We already knew that abstinence doesn’t work, and virginity pledges are particularly ineffective. There’s a new study that bears out this result, but it highlights a new problem: kids who take virginity pledges are even less likely to use birth control and condoms. So abstinence education is not just useless, it’s worse than useless.
Why might this be? One idea going around:
Virginity pledgers may be less likely to use condoms and contraception because many abstinence programs cause participants to develop negative attitudes about their effectiveness.
Maybe program leaders are saying this, but I don’t think we need to resort to this idea to explain what’s going on. My experience as a horny teen in the Mormon Church has provided me with a hypothesis.
When you do something wrong, you need to pray for forgiveness from your sin, right? And Mormons regard sexual sin as particularly grievous. Consider:
• Mormons think that doing the horizontal mambo with anyone other than your husband or wife (or wives) is the worst thing you can do, second only to “the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost“.
Oh, wait. I knew there was something I forgot to do today.
I deny the Holy Ghost.
• An LDS General Authority (can’t find which one — someone help me here) told a story of his father seeing him off at the train station for a mission, and telling him that he’d rather the boy come back in a coffin than having had sex. And get this — my own father told me that story approvingly when I went off to BYU. He’d have preferred me dead than to have made a mistake. Then again, maybe I could have come home at the end of the year on a Greyhound Bus — alive — but in an actual coffin. It’d be a fun way to break the news.
But seriously, folks: this is a fact worth repeating. As with all authoritarian movements, Mormons hate sex. No, they don’t. They are willing to put up with sex, as long as it makes more little Mormons. Let’s just say that Mormons love sex, but they don’t like anyone else having any. Which makes perfect evolutionary sense. If you have sex, but repress everyone else from having any, there’s less competition for your genes.
Anyway, the main point here: Mormons regard unhallowed bonking as Very Serious. It involves prayer and contrition, as well as confession to The Bishop, which is very embarrassing because he’s just another guy in the community.
So Mormon youth, when faced with temptation, are unlikely to buy condoms or use birth control. That’s premeditated! That’s like planning to sin! How are you going to be forgiven from a sin you’ve been planning to do? What they do, since they’re Good Kids, is try to Be Good and abstain. But hormones being what they are, it frequently fails, and then you get pregnant teenagers.
(I don’t know if this line of thinking holds outside of Mormondom, but I bet it does. Non-Mormons: does this match your experience?)
The take-away here is that having stupid starting assumptions (a god wants you to abstain) leads to unwanted outcomes (riskier sex than normal). A better starting assumption would be: some kids are going to do it, and you can’t watch your kids 24 hours a day. Parents can encourage them to have sexual relations responsibly, if they must. Better to be immoral than to be immoral and pregnant.