The problem with purity pledges

Last updated 05:00 13/07/2013
purity pledge
TEENAGERS LOVE: Rebellious teenage relationship prospect? Check. Bad boy? Check. Ignorant streak? Check. But of course I wouldn't find out my mistake until later.

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Purity pledges are commitments made by teenagers (most commonly females), who vow to refrain from sexual intercourse 'til marriage.

Most common in the US, the first official program True Love Waits, started in 1993. More than 2.5 million have made a pledge through the program world-wide, spurring a number of similar sites.

In America 'purity pledges' haven't just become a way of getting teenagers to 'save themselves for marriage', but a booming business.

A plethora of purity paraphernalia is available: purity rings, certificates, ball gowns and purity balls, books, DVDs and scriptures.

Interestingly, this patriarchal practice is gaining popularity here.

Sophie Jenkins, a bible college student from Oakden, Adelaide, decided to take a 'purity pledge' at 13.

"I knew I wanted to save myself for my husband, so my father suggested a purity ceremony," explains Sophie, now 19.

Sophie's father is a youth minister and her mother is a retired Sunday school teacher, so her chaste decision comes as little surprise. "I was raised in the house of God. From an early age my siblings and I were taught the sanctity of marriage as a precious union between two people."

Sophie and her father chose a set of vows from a popular website, which they swapped in a ceremony in front of family and friends.

"I choose before God to war for my daughter's purity," Sophie's father vowed. "I acknowledge myself as the authority and protector of my daughter's virginity and pledge to be a man of integrity as I lead, guide, and pray over my daughter and her virginity, as the high priest of my home."

Sophie responded to his pledge with: "I pledge my purity to my father, my future husband and my creator. I recognise that virginity is my most precious gift to offer to my future husband. I will not engage in sexual activity of any kind before marriage but will keep my thoughts and my body pure, as a very special present for the one I marry."

Purity pledges within the church are more common than we think. "Lots of my friends at college and church think it's a great idea and have taken their own versions of the pledge," says Sophie.

Sophie admitted to having two boyfriends, but has never kissed, hugged or touched another man in a sexual way. "The most I've ever done is hold hands and I won't cave to impure thoughts or actions until the day I commit to my husband," says Jenkins.

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While we live in a country where women have the freedom to make their own sexual choices, do purity pledges perpetuate an unhealthy ideal of a woman's virginity?

There is nothing wrong with young women making a conscious choice to have sex at an appropriate age or wanting to wait till she finds a man she feels worthy of her.

However, shouldn't 13-year-olds be listening to One Direction or drooling over Taylor Lautner, instead of taking a vow they cannot possibly fully understand?

Setting aside the moral and religious arguments on premarital sex, are there any definitive pros and cons to purity pledges?

Janet Rosenbaum of Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted a study asking "Does taking a vow to abstain from sex alter sexual behaviour?"

Rosenbaum discovered the following:

Five years after the taking the pledge, 82 per cent of pledge-takers denied having ever pledged and pledge-taking teens were more likely to make riskier sexual choices and have unprotected sex when they did have sex.

Pledge-takers are more likely to be young, female and from religious families.

Pledge-takers had fewer past-year partners but did not differ in lifetime sexual partners and age of first-time sex.

Fewer pledge-takers used birth control and condoms in the past year and birth control during their last sexual activity, than non-pledgers.

Pledge-takers are less likely to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease before marriage.

Rosenbaum warned that, "by focusing on virginity pledges, parents, churches and sex educators may not only be wasting resources, but may actually be causing harm as well".

The study concluded that taking a virginity pledge is at best ineffective and may even be dangerous for the health of those who break their pledge.

The key is education, if teens are properly educated on the physical and emotional risks of sexual activities regardless of when it takes place, surely that's the most important factor in ensuring the right decisions are made, unwanted pregnancies are avoided and the risk of contracting STIs lowered.

When it comes to the Purity Pledge is it irresponsible, wrong or downright damaging of parents, schools and churches to not provide sufficient information for teens to make educated choices?

What kind of message are we sending to young women, when they grow up in an environment believing that their untouched vagina is the only thing of worth they have to offer a man?

- Sydney Morning Herald

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