Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Broken Promises of the Purity Ring

I was talking with some P/QF survivors recently, and they brought up something that's always bugged me about the rampant symbolism (and corresponding lack of substance) in all things P/QF. Many of them had been given either purity/promise rings or some kind of heart locket. From where I sit, these things just give young girls and women something else to feel guilty or dutiful about, renders them little more than property to be traded, and puts a bunch of emphasis on superficial and external things which have a whole heck of a lot to do with nothing regarding the genuine measure of a person.

A few months ago, I wrote about the Contractual Bondage that accompanies such things.

As far as the heart lockets are concerned, I understand that the heart is presented (by the bride's father) to a groom at the conclusion of a wedding ceremony to represent the symbolic passing of control and authority over the woman's heart from her father to her new patriarch. As a groom, I'd be tempted to ask the father, "Hey, umm...What about the rest of her vital organs? You keeping those?"

Frankly, if she hasn't long since given you her heart by the time you get to a wedding ceremony, you're marrying the wrong woman. It's all just extra stupid. If you aren't "married" before you ever walk the aisle and stand before a preacher (or a judge if you choose that route), a few words or vows and several ceremonial actions won't render you "married".

My ex didn't have a heart locket that I know of, but of course, she dutifully wore a purity ring. She once told me that it would be given to me, as a gift, on our wedding night. What she didn't understand is that while I very much appreciated the fact that she'd saved herself, sexually, for me, and while there would've been a certain level of disappointment if she hadn't - I'd have still loved her and wanted to marry her either way. In this hyper-fundamentalist world of purity obsession, I have to be honest; should a groom speak his vows to the bride's face or to her vagina? I don't know if she ever understood that her sexuality, and the body parts involved, were only a small portion of what I was marrying. I wanted to marry HER - not her hymen and vagina, or her "purity". Those things, such as they were, were only a part of the package. Those things were and are largely superficialities. Such is the problem with my ex and her family, and P/QF as a whole - consumed by superficialities, while things that are the foundation of genuine character, and basic moral right and wrong, are neglected.

I came across this page about purity rings. Like the P/QF movement as a whole, it strikes me as someone capitalizing on the works-based, externally focused mindset of legalism to fleece others. Not only do they provide the ring, but also the "Covenant of Purity Certificate" and "Vow of Purity Prayer/Pledge Card". So, along with the ring, they send you all of the appropriate material to serve as the eventual basis of a "guilty" verdict against you in a court of legalism. It's all so sweet it's giving me a cavity (SA). They even go so far as to present a separate page which shows you "What the Bible says about purity" - in which the majority of verses cited are proof-texts or used entirely out of context. But, for a young woman raised in this kind of "Christianity", those verses can induce all the guilt necessary to produce conformity.

Gotta love that superficial morality and character.

First of all, my advice to any young woman reading this: If your parents try to pull any of this crap on you, making you sign some kind of covenant or pledge, pray some kind of oath or vow, and wear a ring to symbolize it all, compare it to the words of Christ...

"You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one."

Not quite so "pure" a process when Jesus adds a little context.

In my ex's case, as I've said before, the only covenant she'd made that was meaningful to ME was the covenant she'd made to ME, the covenant the ring I placed on her finger symbolized. That's the one that meant something to God, too. He never asked her to wear a purity ring, nor did He demand she agree to a purity covenant. If she couldn't keep MY ring on her finger, all her purity ring symbolized was worthless, because her word was worthless. I can only shake my head - something I've done a lot of over the past 3 years. "You can't trust her any farther than you can throw her, and she can't see a hill of beans difference between right and wrong, but her hymen, well...just WOW! That thing is immaculate, so she's good people. She even wore a ring for years that said so." I wanted her to realize that she was meant to be more than this.

Regarding her and her family (and LOTS of P/QF and cultic families and people), they'd paid so much attention to the superficial things, the surface things, external things, that they'd lost sight of things like being people of their word, dealing honestly, telling the truth, doing right by others regardless of cost. They neither practiced nor understood those concepts. Those things aren't surface things. If you spend all your time worrying about appearing "godly" and looking the part, you're never gonna understand the character, or the character of the character...and you'll end up lacking character. You'll be sweet like poison and have the moral depth of yesterday's mud-puddle. Character isn't surface.

