I was 18 years old and working as a grocery store clerk. As I scanned an older couple’s groceries one evening, we exchanged some banter, as one does with near strangers. They were talking about how usually the wife does most of the shopping and making witty quips about it. The husband then looked me dead in the eye and asked:
“How about you? Do you do the grocery shopping for your hubby?”
The question startled me. But not as much as it could have. When you wear a silver ring on your left hand where a wedding ring would be, you get questions like that. I got them at 18, and I get them at 21.
“Are you married?” is a question I’m not unfamiliar with hearing. After that comes the awkward clarification that I’m not married. Sometimes I just stop there and avoid the further awkwardness of explaining what that ring is. Because then I’d have to talk about…sex.
Well, I’d have to talk about it implicitly. I’d have to say, “It’s a purity ring.” And then you see it behind their eyes.
Oh. She’s one of those people.
I went to a Christian school growing up, so abstinence was in our curriculum. In eighth grade, twenty-five sweaty and slightly hormonal eighth graders gathered weekly to listen to a woman talk about the dangers of premarital sex (a bit more tactful than the Mean Girls coach, I might add.) Eighth graders tend to giggle at the s-word. (Not to mention all the other words that go along with it.)
After those uncomfortable four weeks, I made the purity pledge (I still have the ATM – “Abstinence Til Marriage” – card in my wallet. Judge me and judge me hard) and then after eighth-grade graduation, went to a Christian bookstore and got a small silver ring to wear on my left hand. It has three words on it. “Love. Purity. Trust.”
Fast forward to today. I’m typing this and it’s still on my finger. I haven’t taken it off much since then. It peeks up in many of my Facebook photos, has made a handy prop for a few plays and musicals, and has been the subject of many questions and comments over the years.
You might say it’s become a part of me.
And that was the norm for Christian school kids. Many of my friends had or still have purity rings. I thought the Silver Ring Thing was a thing of the past, until I Googled it before writing this to find it’s still in fact…a thing. Their mission statement says: “SRT defies the meet-up, hook-up, break-up mindset of today and inspires students to a pure life centered in Jesus Christ.” And that’s great. I’m glad that it’s still around.
But is it still…relevant?
It was when the Jonas Brothers wore them. But now they don’t. Because it’s not cool anymore. (Or they’re married. But I’m talking mainly about Nick here. You know, the one who used to be the cute and innocent one.)
Purity rings became a Christian norm in the 1990s, when millions of Christian teens were taking purity pledges, only to (fairly quickly) break them.
Teens and sex go together – it’s always been like that. It’s hard to tell a teenager “no, don’t touch that, wait for something better.” Teens want everything now. Which is why teens have sex. Which is why adults tell teens not to have sex. Which is why the purity movement seemed repressive to some, and many adults are now coming out about their experience with the purity movement – that it was forced upon them by their church groups, that they were made to believe sex was inherently bad, that it prevented them from having a healthy sexual awakening or full knowledge of their desire for intimacy. You name it. The purity movement messed them up, apparently.
But for me, it’s not a fad. And it’s certainly not repressive.
That’s not what it’s about. At least not for me. And maybe we as Christians are just getting the whole sex narrative wrong.
See, I don’t see my purity ring as a ball and chain, enslaving me to some doctrine or ideology of “do” and “do not.” It doesn’t make me fear sex or intimacy, or feel guilty for having impure thoughts or looking at things I shouldn’t. I intend to wear it until it is possibly replaced with a wedding ring, and even then, wearing it still.
Because above all else, it’s a reminder.
There are so many allusions in the Bible to Christ being a bridegroom. Can you grasp how intimate of an image that is? God chose this language – the most intimate relationship a person can have – to describe the relationship of His son to us. Because His love is unconditional and intimate. It penetrates our hearts and permeates every square inch of who we are. And if you think that’s explicit language, read Song of Songs. (Guess what? Song of Songs isn’t just about sexy time between a king and his bride. Guess Who else it’s about.)
Also, in modern translations of the Bible, a euphemism for sex is “knowing” someone, particularly in the KJV. In the time that version was written, that was a common way of politely saying “they did the nasty.” But isn’t that an accurate way of talking about sex? It’s not just your body. It’s your mind and your soul merging with another person. You know them as no one else knows them. And Christ knows you even beyond that.
Our culture tends to focus on the carnal aspect of sex, which is degrading to both sex itself and the humans who do it. Sex in its carnal form isn’t the point of human sexuality. That’s for the animals. We were given senses and souls to “know” sex in a much different way. With strings attached, if you will.
Let me put it this way: When a buck and a deer, well…come together, the deer doesn’t have to worry if the buck is going to call the next day. The deer doesn’t have romantic feelings toward the buck. She doesn’t have to worry if she took her birth control or if she ruined her possible future relationship with her future buck husband.
She’s meant to have sex and make babies. No strings attached.
And people are too, but not in the sense that animals are. Our sexuality goes far beyond that of carnal animals. Ours is rooted in love, not necessity or instinct. Hence the Christ-bridegroom allusion. If our sexuality was meant to be casual and carnal, that allusion would fall apart and cease to have meaning. But because of the importance the Bible puts on marital sex, it infuses that beautiful allegory in all its fullness. Rules can be good, y’know.
Animals weren’t designed for intimacy – just for sex. Humans were designed for both. Human sex is more than just making babies.
(And that’s why R&B was invented.)
All that to say, that’s why I still wear a purity ring. I haven’t given up on the notion that we are more than animals, and that we are infinitely loved by a Man who wants us to live in His image. He loves us as a groom loves his bride. How amazing is that? No other religions can claim to have the same allusion.
I wear a purity ring to remind myself that, before anything or anyone else, I am infinitely Loved.