STOKING FIRE: Today is Purity Day – Is Your Local School Pushing Chastity Pledges?

Surprise: the Liberty Counsel, a 22-year-old rightwing advocacy group “dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and the family,” wants American teens to become part of the counter culture.

At least that’s what their website says. Perusal of the site makes clear that there’s a huge gulf separating LC’s vernacular from more progressive usage of the now-dated phrase. In fact, they’re advocating that youth participate in the ninth annual Day of Purity, using the occasion to declare, or in some cases re-declare, their devotion to “purity of mind and action,” AKA avoidance of sexual contact with members of the opposite sex until they walk down the aisle.

Purity Day takes place on February 14, a mid-winter holiday typically associated with chocolate hearts, cheesy greeting cards, and heartfelt expressions of love. Yes, Valentine’s Day.

“Today’s culture encourages youth to become sexually active at a young age and to experiment with sexual preferences,” LC’s website rails. “There is a concerted effort in the schools and media to turn our youth away from traditional values. The message is that sexual promiscuity and experimenting at an early age is normal.”

As they see it, waiting to have sexual intercourse until one enters into holy, heterosexual matrimony is akin to finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Again, their website touts the benefits—albeit without references for their specious data–of premarital chastity. “Teen virgins can expect an income that is 16 percent higher than sexually active teens from identical socioeconomic backgrounds,” it tells readers. What’s more, it states that the divorce rate for female virgins is 76 percent lower that for non-virgins. Then there’s the issue of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Here too, the message is simple. Without physical contact, there can be no STD transmission. Case closed.

As tempting as it is to ignore such trifling nonsense, it’s important to grapple with the fact that hundreds of schools in 43 states—most, but not all, of them private and religious– have opted to participate in LC’s Day of Purity. Once on board, they’re able to order a host of LC materials, from tee-shirts, to chastity pledge cards, plastic Day of Purity wrist bands, and “fact” sheets for assemblies, after-school, and community programs.

One of the main problems, of course, is that kids feel obliged to take the chastity pledge when it is presented and then promptly forget that they’ve done so. According to an article by Janet Elise Rosenbaum, published in the January 2009 issue of Pediatrics, five years after signing a pledge card, a whopping 88 percent of signers said that they had no recollection of having affixed their John or Jane Hancock to such a statement.

Patrick Malone of the Sexuality Information and Education Counsel of the United States reports that “all of the data show that virginity pledges have very limited effectiveness in terms of age of first sexual encounter and number of partners. But because abstinence-until-marriage education programs play down condom effectiveness, when these teens have sex they don’t protect themselves because they think condoms don’t work.”

This may at least partially explain why nearly 50 percent of the 19 million STDs diagnosed annually in the U.S. occur among people aged 15 to 24 and why one-sixth of new HIV infections show up in people under 25. Even the Washington Post has decried the push for abstinence-until-marriage, reporting that the percentage of teens who take precautions against pregnancy and STDs is 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers.

This reality has had little-if-any impact on Liberty Counsel or the pro-purity crowd. Rather than championing comprehensive sex ed—which they mistakenly believe is pervasive in American schools–their work bolsters the notion that ignorance is bliss. Worse, since most U.S. educators are not required to teach students about sexual behaviors, contraception, or making responsible choices, the political momentum is clearly on their side.

“Maine, Oregon and the District of Columbia are the only places where comprehensive sex ed is a mandatory part of a student’s schooling,” laments Patrick Malone. “California mandates comprehensive HIV/AIDS education but not comprehensive sexuality ed. There are thousands of schools and school districts in this country and it’s impossible to track who offers what. We do know that in many states, people favor abstinence only approaches. In a large part of the country no one objects to a Day of Purity.”

It goes without saying that the federal government could play a decisive role in pushing schools to offer detailed and explicit sexuality curricula. Instead, Malone reports that the feds have allocated $50 million a year through 2014 to promote abstinence.  Malone likens the expenditure to “flushing money down the toilet.”

“We know that comprehensive sex education programs do a better job of delaying sex for teens than abstinence only programs,” he continues.  The question, he adds, is this: “Are we going to live in a fantasy world where we espouse one moral belief system or do we acknowledge the realities of how people actually live?”

The Liberty Counsel continues to pretend that abstinence is related to virtue and that waiting to become sexually active will invariably lead to success and happiness. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been wasted in pursuit of this fantasy.  One can only hope that as Purity Day approaches, Cupid will continue to smile at all of us, misinformation be damned.  

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

  • ookamiamaterasu

    I went through three abstinence-only programs in middle and high school(currently a senior in high school), one of them being within the last couple months, and can tell you first hand that it does not work whatsoever. When you tell a teenager not to do something, they do it anyway because they see it as a way to rebel against authority. And there are also those that succumb to peer pressure and do it to fit in. The only way to really help kids make smart sexual health decisions is to teach them how to protect themselves through comprehensive sex education. I was lucky enough to find sexual health sources online at a young age and learn about safe sex and have a mother who is very understanding about any choices I might make in regards to that. Many other teenagers, including several of my friends, are not so lucky.

  • purplemistydez

    The one thing that stands out from my health class back in high school was the Miracle of life video.  Lost my appetite for lunch that day.  I still get flashbacks and probably explains my fear of being pregnant and giving birth.  But teens that do have sex need the infomation to keep them safe.  Most students at my high school back in 2003 were having sex already.  No one would have taken the purity stuff for real.

  • wolfwytch

    My oldest is in 7th grade, and they have these cheesy abstinence only programs here (Tucson).


    Every year I get the “please don’t sign this, so you’re automatically opted in” letters, and every year I sign the “Nope, my kid will not be listening to your overly religious, anti-science messages for the next eight weeks.


