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Chastity Pledge Study "Deliberately" Skewed to make Programs Appear Ineffectual

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2005 ( – A so-called scientific analysis of the efficacy of abstinence pledges that concluded that young people who make pledges of abstinence were at equal risk for sexually transmitted disease (STD) and more likely to engage in anal and oral sex has been criticized as “deliberately” misleading, “inaccurate,” and “junk science.”

The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector and Dr. Kirk Johnson re-examined the data and claims as presented by professors Peter Bearman and Hanna Bruckner in the April 2005 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, concluding that “Bearman and Bruckner’s conclusions were inaccurate . . . Moreover, in crucial respects they deliberately misled the press and public.”

Explaining the deliberate misrepresentation of the facts, Rector and Johnson point out that Bearman and Bruckner “culled through the Add Health sample looking for tiny sub-groups of pledgers with higher risk behaviours,” then describing the high-risk behaviours of these tiny subgroups, allowing the press to draw their own conclusions, by inferring “that they are talking about pledgers in general.”

“The centerpiece of their argument about pledgers and heightened sexual risk activity is a small group of pledgers who engaged in anal sex without vaginal sex,” Rector and Johnson explain. “This ‘risk group’ consists of 21 persons out of a sample of 14,116. Bearman and Bruckner focus on this microscopic group while deliberately failing to inform their audience of the obvious and critical fact that pledgers as a whole are substantially less likely to engage in anal sex when compared to non-pledgers.”

“This tactic is akin to finding a small rocky island in the middle of the ocean, describing the island in detail without describing the surrounding ocean, and then suggesting that the ocean is dry and rocky,” they add. “It is junk science, a willful deception of the American public.”

Rector and Johnson conclude that virginity pledgers are substantially more likely to not engage in risky sexual behaviours, and that those who do break the pledge are still less likely than non-pledgers to engage in more risky anal or oral sex – a direct contradiction to the supposed conclusions reached by Bearman and Bruckner.

“Compared to non-pledgers from the same social backgrounds, pledgers have far fewer sex partners,” Rector and Johnson conclude. “Pledgers are also less likely to engage in sex while in high school, less likely to experience teen pregnancy, less likely to have a child out-of-wedlock, less likely to have children in their teen and young adult years, and less likely to engage in non-marital sex as young adults.”

Read Rector and Johnson’s paper: “Adolescent Virginity Pledges, Condom Use, and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Among Young Adults (Draft)

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