True Love Waits: Unique Among Abstinence Programs
- Friday, March 12, 2004
Students in the True Love Waits movement for sexual abstinence until marriage have an advantage over those in secular, often school - based abstinence programs, Richard Ross, one of TLW's founders, said after the March 9 release of a new study suggesting teenage virginity pledges are rarely kept.Teens who participate in True Love Waits cannot be lumped with those across the board who sign abstinence pledges, Ross noted. The popularity of True Love Waits has spawned more than 200 similar programs, though the programs vary widely in impact, he said, describing most other programs as offering only three or four class sessions led by a stranger, and at the end students often are asked to sign an abstinence pledge in their notebooks. "True Love Waits is completely different," Ross said in a statement March 10 to Baptist Press. Ross is professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Weeks of study and discussion usually precede the signing of TLW pledge cards, Ross said. The promises often are made in public ceremonies with teenagers surrounded by family, close friends and a community of faith. After promising, students receive ongoing support from youth leaders who are part of their world every week, compared to school speakers whom they never see again, Ross said.
"And most important of all, teenagers make their promise to God Himself rather than a notebook," Ross said. "Each of these variables adds power to the promise and makes it more likely a True Love Waits teenager will make it to the altar with purity intact."
Ross's comments come after the release of a study by faculty at Columbia and Yale universities of data collected from 12,000 teenagers ages 12 to 18 who were questioned again six years later. Researchers found that 88 percent of those who pledged to be abstinent reported having had sexual intercourse before they married. The study also concluded that abstinence pledges caused teens to marry earlier.
The study acknowledged, however, that abstinence pledges caused teens to delay the start of sexual intercourse by 18 months and to have fewer sexual partners than those who did not make a pledge. Some True Love Waits teenagers do break their promises, Ross said, but that isn't anything new.
"People are fallible. But the fact that a few default on their mortgage doesn't mean we should stop asking people to sign house notes," he said. "The fact that some break their wedding vows does not mean we should stop holding high the sanctity of those promises. If we stop holding high the highest values before the young, the entire generation will descend into an immoral morass that would lead to personal and cultural tragedies beyond measure."
The Columbia-Yale study also indicated the rate of sexually transmitted diseases was similar both for those who made abstinence pledges and those who did not.
The problem, the study said, is that those who promise to remain virgins are less likely to use condoms when they break their commitments.
"It's difficult to simultaneously prepare for sex and say you're not going to have sex," said Peter Bearman, chair of Columbia's sociology department and coauthor of the study, according to the Associated Press. "The message is really simple: 'Just say no' may work in the short term but doesn't work in the long-term."
STD rates for whites who pledged virginity, the study found, was 2.8 percent compared with 3.5 percent for those who didn't pledge. For blacks, it was 18.1 percent and 20.3 percent.
"The point is, substantively, that if you knew someone who pledged, and you knew someone who didn't pledge, you had no basis for thinking that one of them would have an STD over the other," Bearman said.
Ross said his love for teenagers causes him to be grieved that those who break their pledges are less likely to use contraception, thereby increasing the risk for disease or pregnancy.
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