    It upsets me to see that it continues into high school. *sigh* Guess I’ll have to keep that whole “safer sex” thing on going in our house :) (not that it was an option of course)

  • arekushieru

    I, myself, watched a video on pregnancy and childbirth.  I think I was the only girl that was rather repelled by it.  

    I am not sexually active, however (never have been) but my school, even though it was small-town Southern conservative Alberta, taught a more (I say more because it still lacked many of the pieces that would have made it a) complete form of comprehensive sex-ed.  Many of the girls in my class became sexually active, early, though and a few had pregnancies by the age of 14.  All of which is why I agree with you and think these ‘Purity Pledges’ should be completely done away with.

  • ldan

    I remember that being on PBS and my grandmother telling me to ‘turn that smut off’ so my 7 yr-old cousin couldn’t see it. *eyeroll*


    Sadly, the only real sex-ed we got, beyond the ‘now you’re having periods’ video and a 15 minute bit in health class about the fact that nasty STDs exist, was the portions of our biology textbook dealing with reproductive anatomy and hormone cycles (for those students who even took biology). I worked out some facsimile of the rhythm method from that…and was damn lucky to boot, and managed to avoid getting pregnant and on to learn much, much more about proper contraception later. It’s ridiculous that we trust our citizens’ reproductive health to this method of teaching.

  • invalid-0

    As they see it, waiting to have sexual intercourse until one enters into holy, heterosexual matrimony is akin to finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

    Nothing but respect for religion on this website, huh?

  • prochoiceferret

    Nothing but respect for religion on this website, huh?


    Sure! We respect religion as much as it respects the value and lives of women and the protection of minors from abuse.

  • ack

    I think orgasms are the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.


    If a teen wants to pledge to abstain, zie is perfectly free to do so. But administrators and teachers shouldn’t dump this on students and then pat themselves on the back like they’ve accomplished something. They haven’t. A good portion of those students are signing the pledge and then participating in manual, oral, anal, and PIV sex. And they’re doing it unprotected, because the adults in their lives thought that they were accomplishing something by having all those teens and tweens sign a piece of paper instead of talking to them honestly about condoms.

  • ack

    You can contact PPAZ to see when they’re doing trainings in Tucson. It’s awesome that you’re working with your kid/s at home, but their staff might be able to field some of the questions your kid/s feel weird asking. :)


    Have you talked to your school board about your concerns about their programming? They probably hear from parents who are all ZOMG! SEX!, so it might be good for them to hear from someone on the other side. There are federal dollars coming to the states for comprehensive, medically accurate programs (yes, even to AZ, where our legislature likes to think that sex outside of marriage is the equivalent of sticking a dirty, dirty cactus in your vag), and your school district could certainly take advantage of those programs!

  • prochoiceferret

    I think orgasms are the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.


    Not just orgasms, but multiple, full-body orgasms that go on and on and on until you tearfully beg for them to stop.


    Hey, it’s nice to have goals ^_^

  • ack


  • jayn

    I respect religion fine.  What I don’t respect are people who are determined to shove their own version of moral behaviour down my throat.

  • mechashiva

    Depends on the religion/value system.


    For instance, I have enormous amounts of respect for Voodoo (no, I’m not kidding). Abrahamic religions? Eh, it is more about the individual practitioner than the religion itself.

  • sushieismooshie

    Given the fact that you and Liberty Counsel have such opposing opinions, I decided to do a little bit of research. Here’s what the LA Times reported on February 2, 2010 about a study done by psychologist John B. Jemmott III of Pennsylvania School of Medicine:

    – 48.5% of individuals in a class receiving education only about health living reported sexual activity at some point two years after taking the class.

    – 52% of individuals in a class receiving education only about safe sex reported sexual activity at some point two years after taking the class.

    – 42% of individuals in a class receiving a comprehensive sex ed class reported sexual activity at some point in the two years after taking the class.

    – 33.5% of individuals in a class receiving education on abstinence-only reported sexual activity at some point in the to years after taking the class.

    So, if the goal is to reduce sexual activity among students, it seems that the best education is the abstinence-only education.

  • purplemistydez

    Teens have sex no matter what.  Comprehensive sex education is about teaching them to protect themselves when they do have sex in the future.  They will have knowledge about making healthy sexual decsions.  It’s not about shaming them into not having sex.  Abstinence does not work.

  • ack

    I suggest you do some more research. That study examined a curriculum specifically designed for the research and the data you cited only looked at students who hadn’t already participated in sexual activity. It also was about how long students delayed sex after the program, not “reduc[ing] sexual activity among students.” Once they started having sex, the abstinence only group was more likely to have sex with multiple partners. The woman who designed it also acknowledges the importance of talking about condoms.


    Unlike many classes federally funded by the Bush administration, the program in the study avoided a moralistic tone—encouraging students to delay sex, but not necessarily until marriage.  It did not disparage condom use.

    Considering that every other reputable study conducted (check out Guttmacher for more sources) shows that abstinence only is not only ineffective, but often dangerous by reducing the rates of protection/contraception use, I think the study you presented is interesting but not reflective of abstinence-only education as it exists.

  • saltyc

    And if you take sushiesmoothie’s stats at face value, is 33% of people having irresponsible, guilty and unsafe sex better than 48% having good, healthy and mutually beneficial sex? I guess if your only goal is reducing sex rather than affecting the kind of sex and its consequences, then you’re good.

  • ldan

    42% rather. The 48% were from the class receiving only a basic health class, thus little or no information on safer sex, etc.

  • saltyc

    Oh yeah.