Calling Captain Obvious

Guess what? “Virginity pledges,” in which teenagers vow to not engage in sex until they are married, do not work. Teenagers who take such pledges are just as likely to engage in premarital sex than those who do not. Teenagers who take such pledges are less likely than their non-pledging counterparts to use some form of contraception when they do have sex, and therefore are more likely to end up pregnant than those who do not.

Why this outcome to the social experiment of relying on teenagers’ willpower should be a surprise to anyone, anyone at all, is a mystery to me. The teenagers take the pledges in order to please their parents, not necessarily because they really mean it. The “virginity pledge” exists to provide a tissue of control for parents who are fundamentally unable to exercise actual control over their teenagers’ activities — just like “purity balls.” All parents can really do is talk honestly about sex with their kids when they’re entering puberty, train them to make good choices, and hope for the best. Easy for me to say; I don’t have kids.

What must be even worse for parents is knowing that despite their parents’ best efforts, some kids are going to make poor choices anyway, and then have to confront the consequences of those choices. But relying on “virginity pledges,” “purity balls,” religious-based lecturing, and deliberately keeping kids ignorant falls short of even that standard. That’s the “ostrich strategy,” and its success rate cannot plausibly be imagined to be better than doing nothing at all.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.