NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Do "Virginity Pledges" Work?

January 16, 2001

A hotly debated topic is the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education programs versus those that provide information on contraception -- that is, which presume teens will be sexually active. A study in the American Journal of Sociology (January 2001) looked at a more active approach -- so-called virginity pledges, which are public or written commitments to chastity until marriage. More than 2.5 million adolescents have taken such abstinence pledges.

The study by Peter S. Bearman and Hannah Brückner was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The researchers analyzed data from a comprehensive survey of 90,000 seventh through twelfth graders. Analyzing data from 1994-1996, the investigators found that of those students who were sexually inexperienced at the beginning of the study period:

  • Pledgers were 34 percent less likely to have sex than students of the same age.
  • Pledging appeared to delay first intercourse by 18 months, on average, compared to nonpledgers.
  • However, pledgers were less likely to use contraception the first time they had intercourse.

"This analysis shows that virginity pledges can be an effective tool for delaying sexual intercourse in the teenage years," said Duane Alexander, director of the NICHD. However, the study found other factors were important:

  • Academic achievement and sports participation were the strongest factor delaying first sexual intercourse in early and middle adolescence for nonblack girls.
  • And adolescents who perceived their parents disapproved of premarital sex were more likely to delay having sex throughout adolescence.
  • However, emotional commitment to a relationship, or romantic love, increased the risk of sexual activity for all of the youth, except for black males.

Source: News Release, "Virginity Pledge Helps Teens Delay Sexual Activity," January 5, 2001, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

For NICHD text:


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