I pity all of these young girls taught (whether wittingly or unwittingly) to place the entirety of their personal worth, prior to marriage, in the condition of their hymen - something that I don't think God spends a great deal of time in anguish over. 

For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.

A purity ring, and all that goes with it, is a promise that can't be kept by the letter of legalistic law and tied up in parts of the human anatomy. Purity is a heart and soul matter. All of this ceremony is just so much wasted time and effort. God cares about the heart of men and women. Not the state of their sexual organs, and not any symbolic piece of jewelry they wear.


  1. The only time I have ever seen an actual contract was in a home where we were invited to dinner. The mom made sure to point out to us the framed "contracts" that were hand written in calligraphy and hanging in the front hallway for all to see. She went on and on about it and, of course, at the time I was impressed. (middle of our ATI days) As impressed as I was, my husband thought the whole evening to be bizarre and he told me he knew there was something majorly wrong in that home. So he wasn't all that surprised a year later when we got a letter from that mom telling us her husband was in jail for molesting their daughters. Of course, not everything who creates these sorts of symbols practice polygamy but it is just another outward sign of the control freak/purity obsessions that mark these groups.

  2. Can't help noticing that "What the Bible Says About Purity" not only left one of the verses hanging (improper for God's holy what?), they overlooked a few other verses like....

    Titus 1:15-- "To the pure, all things are pure."

    Proverbs 30:12-- "There is a kind who is pure in his own eyes, Yet is not washed from his filthiness."

    Luke 11:39 -- "You Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness."

    Acts 10:15-- "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."

    Now I need to get a "What Would Jesus Do?" ring. First, He'd overturn the table....

  3. So many great posts and links. Came looking after a brush or three with the Quiverarchy Patrifull bunch (or what I call the 15 passenger van families) trying to make sense of what happened. I needed my own "What the..." balloon. I haven't been through a scintilla of what so many of you have endured, but it was enough to nake me seriously reconsider my entire belief system. I'm still thinking it out.

  4. @Eric...How dare you introduce relevant, appropriate verses and a proper handling thereof into this discussion! ;)

  5. Anon...Welcome, and by all means, thinking is encouraged here.

  6. I have never seen a movement in the US that is so obsessed with a girl's hymen. It's sick and twisted and that's NOT what makes a girl/woman who she is. I just don't understand the need for a father to have such an interest in that part of his daughter. It's just so wrong!

    I remember my dad looking at heart and key necklaces and remember being glad that we were too poor for my parents to afford them. The thought of it made me ill.

  7. Erika - "I have never seen a movement in the US that is so obsessed with a girl's hymen."

    Amen! Seriously, what's wrong with these people? I grew up thinking that was the MOST important thing about me! I must keep my "purity" at all costs. Jeez!

  8. My daughter asked for a "key" necklace for her birthday last year. Apparently, the are in style or hot or something...so we got it for her and she loved it and was very happy. Then, we happened to be out with a friend who is ATI and the daughter was commenting on my daughter's "purity" necklace and was congratulating her on her decision. My daughter had no clue what the other girl was talking about and when the other girl told her she was very embarrassed. She almost wouldn't wear the necklace anymore....I found it so sad that she couldn't just receive a gift because she wanted it or we liked it for her...it had to have some sort of message. If there was a message it would have been: "We love you and are so proud to have you as a daughter...happy birthday."

  9. Crap! I missed the real point of marriage. Doh! I was getting the whole woman?

  10. "If you aren't "married" before you ever walk the aisle and stand before a preacher (or a judge if you choose that route), a few words or vows and several ceremonial actions won't render you "married"."
    I like that you said this. I wonder how many couples (outside but hopefully also within P/QF) would rethink getting married if someone asked them before their marriage whether or not they already felt "married". Its something I've always thought about and I couldn't quite understand why my sister felt getting married made her relationship better because I always felt that marriage would only change my name not how I feel about my relationship.

