Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 1102–1113 | Cite as

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

  • Antoinette M. LandorEmail author
  • Leslie Gordon Simons
Original Paper


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 


  1. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  2. Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55, 469–480.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baier, C. J., & Wright, B. R. (2001). If you love me, keep my commandments: A meta-analysis of the effect of religion on crime. Journal of Research on Crime and Delinquency, 38, 3–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bauer, D. J., & Curran, P. J. (2005). Probing interactions in fixed and multilevel regression: Inferential and graphical techniques. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 40, 373–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baumer, E. P., & South, S. J. (2001). Community effects on youth sexual activity. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 63, 540–554.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bearman, P. S., & Bruckner, H. (2001). Promising the future: Virginity pledges and first intercourse. American Journal of Sociology, 106, 859–911.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bersamin, M. M., Walker, S., Waiters, E. D., Fisher, D. A., & Grube, J. W. (2005). Promising to wait: Virginity pledges and adolescent sexual behavior. Journal of Adolescent Health, 36, 428–436.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blum, R., Beuhring, T., Shew, M., Bearinger, L., Sieving, R., & Resnick, M. (2000). The effects of race/ethnicity, income, and family structure on adolescent risk behaviors. American Journal of Public Health, 90, 1879–1884.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bruckner, H., & Bearman, P. B. (2005). After the promise: The STD consequences of adolescent virginity pledges. Journal of Adolescent Health, 36, 271–278.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chaturvedi, A. K., Engels, E. A., Pfeifer, R. M., Hernandez, B. Y., Xiao, W., Kim, E., et al. (2011). Human papillomavirus and rising oropharyngeal cancer incidence in the United States. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 29(32), 4294–4301. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2011.36.459.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Conger, R. D., & Elder, G. H. (1994). Families in troubled times. New York: Aldine DeGruyter.Google Scholar
  12. Davidson, J. K., Moore, N. B., & Ullstrup, K. M. (2004). Religiosity and sexual responsibility: Relationships of choice. American Journal of Health Behavior, 28, 335–346.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. D’Souza, G., Kreimer, A. R., Viscidi, R., Pawlita, M., Fakhry, C., Koch, W. M., et al. (2007). Case-control study of human papillomavirus and oropharyngeal cancer. New England Journal of Medicine, 356, 1944–1956.Google Scholar
  14. Durkheim, E. (1951). Suicide: A study in sociology. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  15. Ehrilch, J. S. (2006). From age or consent laws to the “Silver Ring Thing”: The regulation of adolescent female sexuality. Health Matrix, 16, 151–181.Google Scholar
  16. Finer, L. B., & Henshaw, S. K. (2006). Disparities in rates of unintended pregnancy in the United States. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 38(2), 90–96.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Giuliano, A. R., Lazcano-Ponce, E., Villa, L. L., Flores, R., Salmeron, J., Lee, J., et al. (2008). The human papillomavirus infection in men study: Human papillomavirus and type distribution among men residing in Brazil, Mexico, and the United States. Biomarkers and Prevention, 17, 805–808.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Grello, C. M., Welsh, D. P., & Harper, M. S. (2006). No strings attached: The nature of casual sex in college students. Journal of Sex Research, 43(3), 255–267.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hayes, A. F., & Matthes, J. (2009). Computational procedures for probing interactions in OLS and logistic regression: SPSS and SAS implementations. Behavior Research Methods, 41(3), 924–936.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hirschi, T., & Stark, R. (1969). Hellfire and delinquency. Social Problems, 17(2), 202–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hutchinson, M. K., Jemmott, J. B., Jemmott, L. S., Braverman, P., & Fong, G. T. (2003). The role of mother-daughter sexual risk communication in reducing sexual risk behavior among urban adolescent females: A prospective study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 33, 98–107.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kantor, L. M., Santelli, J. S., Teitler, J., & Balmer, R. (2008). Abstinence-only policies and programs: An overview. Sexual Research and Social Policy, 5(3), 6–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kirby, D. B. (2002). Antecedents of adolescent initiation of sex, contraceptive use and pregnancy. American Journal of Health Behavior, 25, 473–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kirby, D. B. (2008). The impact of abstinence and comprehensive sex and STD/HIV education programs on adolescent sexual behavior. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 5(3), 18–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kirby, D. B., Laris, B. A., & Rollieri, L. A. (2007). Sex and HIV programs: Their impact on sexual behaviors of young people throughout the world. Journal of Adolescent Health, 40, 206–217.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kohler, P., Manhart, L., & Lafferty, W. (2008). Abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education and the initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy. Journal of Adolescent Health, 42, 344–351.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Landor, A., Simons, L. G., Simons, R. L., Brody, G. H., & Gibbons, F. X. (2011). The role of religiosity in the relationship between parents, peers, and adolescent risky sexual behavior. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40(3), 296–309.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Landry, D., Darroch, J., Singh, S., & Higgins, J. (2004). Factors associated with the content of sex education in US public secondary schools. