Many evangelical and fundamentalist teens wear purity rings, a product of what I call “the purity culture.” Sometimes these rings are gifted to them by a parent, often a father, or obtained through a youth group or purity campaign. Other times these rings are something these teens buy for themselves. Either way, every ring has a story, and no teen who wears one walks away unaffected. In the Purity Rings project, young adults who had purity rings as teens and have since come to question the rationale behind purity rings share their stories. Some stories are disturbing and others are inspiring. All are moving.
If you would like to submit your own purity ring story, email me at lovejoyfeminism (at) gmail (dot) com.
My mom gave me that ring on the occasion of my first period, which at the time made me feel all wonderful and symbolic. “She’s giving me my purity ring at the time when purity starts to really matter… now that I am a woman and capable of bearing a child.” I crowed in my head. First of all, ICK! … [But] on the whole, my purity ring was a fairly innocuous thing. Sure, I had way too much pride in it, but as far as I can remember, it really truly was my idea.
On my 13th birthday, my dad took me out to dinner for the usual daddy-date that happens on birthdays in my family. I don’t remember what he told me the ring meant, but I had already created my ideas about why I had the ring, and my dad’s only purpose was that this ring meant he had my heart. My dad and I never really had a relationship growing up, but I took the ring seriously. I vowed I would never kiss before I got married, or touch a guy, or have sex. Obviously.
I was a teenager in the 90’s and so our church was into all the evangelical youth group culture stuff. I was a little late getting my purity ring. I think my father felt pressured by the other fathers getting these rings for their daughters and he finally got around to it when I was 16. Dad told me to pick out a place to go to dinner and so I researched and found a Cajun restaurant downtown that looked interesting. We went out so that he could have the “talk” with me and give me the ring.
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.
I was 17, and the ring ceremony would be held at my church in a few weeks. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the ceremony. Although I actively participated in my school’s theater program, I always felt awkward and embarrassed in front of my church congregation when it came to religious proclamations. My cheeks would become rosy when asked to lead prayers at youth services.
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.
I was given a purity ring by my father on my thirteenth birthday. This is my purity ring story. I discuss how I felt when I first received my purity ring, what it meant to me, and all the dreams I poured into it. I discuss how proud I was to signify my purity in this way, and how I used purity to judge others. I discuss what happened when I started dating my first boyfriend, and what led me to decide, in college, to take my purity ring off and put it aside forever. Finally, I discuss my feelings of betrayal, and what I feel when I look at my purity ring today.
I always thought the story of my dad designing and making the wedding ring himself was so romantic, as my dad is in computers now, but had picked up metal working as he bebopped along in his “jack of all trades” way. So I asked if this plain gold band which my dad had made and fit me so well could become my purity ring. They agreed and I wore it on my left hand and of course it became a prop for all my fantasy wedding ideas. I got it engraved with the words “Psalm 37:4”.
My cousin gave me a purity ring for Christmas. I don’t think any of us fully realized what we were saying to the world by wearing them—“I have never had a penis in my vagina!”—but we wore them with pride. Oh, it was fun. Fun being able to flaunt something that not everyone had. Fun to be a member of something special. Fun to be able to combat the feelings of inadequacy I had from being a victim of childhood sexual abuse. It was fun, until I became the subject of whispers. Until I lost my purity…ring, or rather, had it stolen from me.