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A new survey of newlyweds suggests that, though true love does not always wait, it waits more often if it starts with a formal pledge of purity.

While a majority of church-going young couples in the Texas survey acknowledged having sexual intercourse before marriage, the study suggested Baptist couples were much more likely to wait until their wedding night if they took a formal abstinence pledge, such as Southern Baptists’ True Love Waits program.

The program gained popularity in the 1990s. Many of the earliest generations of youths to take the pledges have since entered into their first marriages.

Byron Weathersbee, interim chaplain at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, analyzed such sexual-purity pledges and sex education in a Christian context as the focus of his doctoral dissertation. He surveyed young married couples in Texas Baptist churches to examine how – and how much – churches made an impact on their sexual behavior.

Of the young Christians surveyed, six out of 10 who made sexual purity pledges abstained from sexual intercourse until marriage. But only three of 10 who didn’t take a formal pledge remained chaste.

All of the surveyed individuals – who had been married less than five years – professed faith in Christ. Of that figure, 99 percent attended church, 84 percent said they grew up in church and 87 percent grew up in a two-parent home.

Even so, 62 percent of the males and 65 percent of the females engaged in sexual intercourse before marriage, Weathersbee discovered.

Nine out of 10 who acknowledged sexual activity prior to marriage never took a True Love Waits purity pledge.

“To a large degree, we’re missing it,” Weathersbee said. “The young people are receiving the data, but they’re not translating it into values that result in a lifestyle of purity and holiness.”

The strength of the True Love Waits emphasis lies in the way it involves parents, a supportive network of peers, the church as a whole and the community at-large in emphasizing the importance of a pure lifestyle, Weathersbee said.

The overall sexual abstinence movement – both faith-based and secular – clearly has reaped positive benefits, said Richard Ross, who pioneered the True Love Waits program in 1993.

“The fact is rates of teenage sexual activity rose for 20 unbroken years. Then came True Love Waits and, from that, the broader abstinence movement. From that moment on, rates of teenage sex have dropped every year for 12 unbroken years,” he said.

Ross pointed to a study published three years ago in the journal Adolescent Family Health that credited the decline in adolescent pregnancy in the United States primarily to the increasing number of sexually abstinent teenagers.

“It clearly shows that increased abstinence accounted for 67 percent of the decrease in pregnancy for girls ages 15 to 19,” said Ross, professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Some research has led analysts to conclude many American teens are substituting other sexual behaviors for intercourse. For instance, a report released by the National Center for Health Statistics last September found more than half of American teens ages 15 to 19 engaged in oral sex.

Weathersbee’s research also revealed “only 27 percent of the young people entered the marriage bed chaste,” having refrained not only from intercourse but also from other sexual practices.

But Ross insists teens who take faith-based abstinence pledges understand their promise to mean refraining from any sexual behavior.

Teens who take the True Love Waits pledge promise to enter “a lifetime of purity” that includes, but is not limited to, refraining from sexual intercourse until marriage, he said.

“Every teaching book for True Love Waits carefully makes the point that teenagers are pledging lifetime purity in thought, look and touch,” Ross said. “We also teach: if it involves a sexual organ, it is sex.”

True Love Waits leaders have written a grant proposal to fund a study to compare faith-based abstinence programs to secular programs, he said…

“Kids at school make a promise to a notebook. True Love Waits teenagers make a promise to God Almighty,” Ross said.

“School programs almost never offer follow-up, nor do they tie pledging teenagers to a supportive peer network,” Ross said. “True Love Waits teenagers continue to receive teaching and support year-round on purity, and they experience accountability and support from all the other True Love Waits students.” [8Feb 2006 By Ken Camp Associated Baptist Press, Waco, TX,]