Original Paper

Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 1102-1113

First online:

Why Virginity Pledges Succeed or Fail: The Moderating Effect of Religious Commitment Versus Religious Participation

  • Antoinette M. LandorAffiliated with Center for Developmental Science, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Email author 
  • , Leslie Gordon SimonsAffiliated with School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Arizona State University

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Over the past two decades, virginity pledges have proliferated in the US, despite mixed results regarding their effectiveness. Few studies have examined possible mechanisms that may shed light on why pledges work for some individuals but not others. Using a sample of emerging-adults aged 18–24 years old (n = 1,380), we examine the influence of religiosity on pledge signing and adherence, specifically whether the effectiveness of pledges is moderated by religiosity. Findings show that while religious participation is positively associated with signing a pledge, there is a moderating effect of religious commitment. That is, when religious commitment is high, adherence to the pledge is greater. However, for pledge signers with low religious commitment, there are unintended negative consequences with regard to increased participation in risky sexual behaviors, whether compared to other people who signed the pledge who are equally committed to their religion or to individuals who have never taken such a pledge. Implications for research and policy are discussed.


Sexual behavior Virginity pledges Religiosity Emerging adults Health behavior