Study reveals much about teens' sexual activity

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Widely reported news about a study that looked at the sexual health and decision-making of teenagers hasn't gone far enough, according to The Medical Institute for Sexual Health. In March, news outlets nationwide reported on a study presented at the National STD Prevention Conference that found teens who pledge to maintain their virginity until marriage have the same rate of sexually transmitted diseases as those who don't pledge abstinence.

Critics of abstinence-only education saw the findings as evidence that such programs are ineffective, according to The Associated Press (3/9/04). However, the institute observed that abstinence-education programs provide other benefits, including character and relationship building and STD information.

The nonprofit institute also noted that the STD rates found for pledgers and nonpledge takers were for the relatively short period during which they were in the study. Given that nonpledge takers become sexually active at an earlier age and have a higher number of sexual partners, the institute speculates that these adolescents had more STDs in the past than those who pledged abstinence.

The institute also outlined other findings of the study, which were not widely reported by the press, including:

• Teens who took an abstinence pledge delayed having sex for an average of 18 months and, after becoming sexually active, had fewer sexual partners.

• Pledgers were 12 times more likely than nonpledge takers to be virgins at marriage, and twice as many pledgers were married by age 23 than nonpledgers.

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