Mar. 19, 2005

Virginity pledges and Burkhas: Same difference

I read about an interesting study in the morning Globe & Mail today (also in the Detroit Free Press) about virginity pledges that got me thinking about the issue and its implications. Virginity pledges are ceremonies, usually organised by evangelical Christians, that encourage teenagers to pledge sexual abstinence until marriage. They are usually promoted as a way to encourage "Christian" morality and to reduce teen pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.

It turns out there is no discernible impact on the incidence of STDs. Teens are just as likely to have sex after making this solemn commitment as they are if they don't. This confirms my long-held belief that virginity pledges are just as nuanced and practical as Nancy Reagan's hilarious "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign back in the eighties.

So what do these pledges accomplish? They create teenagers that have been kept ignorant of how to engage in sex in a healthy way (both medically and emotionally), who are being conditioned to think of sex as a shameful rather than a natural activity, and who are afraid to seek help when they realise that they have caught something. When they do engage in sex, it seems that they are more likely to do so in a high-risk way. Apparently many of teens, in the sexually-charged state that teens often find themselves in, choose to consider unprotected oral and anal sex as "not intercourse".

In America communities with higher rates of teen pregnancy and STD infection that are often associated with dogmatic religious influence. So the question is this: are these communities concerned with the health and morals of their teens, or are they just determined to repress alternate views and pander to their constituencies? Because it seems that their efforts are having an effect on teens that is exactly the opposite of what they claim to be advocating.

This all boils down to a heavy-handed attempt to control and restrict the lives of people according to a particular moral perspective. It's similar to the cultural restrictions imposed on Muslim women, such as being required to wear the Burkha, that appear to be falsely justified as required by Islam.

What's my position on teen sex, and sex in general? For me sex is an intimate act that should be the expression of an emotional connection. Often teens are coerced into sex by their partners or view sex as a fast way to achieve that connection. Teens need to understand the context that sex occurs in and learn how to make their own choices. "Premature" sex can be emotionally damaging and risky to both health and to life options. Getting married is not the thumbs up signal for "good" sex.

In this context long-term abstinence is a legitimate, if difficult, option. But it's foolish to refuse to discuss practicalities such as being prepared to have sex safely and understanding sexual motivations. The reality is that the majority of teens are going to have sex before we want them to. If we can help them be safe and maybe sensible about it then we've done a good thing.

Listening to: Times Like These by Foo Fighters from One by One. And Wild World by Cat Stevens from Tea for the Tillerman.


  1. I fully agree. Abstinence would be the preferable way to stay safe but I never fooled myself into believing their hormones would just lie down and sleep until they were older. Hey I was a teen once too...a million years ago! ;)
    I armed my kids with knowledge, then stood back, bit my nails and hoped for the best. We all got through their teen years in one piece so I guess I did ok.

  2. Growing up in the "Bible Belt" of America, I never thought I would become such a liberal woman. Despite the fact that my parents practically put a padlock on my panties through my teenage years, it didn't keep me from fooling around. I never had sex as a teenager, but it wasn't because of the "purity ring" I wore. It was because I didn't know anything about contraceptives and was scared shitless of getting pregnant. Which just goes to show you that your observations are correct. Attention should be aimed towards teaching more safe sex. The whole "true love waits" is a program that teenagers sign up for in order to look proper and christian-like in front of their church leaders and parents. Most have had sex before they even sign the petition.

  3. I'm glad you "guys" agree with me!
    chaotic serenity: Sometimes I think that kids grow up in spite of their parents. I'm glad you took a pragmatic approach, and that everyone survived!
    amanda: (Who is commenting in-spite of her annoyance with Blogger commenting. grin) It's interesting how your experience echoes my thoughts! These virginity pledges reek of hypocrisy (parental, not the kids who are pressured to commit) and scare tactics.