Purity Rings: From Two to One’s Story

A guest post by Danielle of From Two to One.

I Wore A Purity Ring, But No One Got It

For as perverted as my introduction to purity culture and rings was during my teenage years, I think fondly of my purity ring and its continuing role as my husband’s wedding ring. But as a feminist and a Christian, I straddle two conflicting worldviews on almost everything, but especially in the realm of marriage, relationships, and sexuality.

While I understand why for some, if not most reading this blog, purity rings are seen as a new form of chattel law, my purity ring gave me an excuse to rise above the self-deprecating, body-hating, immature sexual experiences of my peers in high school. It wasn’t a matter of pretending to be “holier than thou,” but rather symbolized my determination to hold onto self-respect, confidence, and dignity regardless of my “purity” or lack thereof and in the midst of a culture toxic to young women.

The next few memories reflect on this gradual transition from pure-impure/virgin-whore dichotomies to a holistic understanding of consent, sexuality, expectations, and mutual love and respect. Some of these exchanges are cringe-worthy in the same way looking at your teenage diary is, but then again, the two really aren’t all that different. And while I appreciate where I’ve come from, I am even more grateful of how I’ve evolved and matured over the years.

***

At fourteen, I had never even heard of a purity ring. But the summer after eighth grade, close friends convinced me to attend a conservative Christian summer camp where we bounced on a multicolored striped blob (think Heavyweights), played capture the flag on the campgrounds, and oh yeah, talked about Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Every morning, the girls and boys would split into their morning Bible study sessions. The girls talked about, among other Christian-ese things, emotional purity – “guarding our heart,” dressing modesty so as to not attract undue attention, praying for a godly future husband, and abstaining from sex before marriage. As with the girls, the boys discussed purity, albeit it was of a different kind. They talked about sexual purity – “guarding your eyes,” not pursuing girls who dress immodestly, refraining from lust-induced pornography and masturbation, and abstaining from sex before marriage. In the years to follow, I read almost every single purity/dating/courtship book out there for Christian young people. I ate it up, even though looking back at those years, I was really eating garbage.

At sixteen, I decided that I wanted to wear a purity ring. But since I grew up Catholic and we by no means have as many hang-ups on “purity” as evangelicals, the concept baffled my parents, who I thought were the rightful bearers  of this coming-of-age gift. I tried explaining the concept to them several months before Christmas that year, “It’s a commitment I’m making to myself to protect my heart and that of my future husband until marriage. It’s not just about sex – it’s about what I want marriage to be, to mean. I just don’t want to connect with anyone in that deep of a way until I am ready. And I only want to be ready when I am married to someone who truly respects and loves me and is committed to spending the rest of their life with me.”

They still didn’t get it.

And yet, a few months later, I convinced them to pool my Christmas and birthday gifts for two years to go toward a platinum, plain men’s wedding ring. Slipping it on my left-hand ring finger, the lady at the jewelry store looked incredulously at my teenage face, “You’re going to wear it on that hand?” I tried to explain how one day, I would resize the ring and it would become my husband’s wedding ring, that I wanted to wear it to remind me of him.

She didn’t get it.

In the two years to follow, I wore it primarily as a purity ring. My finger was bare only for bathing and track meets, when all jewelry needed to be removed. It became an amulet of sorts as I half-expected it to mystically ward off improper suitors, those boys we were warned about who “only wanted sex” or those who were not “men after God’s own heart.” As long as I wore it, I would be protected.

But it didn’t protect me.

I didn’t get it. I was the one who didn’t get it all along.

But I kept wearing my ring, even though my worldviews seismically shifted and I, as a person and a Christian and feminist, changed.

At eighteen, I met the man I would one day marry at the very camp that taught me about purity rings. We didn’t start dating until a year into knowing one another, but after a month of dating, we knew that we would say “I do” right after I graduated from college.

When it came time for my now husband to talk with my parents about marrying me, I made two points explicitly clear to him: 1) You need to talk with both of my parents since they raised me as equals, and 2) Talking with them about proposing is more a matter of respect and clear communication than asking for permission. My parents, let alone my father, don’t own me. I don’t need their permission. I am an adult and your equal partner.

As a feminist and godly man, he agrees. He gets it. And every time I glance at his left hand, I get it. I get that God works in mysterious ways, but also that God has a sense of humor. After all, who would’ve thought that two progressive feminist Christians could recover from a life of puritanical teachings and become one in an egalitarian marriage?

———

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.

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  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    I can relate to a lot of this. While I never actually had a purity ring, I was taught all that about “purity” and “guarding your heart” and “modesty” and I believed it all… I believed it all, but had so many unanswered questions about what dating is supposed to be- the whole thing didn’t make sense, but I never thought to question it.

