The Downside to Virginity Pledges

Young people who make pledges of virginity begin having sex later and have fewer sexual partners. But oddly they are infected with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) just as often, a new study found.

One reason is that they are less likely to use condoms when the first enter the world of sex, scientists said.

"We were surprised by the findings," said Hannah Bruckner, assistant professor of sociology at Yale University. "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."

The results are detailed in the March 18 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Because virginity pledgers are less likely to use condoms compared to others, they increase their risk of contracting disease. They are also less likely to seek health care for an STD, according to Bruckner and colleague Peter Bearman, professor of sociology at Columbia University.

The pledgers, not diagnosed or treated, may pack disease longer than other people, the researchers say.

"If pledgers have infections for longer periods of time than non-pledgers, this is a reason for concern," said Bruckner.

Other findings in the study:

  • Among virgins -- those who have not had vaginal intercourse -- male pledgers are four times more likely to have anal sex
  • Male and female pledgers are six times more likely to have oral sex than non-pledgers.