I didn’t know about purity rings until I was about 12 and attending an anti-abortion protest with my church. A young woman stood at the microphone and told the emotional story of how she was given a purity ring by her father and what it meant to her to remain “pure” until marriage. I was captivated. I’d heard the horror stories of STDs in my health classes, I knew I didn’t want a baby until I was married, so I figured I’d take a purity pledge myself and asked my parents if I could get a ring too. The summer after I turned 13, my parents took me to the local Christian retailer and we ordered a sterling silver ring with a heart and key design that cost thirty dollars. I picked it out myself. I loved it, I loved the symbolism of it, and I wore it proudly on my left ring finger and dreamed of the day I’d replace it with a wedding band.
The ring was more than just a symbol of purity to me. It was a symbol of my unshakeable Christian faith. I never took it off unless it was absolutely necessary, and it eventually conformed to the shape of my finger. It was my witness to the world of my faith and chastity. I used it as an excuse not to date, because dating might lead to temptation. A year after I got my ring, I went on a camping trip with a friend of mine and the youth group from his church. There was a girl in the group, about 16 or 17 years old, and about 5 months pregnant. I pitied her, and stated proudly that I wouldn’t do that and because I had “one of these.” I showed her my ring. She sighed and told me blankly, “I had one of those too.” I was shocked. How could she break a promise to God?
I wore my ring for nine years. It went with me on mission trips to Mexico and India, family road trips, I wore it camping and swimming and sleeping. I didn’t allow myself to enter into any romantic relationships, although my parents gave me permission to date when I was sixteen. I simply didn’t want the temptation in my life. I had plenty of crushes, though–and plenty of guilt as a result, thanks to my church’s rather strict interpretation of Matthew 5:28: “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” According to my church’s teaching, anytime I had a crush on a boy I was committing a cardinal sin.
Every time I looked at the ring, I felt so proud of my commitment. Then something happened that I never thought could happen: I lost my faith in God. I gradually began to doubt more and more until I came to the conclusion that all religion was untrue and I couldn’t live a lie. After I realized I was an atheist, I took off my ring because I knew I didn’t need that symbol of my faith anymore. I remained conflicted about my abstinence promise for a few years afterward. I did eventually become sexually active. (And I’m not married yet!)
I still have my ring. It sits in a jewelry box, somewhat tarnished with age. It’s a reminder to me of who I once was and where I came from. It reminds me not to make rash decisions based on a whim or to believe what other people say just because they’re older and supposed to know better. I have to define my own life and live it the way that is right for me. I don’t need to adhere to the dictates of an ancient patriarchal superstition that defines my worth by what I do with what’s between my legs. I don’t have to be ashamed to be a woman.
This post is part of the Purity Rings project, in which young adults who had purity rings as teens and have since come to question the rationale behind them share their stories. For more purity ring stories, click here.