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Virginity pledges do not reduce STD risk: May encourage high risk sexual behavior

Young adults who take virginity pledges as adolescents are as likely to be infected with sexually transmitted diseases as those who do not take virginity pledges, Yale and Columbia University researchers report in the March 18 issue of Journal of Adolescent Health.

The virginity pledges may even encourage higher risk sexual behavior among young adults, say study authors Hannah Brckner, assistant professor of sociology at Yale University and Peter Bearman, professor of sociology at Columbia University.

"We were surprised by the findings," said Brckner. "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."

One reason is that sexually active pledgers were less likely to use condoms at first sex than non-pledgers. Because most pledgers are sexually active (88 percent of the pledgers), lower rates of condom use increases STD risk. Breckner and Bearman also note 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. Because pledgers are less likely to be diagnosed and treated for STD infections, they may be more likely to have those infections for longer periods than non-pledgers.

"If pledgers have infections for longer periods of time than non-pledgers, this is a reason for concern," said Brckner. The authors said even though pledgers used condoms at the same rate as non-pledgers at the time of their last interview, 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," said Brckner.

Pledging may lead some young adults to engage in alternative sexual behaviors in order to preserve their virginity. Among virgins--those who have not had vag
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Contact: Karen N. Peart
karen.peart@yale.edu
203-432-1326
Yale University
17-Mar-2005


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