I remember the silver bands that my friends in middle school wore when we were in our tween/teen years. I remember when they first appeared on their left ring finger, many of them etched with the words “True Love Waits”. I was very curious where they got them from and why they were wearing it. At this point in my life, the only time I saw a band around that finger was when someone was married and I quickly eliminated that from my mind as a possibility. Instead, I decided to ask more questions.
I was told by my friends and my fellow youth group members at my church that they were purity rings, rings to symbolize a vow between them God to be abstinent until marriage. They told me that in our sex-crazed world, this was to make a statement that we were different. That we weren’t going to give in to sex before we were married because that is how God instructs us to live our lives. It was supposed to be a countercultural, radical stand against what our American culture sees as okay. It was also meant to be a covenant between the ring wearers and God. In fact, some of my friends attended a “True Love Waits” conference in which there were seminars on love and sex followed by a purity ring ceremony. It sounded so cool to me.
I was so onboard with this idea. I couldn’t wait to tell my dad all about it. I mean, the intent was so good, he’d totally let me on board this silver ring thing.
Except he didn’t.
He heard about the purity ring thing before I brought it up and he said, “I’m not impressed with it. It’s not necessary” which translated to me not getting one.
And, of course, being the tween that I was, I thought he just wanted me to suffer because he found great pleasure in watching me refrain from what all the cool Christians were doing. So I determined that once I had a job, I would get one with my own money.
Fast forward about four years later and I am in a new church in a new state. And the church I attended had a purity conference unique to the denomination. I attended only a few of the purity seminars and I was told that what we were doing was honoring not only to God but our future husbands.The idea was conveyed almost as if the rings were made of pixie dust. As if this was the one righteous rite of passage into that fairytale ending that a lot of the girls yearned for.
I fantasized how perfect the ring ceremony portion of my wedding would be. How I would wear my purity ring to the wedding and my husband would remove the ring and replace it with the wedding band. And the fact that I did this and the fact that we were both virgins on our wedding day would move everyone so much. I clearly bough into it. In fact I shared this with one of the female youth leaders I confided in about this during one of our seminars.
After the seminars and the ring ceremony where the Christians at my church the Christian girls at my church would make this vow, they would go before the church as a group during one of their services to make their pledge known to the entire congregation. To be honest, I always found this weird. Why is this the congregation’s business?
And why aren’t the guys encouraged to do this?
In that particular church, the closest thing they had that was analogous to this purity series and ceremony was one that constantly called on men to be testosterone-raged “warriors for Christ” according to the conversations I had with my brother.
And that’s when I began to be okay with not wearing a purity ring.
As long as it takes a man and woman to potentially have a baby, both parties are equally responsible and should be equally urged in striving for sexual purity. This purity culture shows that there is an imbalance taking place, that women are being so bombarded with talks of sexual purity that it’s led to purity ceremonies specifically geared for them. But virtually nothing for men.
In our society, if a woman is found to be sleeping around, people call her a whore. If she gets pregnant, people will wonder what happened to her and how did she let this happen to her as if the guy does not even exist. And, sadly, the purity ring culture in the church reflects that.
To my knowledge, there are no purity ring ceremonies geared towards men. If so, it has not garnered national attention. In fact, further conversation about this with my friends the past few years led me to hear that there are purity balls that teenaged daughters attend with their dads with the same ring ceremony except not only is the pledge made to God but also…their dads. Yet, no such analogous ceremony or similar urge for men to be sexually pure exists, as if their presence is not as important as the body of Christ pursues sexual purity.
It’s almost as if in the church’s efforts in being radically different in this area, we have shown that we’re really not that different.
In fact, not too long after one of my old church’s purity ring meetings, I heard on a Christian radio station that 88% of those who took the vow broke it. Folks have different reasons for this such as people doing everything but vaginal sex or having sex period. So I guess my question is is this idea, as well intentioned as it is, doing us more harm than good? Is it worth talking about awesome sex but how we can’t do it until marriage without allowing open, honest conversation about sex in the church? I attended a church once where the pastor mentioned sex but due to the discomfort of some members of the congregation, he went from saying “sex” to saying “intimacy.” This just an example of how we have portrayed sex to be a dirty thing in church at times. Yet we urge our youth, mostly girls, to take this vow of sexual purity.
I believe we’ve put the cart before the horse. As the bride of Christ, it’s like we’ve forced a marriage ceremony in this life when the book of Revelations tells us that it will be in the next one.
And then some will say, “No, being pure isn’t just about no having sex until marriage. Purity is a lifestyle.” Well, the best example of purity is Christ. And following him would make us Christ-followers which brings us back to the very foundation of Christianity.
By earnestly seeking Christ and holding each other accountable in striving to be like him, regardless of whether we are a man or a woman or whether we are a virgin or not, we begin to reflect him all the more. But if we strive in making statements and vows in the form of rings in every way that is counter-cultural but in line with Christianity, our fingers and toes will be overflowing with rings and we would need more hands and feet to compensate.
After it’s all said and done, I realize that, although I have job that allows for me to have a purity ring, it’s not for me. While I actively seek living a pure lifestyle because of Christ’s true love for me, I prefer 110% reliance on God’s grace minus the ring. It’s free.
This is a re-post of an article originally published on Verily Mary Mary