  11. I didn't have a piece of purity jewelry, but I had a wall plaque that I made that said "my heart belongs to you" that I gave my dad when I was 13. not sure why since it never really did. At any rate, I presented it to my husband during our wedding more as a way to include/honor my dad since he had passed away by that time. I did carefully word what I said, though - "I had my dad's full blessing to fall in love with ***** (my husband)" instead of saying anything that would indicate that my heart's loyalties were changing on that day just because I was wearing a white dress. I managed to stay "pure", for what it's worth, without a purity ring, and I'm quite happily managing to keep the covenant that my wedding ring symbolizes. Thanks for making the point about the wedding rings!

  12. I lost my virginity in high school and continued to wear my purity ring for several years after that so no one would suspect.

    So, my ring actually protected me from my parents instead of from penises.

  13. I actually wanted to sign a "True Love Waits" pledge when that was all the rage, just for myself with no symbol or anything. My parents said no because "everyone knows that YOU out of any of our kids will have sex before marriage".

  14. Funny, I was knocking around online to see what people were saying about this subject and I found this thread where some teenagers were stating their opinions. http://www.sodahead.com/fun/what-do-you-think-about-purity-ringsnecklaces/question-1511433/

    Some of the best quotes are:
    "you don't need a ring to be "pure" my dear Selena, just be who you are, wearing a ring won't change how you feel or what you are doing with your life and body. it is pointless, buy yourself a chocolate with those money, at least you will enjoy it."

    "You think it should be everyone's business what you sexual status is? Really?!"

    "Wearing a purity ring doesn't make you more or less 'pure', it just says to people-- whether you're being truthful or not-- that you don't plan on getting laid. "

  15. @Incongruous Circumspection....I rolled off the couch laughing after I read your reply...SNORT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. Katy-Anne, I have no appropriate words for that kind of statement!!! So, SO wrong!!!!! What in the world is in the heart of people who would let those hurtful words out of their mouth???

  17. I've spoken before about how hyper-fundamentalism and P/QF are kissing cousins to, and in many ways practically interchangable with, fundamentalist Mormonism. Given the subject of "purity", check out this link...


    Same stuff.

  18. "consumed by superficialities, while things that are the foundation of genuine character, and basic moral right and wrong, are neglected"


    YES YES YES, this is the true fork in the path where I believe things really go down-hill for "fundies," businessmen, and many others, when one decides that it is more important to "look good" than actually "be good." We all (at least in the US) have to make this decision often throughout our lives, and we would always be better off if we choose "be good!"

    How I wish my mom had encouraged to "be good." Had to learn that one for myself. :-/

  19. and here's another problem...

    [if this is somehow TMI, Lewis, by all means don't publish. but i feel COMPELLED to point out this biological FACT whenever i can!]

    a HYMEN is a tissue. it degrades over time. the chances of a healthy, active girl who takes "moderate to heavy exercise" [such as, i don't know, LOTS OF HOUSEKEEPING!!!] HAVING a hymen at age 20 is almost NOTHING. it degrades OVER TIME - and a thousand thousand things that AREN'T in ANY WAY sexual can break it. basketball. horseback riding. gardening. lifting heavy things [more than 10 pounds] on a regular basis. falling.

    chances are, there isn't a woman over 20 in the country with an intact hymen [unless they've had a surgery for it] - whether or not they've ever had sex.

    further, about 2% of girls are born with NO hymen [that's me!] and another 8% or so have only a "partial" hymen that disappears during puberty.

    and seriously, why the hymen fetish? is a vagina "vacuum sealed for freshness"? sheesh!

  20. I know this is a nitpick, but it's come up a couple of times in posts and it's bothering me. A hymen is not a membrane that breaks upon first sexual intercourse. That is a myth concerning a few anatomical anomalies. It's really folds of tissue that may stretch a bit. Generally speaking if there was going to be any tearing it would have happened when the girl had her first pap smear or started using tampons. But again, this notion of an "immaculate hymen" is a huge biological misunderstanding that seems to dominate Christian circles and it drives me crazy whenever I see references to it.

    In other respects I agree with this post. I think the ATI folks end up kind of obsessed with sex because they focus so much on it with the whole purity stuff. There is so much more to marriage.

