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Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and First Intercourse

Bearman, Peter Shawn; Brückner, Hannah

Since 1993, in response to a movement sponsored by the Southern
Baptist Church, over 2.5 million adolescents have taken public “virginity”
pledges, in which they promise to abstain from sex until
marriage. This paper explores the effect of those pledges on the
transition to first intercourse. Adolescents who pledge are much less
likely to have intercourse than adolescents who do not pledge. The
delay effect is substantial. On the other hand, the pledge does not
work for adolescents at all ages. Second, pledging delays intercourse
only in contexts where there are some, but not too many, pledgers.
The pledge works because it is embedded in an identity movement.
Consequently, the pledge identity is meaningful only in contexts
where it is at least partially nonnormative. Consequences of pledging
are explored for those who break their promise. Promise breakers
are less likely than others to use contraception at first intercourse.



Also Published In

American Journal of Sociology

More About This Work

Academic Units
University of Chicago Press
Published Here
February 18, 2015
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