Though I have thought about this topic for many years and have tried to discuss it with family and friends, I feel as though I have never been able to fully explain my thoughts and feelings toward this movement properly. As I write this I feel inclined to make the disclaimer that this was my own personal experience and the struggles I have gone through are my own. I cannot speak for anybody else and I don’t believe everybody has experienced the same negative effects of Purity Ring Culture as me, though I feel that many may have.
To begin I will relay how I was introduced to Purity Ring Culture. During middle school I was invited to youth group at a local church. I spent most of my time loving youth group and enjoying everything I learned there. I would like to make it clear that I am critiquing the philosophy of Purity Ring Culture as opposed to critiquing the youth group, as I feel that, though well intentioned, the message presented surrounding Purity Ring Culture was incredibly damaging to me in particular.
During church my peers and I were regularly presented with the idea that saving yourself for marriage was an important and Biblical message, this I agree with wholeheartedly. However, in addition to this idea there were also indicators that once you lost your virginity you also lost your purity forever. Boys and girls were both handed purity rings to wear as an indicator of your promise between yourself and God not to engage in sexual sin. It was often mentioned that you could be forgiven for this misdeed but it didn’t seem as though you could ever “get your purity back”. You were forgiven, but maintained damage. You were forgiven, but the ring wasn’t really yours to wear anymore. (Again these were just my personal interpretations as a 12 year old).
Unfortunately, the only time we talked about sex or purity in the church was when the church was trying to warn against it. It was occasionally and briefly mentioned that it was a nice thing for married adults to do but this was only brought up when we were already talking about damaging, dirty premarital sex.
I guess, for me, as I got older it became increasingly difficult to separate the singular act from the two different situations. Premarital sex = Dirty, damaging, loss and Marital Sex = Beautiful, gift, God-given. I had spent so much time equating sex itself to being bad that it was difficult to ever think about it being something that would be okay. I understand that this may not be an incredibly common problem but as somebody who naturally thinks very much in black and white, it was extremely stressful to me.
As I got older I began to question where to draw the line. What things will take away your purity and what things won’t? As a black and white thinker it was incredibly frustrating to me to not have hard and fast rules to protect myself from the “damage” I could inflict on myself by losing my purity. I wondered how I would be able to suddenly change my view of sex from “bad and dirty” to “beautiful and natural” just because a marriage certificate had been signed earlier that day. I searched scripture and found this verse in particular to be very interesting,
“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her”.
-Matthew 5:28 NIV
This verse was initially very discouraging to me. I thought that if the standard was that high for purity then we have all already failed. What is the point of even trying? Overt time though, I found this verse to be a source of incredible hope.
My interpretation (I am not a theology expert) is that we have all already failed in the eyes of the Lord. We have all sinned and we have all lost our “purity”. That is the price of sin. HOWEVER! That is the whole point of redemption and the point of trying again and again to live our lives for Jesus even after we have messed up. The struggle against sin is difficult and it is a daily battle. Though I do fully believe in the necessity of waiting to have sex until marriage, I also believe that directly tying one’s “purity” to sexual sin is missing the point. I believe that purity is something that we strive for in our lives as hard as we can. We strive to avoid sin and to live like Jesus because that is something that is asked of us by the Lord. The only one who has walked this earth and maintained purity is Jesus Christ for he is the man who has never sinned.
I believe that when informing people about saving one’s self for marriage one should explain why God has said that this is important and how God is protecting his children with this commandment. I also believe that it is important to discuss why sex is a gift and how married people engaging in sex can be pleasing to God (this sounds weird, I know… probably because most of us haven’t heard this before!). I believe that if I could go back in time and explain to myself that God’s commandment to avoid premarital sex was not simply a rule to keep me “clean and pure” for my husband, but rather a protection for mine and my partner’s heart and spirit, I would have been able to avoid the damaging image of sex being dirty and bad in my mind. I also think it would have given me a better understanding that I could never “lose” or “regain” my purity if I messed up in this area but rather, I would be forgiven completely despite what I had done wrong because Jesus died on the cross for my sins. This is the same way Jesus responded to any kind of sin, lying, cheating, stealing, ect. He covered all of our sins when he died for us. God does not ask us to dwell on our mistakes, instead he simply asks us to try our best to be better everyday. He knows that we will make mistakes but forgives us anyway.
Though I know that Purity Ring Culture didn’t hurt everyone it did hurt me; so I hope I can encourage somebody who has felt similarly confused and who has perhaps taken this well-meaning message the wrong way. I know this subject is sensitive and it required me to reach into a vulnerable place to write about it. This being said, while I understand some people might disagree with my views, I hope that you can appreciate my desire to continue to learn about where my views have been flawed in the past and that I am continually trying to fix them. Like you, I am just trying to do my best to please Jesus everyday.