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 35, 261–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lefkowitz, E. S., Gillen, M. M., & Shearer, C. L. (2004). Religiosity, sexual behaviors and sexual attitudes during emerging adulthood. Journal of Sex Research, 41, 150–159.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Leonard, K. C., & Scott-Jones, D. (2010). A belief-behavior gap? Exploring religiosity and sexual activity among high school seniors. Journal of Adolescent Research, 25(4), 578–600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Longest, K. C., & Vaisey, S. (2008). Control or conviction: Religion and adolescent initiation of marijuana use. Journal of Drug Issues, 38(3), 689–715.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Martino, S. C., Elliott, M. N., Collins, R. L., Kanouse, D. E., & Berry, S. H. (2008). Virginity pledges among the willing: Delays in first intercourse and consistency of condom use. Journal of Adolescent Health, 43, 341–348.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mayer, R. (1996). Trends in opposition to comprehensive sexuality education in public schools in the United States. Report: SEICUS. 24.Google Scholar
  34. McCree, D. H., Wingood, G. M., DiClemente, R., Davies, S., & Harrington, K. F. (2003). Religiosity and risky sexual behavior in African American adolescent females. Journal of Adolescent Health, 33, 2–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Murry, V. M., Berkel, C., Brody, G. H., Gibbons, M., & Gibbons, F. X. (2007). The strong African American families program: Longitudinal pathways to sexual risk reduction. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, 333–342.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nasim, A., Utsey, S. O., Corona, R., & Belgrade, F. Z. (2006). Religiosity, refusal efficacy, and substance use among African American adolescents and young adults. Journal of Ethnic Substance Abuse, 5(3), 29–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Penhollow, T., Young, M., & Denny, G. (2005). The impact of religiosity on the sexual behaviors of college students. American Journal of Health Education, 36(2), 75–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Perrin, K., & DeJoy, S. B. (2003). Abstinence-only education: How we got here and where we’re going. Journal of Public Health Policy, 24(3), 445–459.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Regnerus, M. D. (2007). Forbidden fruit: Sex and religion in the lives of American teenagers. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. SPSS Inc. Released (2008). SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 17.0. Chicago: SPSS Inc.Google Scholar
  41. Rostosky, S. S., Regnerus, M. D., Wright, M. C., & Laurie, M. (2003). Coital debut: The role of religiosity and sex attitudes in the Add Health survey. Journal of Sex Research, 40, 358–367.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rostosky, S. S., Wilcox, B., Wright, M. C., & Randall, B. A. (2004). The impact of religiosity on adolescent sexual behavior: A review of the evidence. Journal of Adolescent Research, 19, 677–697.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sandfort, T. G., Orr, M., Hirsch, J. S., & Santelli, J. (2008). Long-term health correlates of timing of sexual debut: Results from a national US study. American Journal of Public Health, 98, 155–161.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Santelli, J. S., Lowry, R., Brener, N. D., & Robin, L. (2000). The association of sexual behavior with socioeconomic status, family structure, and race/ethnicity among US adolescents. American Journal of Public Health, 90(10), 1582–1588.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Schiffman, M., Castle, P. E., Jeronimo, J., Rodriguez, A. C., & Wacholder, S. (2007). Human papillomavirus and cervical cancer. Lancet, 370(9590), 890–907.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sherkat, D. E., & Ellison, C. G. (1999). Recent developments and current controversies in the sociology of religion. Annual Review of Sociology, 25, 363–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Simons, R. L., Simons, L. G., & Wallace, L. E. (2004). Families, delinquency, and crime: Linking society’s most basic institution to antisocial behavior. Los Angeles: Roxbury Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  48. Simons, L. G., Burt, C. H., & Peterson, F. R. (2009). The effect of religion on risky sexual behavior among college students. Deviant Behavior, 30, 467–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Simons, L. G., Burt, C. H., & Tambling, R. B. (2012). Idenifying mediators of the influence of family factors on risky sexual behavior. Journal of Child and Family Studies,. doi: 10.1007/s10826-012-9598-9.Google Scholar
  50. Sinha, J. W., Cnaan, R. A., & Gelles, R. J. (2007). Adolescent risk behaviors and religion: Findings from a national study. Journal of Adolescence, 30, 231–249.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Stark, R. (1996). Religion as context: Hellfire and delinquency one more time. Sociology of Religion, 57(2), 163–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Stein, B. (2010). Health bill restores $250 million in abstinence-education funds. Washington Post. Retrieved from
  53. Stoppa, T. M., & Lefkowitz, E. S. (2010). Longitudinal changes in religiosity among emerging adult college students. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 20, 23–28.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Uecker, J. E. (2008). Religion, pledging, and premarital sexual behavior of married young adults. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 728–744.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Weber, M. (1958). The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. New York: Scribner.Google Scholar
  56. Weinstock, H., Berman, S., & Cates, W. (2004). Sexually transmitted diseases among American youth: Incidence and prevalence estimates, 2000. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 36, 6–10.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Zaleski, E. H., & Schiaffino, K. M. (2000). Religiosity and sexual risk-taking behavior during the transition to college. Journal of Adolescence, 23, 223–227.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1. Center for Developmental ScienceUniversity of North Carolina-Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  2. 2. School of Criminology and Criminal JusticeArizona State UniversityPhoenixUSA

Personalised recommendations