  21. Denelian,

    You're absolutely right. It's a piece of tissue. Just about anything can break a hymen--if you are one to believe in God, why would he make something supposedly to symbolize virginity so easily broken? Because that's not what the hymen is for--people have created this purpose for it.

    It is telling, too, that we have never found a way to examine men for "purity." You have to take a man at his word. It's all a run-around way of saying that men can be trusted, but women cannot.

    When I was younger I used to curse Eve for everything women "had" to go through--I've realized now, that it is mankind we have to thank for our treatment. Not Eve, and not God.

  22. Brittany;

    all i can say is "YEP!"

    you're absolutely correct. [my mom? *freaked* when i was born sans hymen - in 1977! - because then "how could [I] prove that [I] was a virgin?" idiocy.


  23. I signed a purity contract, wore a VERY expensive purity ring that was given to me by my parents, and it was treated like something more important than my own wedding ceremony would one day be! Vacuum sealed for freshness? I guess so. =|

    I was a virgin when I was married...SANS HYMEN! I wore tampons (sorry for the TMI) and went horseback riding, which tore me long before any men would have ever gotten the chance to invade my overly protected "Chamber of Secrets" =/

  24. According to the book _Virgin: The Untouched History_ by Hanne Blank, the "unbroken" hymen isn't and never was a reliable proof of actual virginity; the only real way to tell if a woman is or isn't a virgin is to see a penis going into her or a baby coming out. At any rate a hymen is just a vestigial bit of tissue from the development of a woman's vagina in utero, it changes shape over time, may or may not be torn by intercourse, may tear from normal activity or growth, may look torn as part of normal development, and is often undetectable unless you know exactly what you're looking for. Sorry if this is TMI but this hymen/virginity fetish (and it IS a fetish IMO) drives me crazy, and real women do needlessly suffer for it.

  25. You guys don't worry about TMI. This stuff needs to be said.

  26. Here is what I worry about in all of these hymen discussions: when I lost my virginity, the guy I was with had been steeped in such nonsense and my first sexual experience nearly killed me.

    I had used tampons and was a very active person, so I had no hymen. But I was very nervous, so I likely had a touch of vaginismus. He was trying to find a "barrier" to break through. And he found the wall of my vagina - and tore it four inches. Whereupon we continued to have sex while I bled copiously because we had been taught that bleeding is normal. I didn't get to the hospital until I was very close to death from blood loss. It took emergency surgery and blood transfusions to save my life.

    Here is what I have since discovered, when a guy is looking to rupture a hymen, it isn't that unusual for him to rupture a vagina instead.

    It really pisses me off when people talk about the whole hymen thing like it can't be deadly.

  27. Anon;

    that had to have been horrible - and hard to share. thank you for doing so - you highlight a different area of problem.

    because it is a slightly different area - those of us who were talking about hymens, before, were really talking about the worry that a woman who is a virgin will be denounced and called a slut for lacking a tissue that she wouldn't have at that age, ANYWAY. and that's a scary, horrible thing for women to contemplate - if she's marrying a guy she doesn't know well, a guy who puts WAAAAAY too much weight on "proof of virginity", he might hurt her [in various ways, not the least of which is getting the marriage annulled and "ruining" her. and other horrible things...]

    but what you're pointing out is another, similar issue - if you're EXPECTING hymen, and difficulting getting through - yeah, physical damage isn't beyond the pale. it's not COMMON, exactly - but my mom is an OB/Gyn nurse practicioner [after 20 years as an OB/Gyn nurse] and there were always a couple cases of this sort of thing, every year...

    i blame it more on the total lack of REAL education about anatomy and what to expect, physically, from sex.

  28. I wore a "purity ring" as a teen, my mom gave it to me. I didn't have a lot of nice jewelry, and it was cute.

    I married a guy who had also waited for marriage to be physically intimate. He managed to accomplish that without a ring.

    Thankfully, during our (completely sane) premarital counseling from our pastor, we were given a book written by a Christian OB/GYN about sexuality, to fill in any gaps of knowledge about the mechanics, so to speak.

    I did give my little ring to my husband on our honeymoon, but I had given him my heart long before. :)

    I think the "purity" ring thing can be done in such a way that it honors God and doesn't devalue the personhood of the young woman.

