WEDNESDAY, May 3, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Virginity pledges among teens have gained in popularity in recent years, but a new U.S. study finds many teens denying they ever took such vows.
The study also questions whether teens' self-reported sexual histories are a good way of gauging how well they adhere to these pledges.
Virginity pledges usually take the form of public or written declarations to remain a virgin until marriage.
"A better and more reliable measure than adolescents' self-reported sexual history might be the straightforward results of medical STD (sexually transmitted disease) tests," said researcher Janet Rosenbaum, a doctoral student in health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
Rosenbaum analyzed data from 13,568 U.S. adolescents.
She found that 73 percent of those who signed a virginity pledge and then went on to have premarital sex disavowed ever having signed such a pledge.
The teens were initially surveyed in 1995, and again a year later.
She also found that adolescents who'd had premarital sex and then decided to make a virginity pledge were highly likely to misreport their earlier sexual history, which makes it difficult to accurately assess virginity pledges' effects on early sexual intercourse.
Of the teens who reported a sexual experience in the first survey, those who later took a virginity pledge were four times more likely to retract their reports of sexual experience than teens who had not take a pledge at the time of the second survey.
Rosenbaum said the fact that 52 percent of adolescents who made virginity pledges recanted their vows within a year suggests that these programs have a high drop-out rate and that adolescents don't make a strong connection with the pledge.
She concluded that using teens' self-reported history of sexual intercourse is an unreliable measure for studies examining the effectiveness of virginity pledges.
The findings were published Tuesday in the advanced online edition of the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry offers advice to parents about talking to their children about sex.