Today I managed to get myself out of the house to take care of some errands I had been meaning to do for weeks. Since mid-December, I’ve been visiting my parents, so I went toddling around the city where I grew up. Waiting in line at an obnoxious department store (the colors, the lights, and the noise, noise, NOISE!) I did a double take at the woman behind me; could that be Melissa*? Snotty Melissa who made fun of my shoes in 9th grade? The Melissa who callously gossiped and lied Monday-Saturday and then showed up to church with me Sunday to worship? Oh yes, it was her. Drat.
Secretly, I hoped I wouldn’t be recognized. Unfortunately, I was. “LACCIIIIII!!!! Oh my GOD I haven’t seen you in years! How are you?”
The conversation sucked, so I won’t go there, but she did remind me of something. In 9th grade, during class at church, Melissa had proudly shown off a large diamond ring she wore daily on her finger. “A virginity ring”, she said. Even at 14, I was rolling my eyes.
Virginity rings (aka purity ring), a symbol for abstinence, come endorsed by schools and churches across America. They are worn by teenagers, often after receiving them from authority figures (pastors, mom, dad, older bro or sis, prudent Sister Smith from church, etc). The ones that I have seen have been both beautiful and expensive. Should a teen choose to take it off after agreeing to wear it, many face harassment from various extremist figures in their life…or, y’know, the media. Poor Selena Gomez.
I personally have several problems with purity rings:
1. The implication of a “purity ring” is that to have sex, you are no longer “pure”. Sex is thus dirty, defiling, and wrong instead of natural, healthy, and an act to be approached in an informed fashion.
2. Taking off the ring when you first have sex symbolizes something being taken AWAY from you. Real empowering, right? In healthy cases, you are not LOSING your virginity, you’re GAINING access to a new part of yourself–you’re making your sexual debut!
3. They are not effective. Studies have repeatedly shown that purity pledgers engage in the same sex acts in the same numbers. The only difference? Purity pledgers are significantly less likely to protect themselves, so they end up pregnant or transmitting diseases instead. Great.
4. Purity rings are a tool to “keep up appearances” and perpetuate bad communication between kids and their parents. As the studies have indicated, pledgers STILL HAVE SEX. They just learn to get really good at lying about it. Or, for the quiet parents, if they can see the ring on, they never have to talk about sex. Phew–problem solved! (Not.)
5. In my own experience, purity rings carry a lot of baggage. My sister wore one all through high school and continuously reprimanded me for not wearing one. I distinctly remember sitting across from her at Fresh Choice 5 or so years ago; leaning over her soup, she aggressively whispered: “Obviously you’re having sex since you won’t wear one.” It gave her an opportunity to demean my choices every day, even though I wasn’t even sexually active at the time. Wearing the purity ring also made her feel 10X more guilty when she finally did have sex.
…And my sister definitely didn’t end up waiting until marriage. In fact, my sister has more sex than me. As for Melissa? Well, she’s not married either. She also has a daughter, with another one on the way.
Abstinence vows oft mean learning the hard way, if they learn at all. Guilt, harassment, unplanned pregnancies, and maybe even a few STD/STIs later, some learn to approach their sexuality more realistically.
I just hope her parents didn’t spend too much on that ring.
*Her name isn’t actually Melissa. Actually, it might be, I couldn’t remember her name.