    And now, years later, I am still a Christian but I am a feminist too, and I cringe at hearing things like “guard your heart” and “modesty”. I am in a dating relationship now, and I’m trying to figure out what dating is supposed to be- I still believe in not having sex before marriage, but for very different reasons than I used to. Just like you said, I’m sure that I don’t want to have sex until a guy is committed to me for life, because from what I’ve heard, it’s a deep personal connection.

  • http://jw-thoughts.blogspot JW

    Why is ‘guarding your heart’ and ‘modesty’ words to be cringed? Are these words that get overcharacterized to the extreme and become more than what they are supposed to mean? I am really curious why these traits carry negative weight because they have carried and taught me ALOT of wisdom over the years and yet I am a guy.

    • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

      “Modesty” is mostly about women trying to control the (re)actions of men via their clothing. Which is a pretty messed up idea, because no one can truly control others. There’s something to be said for choosing ‘appropriate’ attire, but ‘modesty’ specifically is about attraction and is mostly used to blame women for men’s actions.

      I’ll leave ‘guarding your heart’ to someone better acquainted with the subculture, but the whole idea seems to me to prevent people from learning what makes a relationship work by denying them any room for comparison, and gives no room for error in choosing a partner. Especially when coupled with restricting boys and girls from socialising…The more I read, the more I suspect the plan is to trick people into thinking their relationships are working (whether they are or aren’t) through ignorance of how things could possibly be different.

    • Rae

      “Guarding your heart” – IDK, most people I’ve run into in evangelical circles will, if asked what it means, say that it means that you (women) need to not pour too much of your time and energy into a guy who doesn’t reciprocate your feelings/only wants sex/whatever. But, there’s also two big things that I noticed were unspoken: One, this seems to be used to try to discourage girls from getting into close friendships with guys. Two, there’s this idea of something that I’ve heard described once as “emotional lust”? I’ve heard over and over in the evangelical culture “Romance novels are for women what porn is for men”. It’s like they’re so deeply invested into the “men are sexual/physical, women are emotional” dichotomy that, in order to sort of ignore the fact that many women are just as sexually driven or more so than men, yet not to simultaneously imply that men have more temptations than women, they tried to find a “female equivalent” to lust and came up with “women sometimes have unrealistic expectations for relationships.”

    • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

      “Guarding your heart”- I understood this to mean “you should be really really terrified of becoming too attached to your boyfriend.” Because I was taught that sex was “giving myself away”, and everything else romance-related (kissing, holding hands, crushes, saying “I love you”, going on a date- what belongs on this list is not well-defined) was “giving away part of my heart”, and then I would be irreversibly damaged and not good enough and my hypothetical future husband would be disappointed in me.

      Actually “guard your heart” is from the bible- Proverbs 4:23- and the context is a father instructing his son to pursue wisdom. So I agree with you that the original intention is something very good and useful and not cringe-worthy. It’s totally NOT about telling girls to be super-afraid of becoming emotionally attached to their boyfriends. But that’s the only context I’ve ever heard it used in, and as a result I was very scared of dating and liking boys, for a long time.

      “Modesty”- I wrote about this on my blog recently: Modesty as she is taught and Modesty: My Solution. Basically, modesty says I should help boys out by not wearing something that’s going to make them lust. Of course I want to help them out. Shouldn’t I help them out as much as possible? And if I want to help them out as much as possible, then ideally I should not look cute/beautiful/feminine at all. When taken to its logical conclusion, modesty says there’s something evil and dangerous about my body looking like a woman. And that’s not right.

  • ScottInOH

    [M]y purity ring gave me an excuse to rise above the self-deprecating, body-hating, immature sexual experiences of my peers in high school. It … symbolized my determination to hold onto self-respect, confidence, and dignity regardless of my “purity” or lack thereof and in the midst of a culture toxic to young women.

    It is well worth remembering this sentiment when thinking about conservative Christians and what they teach their kids about sex. They’re not all focused on keeping women in their place (attached to their fathers and then their husbands). There are a lot of problems with relationships and sex, and plenty of conservative Christians believe maintaining sexual and emotional “purity” is the best way to avoid those problems. Sadly, they are wrong.

  • smrnda

    I thought the contemporary usage of ‘guarding your heart’ was due to Josh Harris, who advanced the notion that when you become attached you give away ‘pieces of your heart’ so that, when you get married, you’re not giving your spouse your whole heart. It creates a high pressure environment where you can only risk getting attached IF you’re going to get married or at least enter into a courtship.

    • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

      Yes. This. Exactly.

  • Adele

    I like this story a lot. I like how you show yourself growing in maturity and understanding, and I like the happy ending where you end up in a healthy, egalitarian marriage to someone who “gets it”. Thanks for sharing!

    • http://www.fromtwotoone.com from two to one

      Thanks so much, Adele!

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