Powerless Pledges?

The latest attack on abstinence education comes in the form of a new study that says people who made “virginity pledges” until marriage are just as likely to have STD’s as those who did not make them. The New York Times report on the story makes it sound almost dangerous to make such a pledge:

The researchers tested the participants for three common sexually transmitted infections — chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis — and found that the rates were almost identical for the teenagers who took pledges and those who did not.

Yet the teenagers who had taken pledges were less likely to know they had an infection, raising the risk of their transmitting it to other people, said Dr. Bearman and Hannah Brockner of Yale University, the other author of the report.

Dr. Bearman said that telling teenagers “to `just say no,’ without understanding risk or how to protect oneself from risk, turns out to create greater risk” of sexually transmitted diseases.

The “True Love Waits” program, and others like it are good ideas in theory, but they will not work unless there is a moral structure holding it up. Millions pledge every Saturday to remain faithful to their spouse, yet time and time again we see these pledges broken.

The failure of virginity pledges does not mean that abstinence education does not work—it means that there’s something wrong with the abstinence programs. Indeed, without a moral undergirding, abstinence programs will not be effective. Neither the spooky-sounding names of the STD’s nor the threat of pregnancy elicit enough energy to counteract the powerful sex drives of teenagers.

Fear of the consequences is not enough. Abstinence education does need to occur, but a greater, more healthy fear needs to be instilled in today’s youth. Chruches should be at the forefront in building this moral base. I recall many church-sponsored events from my high-school and college days that used only the scare tactics of STD’s and pregnacy to promote abstinence, neverminding that the Bible never uses these techniques to promote purity. Perhaps the Bible might be a good place to start in building this moral foundation…