BOSTON - I hate to bring this up right now, when the ink is barely dry on your New Year's resolution. But if history is any guide, you are likely to fall off the assorted wagons to which you are currently lashed.
I don't say this to disparage your willpower. Hang onto that celery stick for dear life. And even if you stop doing those stomach crunches and start sneaking out for a smoke, at least you can comfort yourself with fond memories of your moment of resolution.
Compare that with the statistic in the newest research about teens who pledge abstinence. The majority not only break the pledge, they forget they ever made it.
This study of teens and pledges comes from Johns Hopkins University researcher Janet Rosenbaum, who took a rigorous look at nearly 1,000 students. She compared teens who took a pledge of abstinence with teens of similar backgrounds and beliefs who didn't. She found absolutely no difference in their sexual behavior, or the age at which they began having sex, or the number of their partners.
In fact, the only difference - aside from apparent memory impairment - was that the group that promised to remain abstinent was significantly less likely to use birth control, especially condoms, when they did have sex. The lesson many students seemed to retain from their abstinence-only program was a negative and inaccurate view of contraception.
What makes this study important is simply this: "Virginity pledges" are one of the ways that the government measures whether abstinence-only education is "working." The pledges are counted as proof that teens will abstain. It turns out that this is like counting New Year's resolutions as proof that you lost 10 pounds.
When he was running for president, George W. Bush promised, "My administration will elevate abstinence education from an afterthought to an urgent goal." Over the last eight years, a cottage industry of "abstinence-only-until-marriage" purveyors became a McMansion industry. Funding increased from $73 million a year in 2001 to $204 million in 2008.
By now, there's an archive of research showing that the binge was a bust. Programs required to teach only "the social, psychological and health gains" of "abstaining from sexual activity" and to warn of the dangers of having sex have been awarded failing grades for truth and effectiveness.
All in all, abstinence-only education has become emblematic of the rule of ideology over science. The sorry part is that sex education got caught in the culture wars. It's been framed, says Bill Albert of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, as a battle between "those who wanted virginity pledges and those who wanted to hand out condoms to 14-year-olds." Meanwhile, six in 10 teens have sex before they leave high school and 730,000 teenage girls will get pregnant this year.
What the overwhelming majority of protective parents want is not a political battle. They want teens to delay sex and to have honest information about sexuality, including contraception. The programs that work best combine those lessons.
Teens are not the only masters of denial. But we are finally stepping back from the culture wars. We are, with luck, returning to something that used to be redundant - evidence-based science. That's a pledge worth signing ... and remembering.
Ellen Goodman is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Her e-mail is