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from the Associate Press, April 26, 2005

Study: Teens Who Make Public Virginity Pledges Just As Likely To Have Sex

BERKELEY, CALIF. –Adolescents who take public virginity pledges are just as likely to engage in sexual activity as those who do not, according to a study of Los Angeles and San Francisco teens.

The study, conducted by the Prevention Research Center of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Berkeley and released on Monday, found that teens who had made private virginity pledges or promises that they would wait to have sexual intercourse until they were older or married were less likely to begin having oral sex or intercourse.

But the adolescents who had made formal, public virginity pledges were just as likely to start engaging in sexual behaviors as those who did not take such a pledge.

The study was based on a survey of 870 12- to 16-year-olds in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, with follow-up surveys six months and one year later. Seventeen percent of the young people surveyed reported they had made formal, public virginity pledges to wait, while 74 percent had made private virginity pledges.

"Programs that attempt to promote abstinence among teens should focus on personal beliefs of the young people and help them to understand and believe that they will benefit from delaying sex," said Melina Bersamin, the study's author.

"This can increase the likelihood that they will make a personal commitment -- which seems to be more important than making a public pledge," she said.

She suggested that formal pledges may fail if adolescents are simply responding to external pressures from parents or teachers, while private pledges usually result from their personal beliefs and are more likely to withstand external pressures from peers.

The study will be released in the May issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. In March, the journal released a Yale and Columbia University report that teens who make virginity pledges are just as likely to be infected with sexually transmitted diseases as those who did not.