good sex and self esteem education to my daughters and hope for the best.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 8 years
I agree ceej sexual expression is a private decision. I kind of chuckle however at your request for abstinence groups to not make a big deal out of it when we're surrounded by a multi-media society that is so pro promiscuity we live in subliminal porn on a daily basis. Like I said in my first post it is a personal choice, choose what is right for you and there is no need to criticize the other.
ceej ceej 8 years
If you wish to be abstinent then good for you but don't make a song and dance about and set up all this expectation and pressure. Education is the only way to truly make that decision. Purity rings are just a nonsense and so is abstinence education. Bristol Palin was a perfect example of that in action. Sexuality should be a private issue. The having of it and the abstaining from it.
graylen graylen 8 years
Completely agree with Hypno's comment. I don't think people should undermine these kid's decisions. At the same time, I am a practicing Christian and my kids will know they can come to me for safe sex options. My mom let me know that she would be disappointed if I decided to have sex before marriage but if I was going to make that choice to not be stupid about it. She would help me get birth control, etc. She didn't want grandkids then! I decided to not have sex before marriage and I am always amazed at the comments/opinions people will throw my way. I guess people feel they have a right to comment on anything. You would think I was some hairy, blue-spotted freak. Nope, I just value my body and my commitments and it's what's right for me. I've been in two long term relationships (4 yrs and the current one is just past 3 yrs). I've been fully supported in my decision and I'm glad I wasn't one of my high school friends who freaked out once a month hoping they would get their period. I do think that good parenting comes into play with those pledges. I never pledged anything on paper (nor would I), but I think if you are raising teens who feel respected and comfortable with their family life, it's much easier for them to make hard and/or unpopular decisions.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 8 years
I can't believe that I of all people am on here defending the abstinence crowd, where the hell is Rod Sterling? Is he in my closet? Calling abstinence ignorant is so wrong. I'm a gay man and let me tell you I went through two years of abstinence myself by choice and I was in my twenties. If it is the right choice for you at the right time than it is not a difficult thing to do. I know a 52 year old gay man handsome as hell looks like he's 40 abstinent for nine years by choice. It is spiritual and when it is true it is powerful. It can be done. Now as for not teaching youth about contraception that is also wrong because at some point abstinence will end and they'll want to make a little love do a little dance and get down tonight, Otay!
margokhal margokhal 8 years
I COMPLETELY agree about teaching the science of sex. I went to a public health professions high school. We didn't have a specific sex ed class...almost every health science and biology class we had had sections about sex! And, really, after you learn *everything* about the way bodies kind of loses its overwhelming appeal. Watching "The Miracle of Life" really did it for me @_@
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 8 years
lol, geebs, after ours, we were afraid to call boys on the phone!! :wink:
geebers geebers 8 years
I had a similar education in health class back in high school like GS. I swear everyone left the class deciding to not have sex. I think that type of education works very well. But again -abstinence only education is a very tiny piece of educating about sex. There has to be a well-rounded curriculum. And I also agree with meike that the morality of sex needs to come from parents. The reality of sex should be taught in some educational forum.
Anniina Anniina 8 years
Man, is sex really that dirty? Just do it when you feel like doing it. and god has nothing to do with it Fine line here between encouraging and sounding like a perv? :D
nyaradzom2001 nyaradzom2001 8 years
and they ahd the pictures to go along with it, but since HIV is common back home my mom took me to the HIV ward and she was like this is what will happen if you are reckless with your life!!! It was a wake up call that every child should have!
Jessiebanana Jessiebanana 8 years
I think what is unrealistic about abstinence pledges is to ask someone as young as 13, who doesn't know who they are or what they want out of life to make this big decision about their future sexual behavior. I think a better plan, at least ethically IMO, would be to teach sex education and discourage sex before you become an adult and then when they are 18 or 20 ask if they want to make the pledge until marriage. In today's society with school and the economy they might not get married till their 30's and I say wait till they have a better perspective of life to make that decision to prevent feeling pressured or guilty to keep a promise that they no longer believe in. With all that said, personally I would never want my wedding day to hurt and I would want to test a car before I bought it.
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 8 years
nyaradzom2001 nyaradzom2001 8 years
GS I just had to laugh at the last bit of your post, it brought back memories. Man women have it rough.
Meike Meike 8 years
Oh, and there was no pledge. My hubby and I are agnostic. It was just a personal decision on both our parts to abstain for the right person to come along.
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