Virginity: It's a state of mind

Study finds that ineffectiveness of virginity pledges may be underreported.

Published June 2, 2006 6:46PM (EDT)

Virginity pledges are already under fire and today Reuters reports on a study that suggests that their ineffectiveness may be underreported. According to the study, virginity pledgers are likely to deny having taken the pledge if they engage in sexual activity; on the other hand, those who take a virginity pledge after becoming sexually active are likely to deny their past behavior. As the Reuters article points out, this finding further complicates the evaluation of abstinence-only education. But, unscientifically, it seems safe to say: It's even worse than we'd thought!

The study focused on nearly 13,000 students in seventh through 12th grade. The students' initial survey responses were compared with their responses to the same questions a year later. "More than 1 in 10 students who reported being sexually active in 1995 said that they were virgins in 1996," according to Reuters. What's more, in the initial survey, 13 percent of the respondents reported having taken a virginity pledge; in the second survey, more than half of these students denied having taken the pledge. Janet Rosenbaum, the study's author and a doctoral candidate at Harvard University, found that respondents tend to describe their sexual behavior according to their current beliefs.

Most concerning are the study's implications for sexual health. "Psychology studies in a variety of contexts seem to demonstrate that people's memories of their behavior are consistent with their beliefs rather than their actual behavior," Rosenbaum told Reuters. As powerful as the mind may be, there's no thinking your way past an STD. According to Rosenbaum, "If those who deny their sexual pasts perceive their new history as correct, they will underestimate the sexually transmitted disease risk stemming from their prepledge sexual behavior."

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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