Promising the future: Virginity pledges and first intercourse

Peter S. Bearman, Hannah Brückner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since 1993, in response to a movement sponsored by the Southern Baptist Church, over 2.5 million adolescents have taken public "virginity" pledges, in which they promise to abstain from sex until marriage. This paper explores the effect of those pledges on the transition to first intercourse. Adolescents who pledge are much less likely to have intercourse than adolescents who do not pledge. The delay effect is substantial. On the other hand, the pledge does not work for adolescents at all ages. Second, pledging delays intercourse only in contexts where there are some, but not too many, pledgers. The pledge works because it is embedded in an identity movement. Consequently, the pledge identity is meaningful only in contexts where it is at least partially nonnormative. Consequences of pledging are explored for those who break their promise. Promise breakers are less likely than others to use contraception at first intercourse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)859-912
Number of pages54
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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