Why Abstinence and "Purity" Pledges Don't Work

Why Abstinence and "Purity" Pledges Don't Work

In the United States today, 37 states mandate that information on abstinence be provided in sex education courses. As you might imagine, it’s not uncommon for students to be asked to take “purity” or virginity pledges as part of the sex ed. curriculum in these states. 

Students are encouraged to take these pledges in order to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections, but also to prevent unwanted pregnancies. As it turns out, however, abstinence pledges don’t necessarily accomplish either of these goals. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family suggests that they might do just the opposite!

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Virginity Has Fallen Out Of Favor In Modern America

Virginity Has Fallen Out Of Favor In Modern America

Throughout much of recorded history, female virginity is something that has been highly coveted by heterosexual men who were looking to marry. Women who were known to have lost their virginity faced stiff social penalties, including a tendency to be deemed umarriageable.

This still holds true in many parts of the world today, including a number of countries in Africa and the Middle East, where women who have lost their virginity sometimes go to great lengths to become surgically “revirginized” due to fear of social exclusion and, in some cases, physical harm (you can learn more about so-called "revirginization" procedures and the psychology behind here)

In the Western world, however, things have changed dramatically in the past few decades.

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The Problem With Abstinence Pledges

The Problem With Abstinence Pledges

In the U.S. today, 37 states mandate that information on abstinence be provided in sex education courses. In those states, it is not uncommon for students to be asked to take “purity” or virginity pledges as part of the curriculum.

Students are often encouraged to take these pledges in order to both reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections and to prevent unintended pregnancies. As it turns out, however, abstinence pledges don’t necessarily accomplish either one of these things. In fact, a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Marriage and Family suggests that they may do just the opposite!

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How Many Adults Have No Sexual Experience At All?

How Many Adults Have No Sexual Experience At All?

It goes without saying that most sex researchers study people who have sex. Over the last few decades, we have accumulated a significant body of scientific knowledge about such persons. But what about the people who, for whatever reason, never become sexually active? What do we know about them? As it turns out, surprisingly little. However, a recent paper published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior sheds some light on this subject by describing how many people in the United States enter adulthood without any sexual experience and by identifying some of the characteristics associated with such persons.

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Sex Question Friday: Is It Possible For A Woman To Become A Virgin Again?

Sex Question Friday: Is It Possible For A Woman To Become A Virgin Again?

A female reader submitted the following question:

“If a woman does not have intercourse over a long period of time, is it possible for her hymen to grow back and make her a virgin again?”

Thanks for asking this question. There are a surprising number of myths and misconceptions about the hymen, so before I answer your specific question, let’s first step back and talk about what the hymen actually is.

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Sex Question Friday: Can You Really Tell If A Woman Is A Virgin?

Sex Question Friday: Can You Really Tell If A Woman Is A Virgin?

Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a reader who wanted to know the following:

“The first time a couple has sex, is it possible to physically tell if the woman is a virgin? Do all women have a hymen that breaks and bleeds during sex?”

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How Important Is It To Have Sex Before Marriage?

In a recent piece on Salon entitled “My Virginity Mistake,” author Jessica Ciencin Henriquez talks about how an abstinence pledge ruined her marriage. In her words: “Without having sex before marriage, I blindly walked up an aisle and committed myself to a man who didn’t know me and gave my long-held virginity to someone with whom I had no more chemistry than a second cousin.” The crux of her piece is that sex is too important to a relationship to save it for the wedding night and that couples need to establish sexual compatibility before tying the knot. In light of this article, I thought it would be worth taking a look at what the science has to say on this topic. Does your sexual satisfaction and chance of relationship success really depend upon when you start having sex?
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Can A Woman Be “Revirginized” Through Surgery?

Can A Woman Be “Revirginized” Through Surgery?

The hymen is a membrane that partially covers the vaginal opening and is thought be break during a woman’s first attempt at intercourse. An intact hymen is therefore often presumed to indicate virginity. Given that it may be possible to physically detect virginity status by noting the presence or absence of the hymen, this small piece of tissue has come to take on great social meaning in some parts of the world. In fact, in some African and Middle Eastern cultures, a woman may be considered unmarriageable if her hymen is not intact, even if it was broken through non-sexual activity or as a result of rape. Because there is such great social pressure for these women to demonstrate virginity on their wedding night, “revirginization” surgery has become an increasingly popular medical procedure in some parts of the world. So how does it work, and are women satisfied with the outcomes?

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