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Virginity Pledgers Still at Risk for STDs

Teenagers who take virginity pledges are just as likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases as non-pledgers, and are more likely to engage in other potentially more dangerous sexual activities, according to a recent report by the Journal of Adolescent Health.The researchers suggest that abstinence-only education in schools “where virtually all adolescents say they learned about STDs,” fails to address pregnancy and STD prevention for sexually-active students, so that these students who make premarital abstinence commitments may not understand the effectiveness and importance of condom use. “Teaching horny teenagers not to have sex is never productive,” said Alexis Wielunski, a Mills alum who works as a community sex educator in the Bay Area. “I have friends that use baby oil with condoms, and they went through abstinence-only education,” she said.Baby oil causes latex, the most common material used in condoms, to deteriorate rapidly.Last year, research by California State Rep. Henry Waxman showed that students were frequently receiving scientifically inaccurate and misleading information in federally-funded sex education classes.One program teaches that condoms fail in HIV prevention 31 percent of the time, while federal research has shown that condoms fail to prevent pregnancy and STDs less than three percent of the time. True Love Waits is an organization that encourages virginity pledging, offering pledge rings, purity ceremonies and advice for teens on resisting temptation. The program and others like it are designed to create community support for youth trying to remain virgins until marriage. They ask parents to pledge along with their kids “to abstain from pornography, impure touching and conversations, and sex outside a biblical marriage relationship.”Although their Web site promises teens one of the top 10 reasons for abstinence is that “it’s a sure thing you will stay STD-free!” the study shows no difference in the STD rates for these teens and those who are openly sexually active. In fact, the study shows that pledgers may be at greater risk because they are less likely to use condoms, visit a doctor about concerns, or get tested for STDs. “Abstinence-only education doesn’t give you the tools to protect yourself,” said sophomore Shannon Van Meir. “We all make mistakes. Getting an STD or AIDS is a pretty harsh lesson to learn.”Because teenagers are largely taught that virginity is vaginal, pledgers are more likely to engage in other forms of risky sexual behavior.While less than one percent of non-pledgers report engaging in anal sex without vaginal intercourse, almost twice as many pledgers report the same. The researchers say that women reported curiously low rates of anal sex, while three – four percent of male pledgers reported it, compared to only one percent of non-pledgers. In relationships involving anal sex, only 30 percent reported condom use. Although pledgers have fewer partners than non-pledgers, their partners are more likely to have other sexual relationships simultaneously. But Bruckner and Bearman say there is no data to show that the “higher-than-expected” STD rate among pledgers is the result of high-risk partners.“I don’t think people know how dangerous it is to have unprotected anal sex in a non-monogamous relationship,” Wielunski said. “Many people are practicing unsafe sex because information is purposely being kept from them in sex ed, or through the lack of a sex education class.”The 2004 report was written in opposition to President George W. Bush’s proposed allocation of nearly $270 million in 2005 funding, which Congress reduced to $168 million, bringing total funding for abstinence education to over $900 million in the last five years. “[This misinformation] is going to lead to an increase in abortions, unwanted children, HIV transmissions and other STDs,” Wielunski said. “For women, a key factor in having control of our bodies is comprehensive sex education, to have true information.”