Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass-led study finds sexually active women who took abstinence pledge are more likely to contract HPV, have unwanted pregnancies

(Collegian file photo)
(Collegian file photo)

A study led by an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts has found that rates of Human papillomavirus and unplanned pregnancy are higher in sexually active women who took a pledge of abstinence than those who did not.

Anthony Paik, who is an associate professor of sociology at UMass, was the lead author of the report, entitled “Broken Promises: Abstinence Pledging and Sexual and Reproductive Health.”

“What we found was that among the women who broke the pledges, they actually had a higher chance of getting HPV,” Paik said. “Pledgers who became sexually active were at a greater risk of having an unwanted pregnancy compared to non-pledgers.”

The study was based on interviews with more than 3,000 teenage girls conducted from 1994 to 1995 by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. The women were then interviewed about a decade later.

Paik said the women whose interviews were used in the study were representative of the overall American population, with the interviews being conducted throughout the country.

The study found that girls who received sexual education focused primarily on the importance of abstinence from sex, of which making a pledge to abstain from premarital sex is often central, were less likely to understand the effectiveness of contraceptives and were more likely to have premarital sex explained to them as a form of failure.

Because of this, pledgees who became sexually active were less likely to manage the risks of unprotected sex with contraceptives or to start a conversation about taking sexual precautions with their partners, the study said.

Abstinence-only sexual education focuses on abstaining from premarital sexual activity as the only way to ensure the prevention of contracting STIs and unwanted pregnancies.

Paik said that the study examined the rate of HPV infection – a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause genital warts and forms of cancer – among the women whose interviews were read because the vaccine had not been introduced at the time of the interviews, so it would show up when tested for in the study.

“HPV is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection,” Paik said. “It gives you a good sense of who’s at risk for getting an STI.”

Paik said that he was very familiar with the topic from before leading the study, having written about the relationship between abstinence-only sexual education and STI rates during the height of its’ federal funding under the Bush administration.

Paik said that the question of whether abstinence-only education led to better or worse health outcomes was often raised during this period and that his study was an attempt to help determine whether it led to different health outcomes.

“Our study gives a little bit of a window to that question,” he said. “What we are finding is that if they take the pledge and break it they end up having worse health outcomes.”

While Paik said that the Obama administration defunded the vast majority of abstinence-only sexual education supported at the federal level, it remains very prominent at state and local levels, as 25 states require abstinence be stressed in public sexual education.

Paik added that federal funding for abstinence-only sexual education could return in the future, if a president who supports such measures is elected.

Stuart Foster can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @Stuart_C_Foster.

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