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I Promise To Wait Till Marriage, Unless…
Virginity Pledges and Sex Practices Amongst Teenagers
An article from David R. Smith at TheSource4YM.com
1/2/2009


A ministry friend recently told me of a conversation he had with “Emily,” one of the singers in his student worship band. Emily and her boyfriend were having sex, routinely, and he was wondering what course of action to take.

But didn’t Emily wear a purity ring on her finger?

A Year for Young Sex
With 2008 officially behind us, it’s easy to look back and see just how crammed it was with stories of teen sex, including high profile cases. Bristol Palin just gave birth to her baby last week, and Jamie Lynn Spears is well into motherhood. The Gloucester High girls involved in the pregnancy pact are also coming to term. It appears as though the consequences of teen sex often reveal the “secret life” of American teenagers.

But what about the “good” kids? The kids who love Jesus, make a promise to stay pure, and wear the ring to prove it?

That’s an interesting question. And one that does not have a very clear answer.

The Verdict is Still Out
For several years, studies on the benefit of virginity pledges, or lack thereof, have been coming out. Unfortunately, they rarely agree with one another.

For example, in Pediatrics’ latest report, virginity pledges were seen to have very little efficacy at all. In fact, just five years after taking a pledge to remain abstinent, 82% of pledge takers denied (or forgot) they had ever taken such a vow. “Overall pledge takers were no different from non-pledge takers in terms of their premarital sex, anal and oral sexual practices, and their probability of having a sexually transmitted disease.” (Here is another report that agrees with the one from Pediatrics.)

Yet, these reports stand in sharp contrast to data from The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. They claim that teenagers who make a purity pledge:

  • are less likely to be sexually active while in high school and as young adults,

  • are less likely to experience teen pregnancy,

  • are less likely to engage in risky unpro¬tected sex,

  • will have fewer sexual partners.

But then Jonathan blogged about Rand Corporation’s report on virginity pledges just a few months back that claimed they help delay sex in adolescents. Delay, not stop.

So, do virginity pledges actually prevent sex, delay sex, or have no effect on teen sex at all?

What We DO Know
We may have conflicting data on the success rates of virginity pledges, but there is little discrepancy about the sex practices of teenagers in America. According to The Guttmacher Institute, nearly half (46%) of all 15-19-year-olds in the United States have had sex at least once, with almost 750,000 girls aged 15-19 becoming pregnant. Unfortunately, teenage girls have 17% of the total number of abortions each year. And in March of 2008, The Center for Disease Control released information claiming that one in four teen girls in America have an STD.

Obviously, none of this is good news, and it’s easy to see why people have employed virginity pledges to help teenagers make safer and godlier choices when it comes to sex. But parents and youth workers cannot put all their eggs into the basket of virginity pledges.

So, what should we do?

  1. We need to help teenagers understand that making promises does not change their lives; it’s only when they keep their promises that their lives are changed. Virginity pledges revolve around a covenant, and it’s clear from Scripture that God takes our covenants very seriously. Our job as parents and youth workers is not done when we get a teenager to recite a promise or wear a ring. Our job is done only after we have helped them navigate the sexual pitfalls of culture and enter into a strong marriage where purity will continue to be honored. We must teach that the battle for their sexual purity is far greater than a promise they recite or a piece of jewelry they wear.


  2. We need to drop the notion that having “the” talk with teenagers will suffice. We cannot reduce our efforts and influence to ONE (often awkward) conversation. Teenagers are bombarded with sexual ideas each and every day, with the brunt of them being very different from the ones that parents and youth workers endorse. We need to be prepared to have multiple and ongoing conversations with our teenagers. (Notice I said conversations…not lectures. Teens can easily tell the difference between the two.)

TheSource4YM.com has some fantastic ways to help you facilitate discussions with teenagers about sex, purity, and dealing with past sexual mistakes. We hope these totally free resources will help you help a few teenagers you love.

Thanks for doing all you do in the lives of teenagers. The fight for sexual purity may prove to be the most significant one our teenagers face during adolescence. Thanks for letting us walk beside you in your work.


David R. Smith David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org. David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.


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