    When it is used in the context of a value system that devalues the personhood of everyone involved, adding a ring isn't a necessary part of the systemic damage, it's just another symptom.

  29. I have to agree with the latest Anonymous. I've also worn a purity ring since my parents got it for me for my 16th birthday. However, *I* asked for it. While I did sign a promise (NOT a contract) it was to myself, God, and my future husband with my parents merely the witnesses. Not sure what exactly will happen with the ring when/if I get married someday.

    I have to note that we are practicing Catholics... on the fairly conservative side but not extreme by any standards (my siblings and I were all homeschooled at some point but also have all gone to high school - three public, one Catholic). Also, of my two sisters that are over 16, one has a ring because she asked for it and the other does not.

    I completely agree that the ring can be done in an honorable way. Probably because it was my decision and I see it as between myself, God, and my future husband, it does not make me feel devalued in any way. It is simply a tangible reminder to myself of a promise that I made first and foremost to myself.

    That being said, anything which encourages the idea of the father guarding his daughter's heart or any similar gunk should be avoided.

  30. I also was homeschooled through 8th grade...I loved it, it was perfect for me. I had friends who were the denim jumper types, but that didn't describe my family. My dad somewhat, because he's been on a power trip his whole life, but not my mom. (They are divorced because my dad cheated and then demanded the divorce. Long rotten story.)
    Anyway, I had a purity necklace--I didn't like rings. My parents gave it to me (I had picked it out) for my 13th birthday, and it was a reminder to me that most likely, God had someone out there that I would eventually marry so I wanted to avoid getting too involved--physically OR emotionally--with anyone except that guy. I was lucky/blessed enough to meet that guy shortly after my 17th birthday, and I'm now 23 and we've been married a little over a year. Funny thing was, I lost the purity necklace when we went snowboarding together a couple years into our relationship--he bought me a replacement because it meant a lot to me, and then it was stolen when I momentarily took it off to race through a bouncy obstacle course at a carnival. We still joke that I lost my purity twice before we got married. :)

    Anyway...my points are these:
    *I agree with a lot of what you say, but I disagree with a bit of it. I realize you are writing about the extremists, but it would be nice if you would acknowledge more often that it's possible to participate in some of the behaviors you condemn without the extremist attitude, and have it really mean something good.
    *A purity ring/necklace/symbol doesn't usually symbolize just the physical aspect of purity, but the emotional as well--part of the relationship you have highlighted.
    *I've come to realize I don't fully like the idea of a girl committing to stay pure until her wedding day--it implies that once she has sex with her husband (and become intensely emotionally intimate, which is a process rather than an event), she is no longer pure. The giving of the symbol to the groom is one thing; that can sort of be seen as a gift the bride is giving him. But it shouldn't be seen as something he now domineers over.
    *Guys wear purity rings too; not as often or as boldly since that tends to be more of a girlish desire/fantasy (to be thinking about marriage 5-10-15 years early), but I know plenty who do--so it shouldn't be seen as a sexist symbol.

  31. Interesting. I never dreamed I would get into a discussion, online or otherwise, about hymens, but I would be careful about going overboard with the idea that women over 20 are very unlikely to have one - I have personally known four women who were quite the opposite. Three of them married in their 20's as virgins and could not have intercourse on their wedding night due to obstruction - all three had to have a hymenectomy. The fourth, unmarried into her 30's the last I knew, once told me that she was so narrow she could not even use tampons. So it happens.

    On the subject of purity rings, I have always wondered when a person decides to stop wearing them, if they are still unmarried by a certain age. I have so far not heard of any middle-aged wearers, for example.

  32. I wear a purity ring not because I feel I have to in order to stay pure or anything, but because I like to. It's like a reminder of the pledge I made, something to remember what I did and what it meant. I don't want to wait just because I feel I have to, I just like the idea of waiting better because I would feel uncomfortable with someone I wasn't married to. When you said about being "married" before actual marriage, I understand what you mean, but the idea of saving that special first time for my wedding night just seems a lot better than sleeping with someone I'm not sure I'll always be with.