Teens who take abstinence pledges are almost as likely to be infected with sexually transmitted diseases as kids who don't, according to a new study that found pledgers tend to substitute other risky behavior for regular intercourse.
The rates of oral and anal sex among people who planned to stay abstinent until marriage are higher than among other teens who have not had intercourse at all, according to the study, published in the April issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. Researchers found that kids believe engaging in oral and anal sex gets around the rules of abstinence programs by technically preserving their virginity.
The survey polled about 12,000 teens and was conducted by researchers from Yale and Columbia University, The Associated Press reports. Data was taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, based on an in-school questionnaire given to a sample of students in seventh through 12th grades. The questionnaires are then followed up on with a series of interviews every few years.
The authors of the study broke the teens down into two categories, "inconsistent pledgers" and "consistent pledgers," to reflect the fact that some students had changed their position between interviews. Almost 7 percent of students who did not take a pledge were diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease, compared with 6.4 percent of "inconsistent pledgers" and 4.6 percent of "consistent pledgers." Though the instances of infection were less among those who had pledged, the authors of the study said those differences were "statistically insignificant."
There was more of a difference with respect to high-risk behavior, however. Just 2 percent of kids who never took a pledge said they had engaged in oral or anal sex but not intercourse, compared with 13 percent of "consistent pledgers."
Leslee Unruh, president of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse, called the study "bogus." "Kids who pledge abstinence are taught that any word that has 'sex' in it is considered sexual activity," she said. "Therefore oral sex is sex, and they are staying away."