Rob Stein, a Washington Post Staff Writer states on December 29, 2008 that “[t]eenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.”
Stein describes the new analysis of data from a large federal survey. This study found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a "virginity pledge." Of serious concern is that the study revealed that the percentage of teens who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for those who had pledged abstinence than for who had no pledged.
There are many critics of government-sponsored programs promoting abstinence until marriage, including those that specifically ask students to publicly declare their intention to remain virgins. The new analysis, however, looks further into the values and other issues embraced by teens before they pledged to abstain from sex prior to marriage.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health employee Janet E. Rosenbaum’s report of the new study will appear in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics. She states that the taking of a pledge doesn’t appear to make a difference in teens’ sexual behavior, "but it does seem to make a difference in condom use and other forms of birth control that is quite striking."
It is a certainty that the study’s findings will rekindle the debate about the effectiveness of abstinence-focused sexual education. This will be timely since Congress and the new Obama administration are about to reconsider the more than $176 million in annual funding for such programs.
Sarah Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, was quoted by the Washington Post:
"This study again raises the issue of why the federal government is continuing to invest in abstinence-only programs," said "What have we gained if we only encourage young people to delay sex until they are older, but then when they do become sexually active -- and most do well before marriage -- they don't protect themselves or their partners?"
James Wagoner of the advocacy group Advocates for Youth agreed: "The Democratic Congress needs to get its head out of the sand and get real about sex education in America."
Given the rampant increase in HPV infection and the fact that HPV causes virtually all cervical cancers, it is imperative that our youth be looking beyond abstinence to real information about prevention of HPV infection. While abstinence is one answer, when that doesn’t work, prevention in the form of vaccines may be another answer.
You can read all articles on the subject of HPV infection on this blog here.
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