Purity Rings: Libby Anne’s Story

Dear Purity Ring,

When I look at you, sitting there in my jewelry box, the memories flood over me.

My dad gave you to me on my thirteenth birthday. He took me out to dinner, held out a jewelry box, opened it, and there you were. You were so beautiful, and I, thrilled to own a real piece of expensive jewelry, put you on my finger with excitement. But you were more than a beautiful ring, more than an expensive piece of jewelry. When my father gave you to me, I promised him that I would not have sex until marriage.

I put you on my finger, a symbol of my purity.

I poured my girlhood dreams into you, dreams of a young man who would see me as a priceless jewel. I fantasized about how pleased he would be that I had kept myself pure. My purity was a gift I would give him, and you were the symbol that represented that gift. I planned out my wedding in my head. During the service my groom would remove you, my purity ring, from my hand, and replace you with a wedding ring. Or, alternately, I would melt you down and use the gold in my husband’s wedding ring, a reminder that I had kept myself pure for him.

So many dreams, so many hopes.

You served another function, too. You signified my purity to others. When I met other girls I reflexively checked their left ring fingers to see whether they, too, bore a purity ring. When they did, as was common in the homeschool circles, I felt a kinship and instant identification. They, like me, were pure, waiting. When they didn’t, well, I wondered. Were they impure, or did they simply miss the purity ring memo? I couldn’t be sure. Even when I left for college I kept you on my finger, broadcasting my purity to the world.

You set me apart as different, special, pure.

When I started dating my first boyfriend he told me that he didn’t care whether I was “pure” or not. He told me that what I’d chosen to do with my body before meeting him didn’t matter to him at all. And he was perfectly serious. I had thought when I put you on my finger that I was keeping myself pure as a gift for my future husband, but here was this young man and I thought the world of him, and he of me, but he didn’t see my purity as a gift in any sense. He didn’t care. He liked me for me, for my unique talents and quirks, and didn’t give a fig for my purity.

And it was at that moment that you betrayed me.

I had poured everything into you, and for what? It felt like a farce. It felt vain and pointless. I felt betrayed and confused. I realized that I had valued my purity more than my intelligence, or my creativity, or my love for others. I had elevated my purity above everything else. I had boasted of it, flaunted it, cherished it. And suddenly I found myself questioning the value of “purity.”

And as those questions flooded in, you became collateral damage.

After months of thought and reevaluation came the morning when I took you off my finger. I looked at you, held you in the palm of my hand. I remembered all my girlhood hopes and dreams. And I remembered the feeling of betrayal. And then I put you in my jewelry box and closed the lid. In doing so I closed the lid on those girlhood hopes and dreams, closed the lid on my resolution to be “pure,” whatever that even meant, and closed the lid on my naivete. I took a deep breath and left behind the need to be pure or to label myself with terms like “pure” and “impure,” “virgin” or “slut.”

Putting you aside, I freed myself from the baggage and moved on.

I don’t blame you for all this. I was young, I was naive. You were only a band of gold, an object onto which I imputed the physical purity I had been taught to value so highly. My memories of my girlhood will always be tied up with you and with ideas of purity, and my memories of growing up and moving on will always be tied up in the sense of betrayal I associated with you and my feelings when I finally took you off my finger, put you in my jewelry box, and closed the lid.

You will always be a symbol of my past, and of my break with the past.

Perhaps someday I will take you out and show you to my daughter, and use you as an object lesson in a discussion of sex, choices, and responsibility. I’ll tell her about what I was taught, about my hopes and dreams, and about what I learned when I grew up and why I put you away. And maybe, just maybe, by doing that I can in some sense redeem you.

Sincerely,

Libby Anne

———

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

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://sundaysinthestorageunit.wordpress.com Sarah

    What an amazing story and transformation. I was not raised around purity balls or rings – I was not even raised Christian, but these views on purity are pervasive in American culture. I have been shamed for my lack of “purity” or for my excess of “experience” by plenty of non-religious people. Like you, I stumbled across someone who doesn’t measure human worth in arbitrary points awarded or subtracted for sex acts, and being with him is one of the best things to ever happen to me.

