Washington Teen-agers who make sexual abstinence pledges apparently mean what they say, at least for a while. A study says teens who promised to refrain until marriage delayed having sex about 18 months longer than others.
Among those who formally promised to avoid unmarried sex, about 50 percent remained virgins until about age 20.
Among nonpledgers, said Peter Bearman, a Columbia University sociologist and the study's co-author, 50 percent were no longer virgins by age 17.
"The average delay among pledgers is 18 months," said Bearman. "That is significant. And that is a pure pledge effect."
Bearman and his co-author, Hannah Brueckner, a sociologist at Yale University, analyzed the effect of virginity pledges on teen-agers enrolled in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a federally funded survey of children in the seventh- through 12th grades.
Data from the study suggested that by 1995 a church-led, voluntary effort had prompted about 2.5 million teen-age boys and girls to make spoken or written pledges to remain virgin until marriage.
In their study, Bearman and Brueckner analyzed data from interviews of 20,000 teen-age virgins in 1994 and 1995. A follow-up survey in 1997 included 14,000 of those in the original study.
Bearman acknowledged that some of characteristics that would lead kids to make the abstinence pledge would have led them to avoid early sex anyway. But even when the researchers made statistical allowance for these factors, "there was an additional delay added by the pledge," he said.
"The more religious kids pledge, as do kids who are more oriented toward school," said Bearman. "Those are protective effects that would delay their entry into sex anyway. But the pledge effect is in addition to that."