Recently you can’t turn on the news without hearing that a new study shows that abstinence pledges don’t work. The conclusion by those reporting these findings is that abstinence only courses should be done away with and that emphasis should be placed on safe sex practices. It is what the studies don’t tell you that is key to understanding the issue.
This study by John’s Hopkins was to see if sexual behavior was altered by taking a pledge. The study found that the act of taking the pledge did not stop young people from having sex and that when they did succumb to temptation they were less likely to use protection. Please excuse me as I try to hold back the urge to say “Duh!” I have no problem with the pledges but I never asked my children to take one.
There are many factors to consider with these pledges. Is the young person taking the pledge only to please mommy and daddy or the youth pastor? If so then the pledge is worthless. Attempts have not been made to remove those who never intended to keep the pledge. Anyone familiar with the divorce rate among Christians knows that pledges have little value. How many have pledged to love, honor and cherish for life only to find themselves tearing the other person apart in court? Many young people take these pledges because to not take is a tacit confession that you either are having sex or plan to do so before marriage. The pressure to pledge negates among these young people any value the pledge could have.
Another factor is parental response. How many of the parents of teens who take these pledges feel their job as parents is done in this area? A pledge that your child may or may not have meant is no reason to end the discussion. Neither is it an excuse to fail to hold our children accountable. Under the wrong circumstances the young person will make the wrong choice regardless of the pledge. Parents must do everything in their power to block those circumstances. The pledge is a help to parents not a replacement for them.
A final factor is conduct of the pledger. Are these pledges being given as oaths to abstain from all sexual activity or only from intercourse. Many are touted as virginity pledges. A young person allowing themselves all sexual experience short of coitus is likely to find themselves making bad choices. Young people taking these pledges should understand they only help if they include all sexual activity—petting, extended kissing, etc.
So why do these kids who fail to keep the pledge tend to have unprotected sex? If you have taken a pledge to refrain from sex, then why would you be on the pill? If you are going on a date and have taken a pledge then why would you carry condoms? I am not saying you should do either of these things. I am warning that if you find yourself in a position to break your pledge then you have already gone beyond the thinking stage. At that time little thinking is being done.
These pledges are failing young people because they can do nothing but fail. The young person is the only one that can keep themselves from having sex before marriage—pledge or no pledge. This requires that one know what they believe and why they believe it as well as understanding the dangers inherent in any premarital sexual activity. Anything less will not work.