  • http://songe.me asonge

    I’m a male who took the whole dating advice thing way too far from the church culture I grew up in. There was some of the patriarchy/courtship kind of stuff going around, and I decided not even to get into any relationships until I was ready to be a husband. While I ended up losing my faith, I was emotionally stunted and it took me a long time to build up the ability to have a serious relationship. It’s something I so deeply regret now, but it wasn’t my choice. I gave legitimacy to these opinions when I was 13, and I understood nothing…I made these choices because I thought they were right because they came from adults in my life. There wasn’t even any pressure though, except that my desire to be the best Christian I could be led me to want to go all the way…to do everything as uprightly as possible. There’s not much about my life that I’m bitter about, but this is an exception.

    • Annika

      Your comment says everything I’ve been wanting to say for the last few years, but couldn’t find the words. Your experience is awfully close to my own (except I’m a woman). Thank you!

  • Artor

    I was painfully geeky growing up, and I never had a girlfriend even until I was 20. My son is now 14, and he’s just met his first girlfriend. I hope he holds off on sex for a while yet, but I’m glad he’s having dating experiences, and eventually sex, well before I did. I feel that teen years are an ideal time to experiment and learn about all the complexities of relationships & sex before you’re an adult & expected to be mature about it. Seriously, get your teen drama and awkwardness out of the way while you’re still a teen. Don’t wait until you’re trying to have a serious relationship later to have the painful learning experiences.
    Also, a few sexual experiences with an older/ more skilled partner can be VERY educational, and your future partners will appreciate it!

  • Eivind

    Beuatiful story. Do you harbour any ill feelings for your father about the purity-ring ? As you say, you where young and naive – but he wasn’t. On the other hand, he surely did it because *he* thought it’d be somehow good for you.

  • Baal

    The US purity meme has always bothered me. I generally hope that as folks mature they get the messages that they have a right to control their bodies independent of what a culture says to them and that openness and consent are the route to happy healthy and fun relationships with other people. By making the focus ‘purity’ these less harm causing ideas get shunted.

  • http://peyre.x10.mx/ Leon

    As father myself, I find the whole concept of purity rings, and especially purity balls, just plain creepy. We won’t be teaching any of that kind of nonsense to our little girl.

  • http://beautifuldisarray.wordpress.com Chryssie

    your story is very similar to my own. My dad gave me a ring on my 13th birthday, but I don’t remember him telling me that this was a reminder to keep myself pure till marriage. I already had those ideas and was excited to finally have a ring on my finger. Like you, I thought I would be giving such an amazing gift to my husband when I met him. I was so excited to tell him, one day, that I had saved myself only for him. I started becoming really disillusioned with the ring about the age of 17 when I realized that the guy friendships I had were more helpful than any other friendship I had. When I met my husband, my ring meant nothing, and it took me awhile before I was willing to kiss him and agree that it was okay to do so before our wedding day. I really dislike people throwing around the word “pure” and taking it to mean that they are better than everyone else because they never touched, kissed, or spent alone time with their spouse before marriage. It’s such a guilt trap and I feel so bad for those still stuck in it. It’s hard to get out, but it is so worth breaking free from.

  • http://www.justforjewellery.com Anisley

    Very interesting article and I enjoyed reading.I am really delighted to read this blog posts which consists of tons of valuable data, thanks for providing these kinds of data.

  • Elizabeth

    Thanks so much for writing this! Like so many others, it summarizes my experience as well, although I was only 11 when I received my purity ring, and that much more susceptible to the high ideals of purity I was being sold.
    I can’t remember exactly when I took mine off in an act of angry defiance, maybe it was when I had my first boyfriend. I remember telling my parents that it had broken and hiding it so well that I never could find it again. It took years before I was able to “recover” to the point where I was emotionally ready to have sex and sometimes I still feel upset about the valuable experiences I was robbed of and the emotional trauma I went through just to get to the point where I didn’t feel God was watching and condemning me every time I was intimate with a guy.
    I think it’s wrong to raise children in this way – to punish them for believing differently from you.

  • almost ambitious

    I found this article really interesting because it manages to be both similar and different from my experiences. My family’s quite conservative, and definitely disapprove of sex before marriage so I had the talk on saving myself for my One True Love, but they’re horrified by the idea of advertising sexual status through jewellery on the grounds that any information pertaining to a person’s sexuality is personal and hence not to be shared with the world at large. Given that you come from a background which (presumably) doesn’t approve of publicising your sex life, did it ever make you uncomfortable to be putting such personal information on public display?

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