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A purity ring is a ring given to an adolescent girl to show that she has made a vow to not have sex before she’s married. It’s sort of a public statement of virginity and also reminds her of the commitment she made to “remain pure” until marriage. These rings are also worn by guys, but they’re way more common among girls. The ring is ideally given to a girl by her dad, but if he isn’t on the scene or is otherwise apathetic then she might get one herself or ask her mom for one, either because she really does want to make this commitment or possibly because the Jonas Brothers wear them. (Bristol Palin had one too.)

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Sometimes the purity ring is accompanied by a Vow of Purity. This certificate is signed by the girl (and ideally her dad) then is framed. If they never get around to framing it though then it is evenutally folded up and kept in her embossed white naugahyde bible with the gold-edged pages. A Purity Ball may be attended, for which the girl and her dad will get dressed up and pay $85 each to participate in a formal event where pubescent girls in white dresses stand on a stage with their fathers and promise not to bang anyone without getting a marriage certificate first.

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The father’s involvement is an interesting factor in the purity quest. Even the psychological (i.e. objective and scientific) community acknowledges that a father’s presence has a profound effect on the sexuality of both their sons and their daughters. Both boys and girls innately look to their father for the basic formation of their sense of self worth and if he isn’t emotionally attentive then girls will get male attention somewhere else. This isn’t really by any fault of their own.

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Purity vows and purity balls that require fatherly involvement are indirectly addressing this psychological fact. The implication is that the father will “guard” his daughter’s heart and emotions (and her virginity, by proxy) until she is married. The scientific, nonreligious community might be hard pressed to find anything wrong with this. (But who knows.) Still, things start to feel a bit creepy with the tangible display of this highly personal sentiment. The point starts to become skewed. Maybe all this virginity talk is actually sexualizing girls when they are still too young. Girls may want to wear a purity ring as more of a means of joining a club or being part of a movement bigger than themselves, so in other words, it’s trendy. The dad feels peer pressure too. “Dads, men of faith, fathers in Christ: we’re taking our preteen daughters to the purity ball.” What churchy dad is going to refuse to ensure their daughter’s purity? Nobody really talks about how much time he is actually emotionally present for her, which is the crux of the entire thing. His involvement with her and protection for her are an allegory for how God loves and watches over her but this is barely implied, much less outright discussed and emphasized. There is the wearing a cute dress and signing the vow with her dad present and the taking of a white rose and kneeling at a wooden cross to seal her vow alongside dozens of her friends. The dads all shake hands and congratulate themselves that their daughters won’t grow up to be whores. The ceremony perhaps takes on a bigger meaning than the sentiment. It’s easy to get caught up in. It is the hallmark of Christian culture: Doing Things and Avoiding True Relationship. (And nobody talks about this aspect, but it’s sort of gross that a dad would attend a public event on behalf of his daughter’s cooch. This smarminess is partially obscured by his good intentions in “protecting” her which makes the whole thing difficult to criticize.)

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For all this talk about purity, the gray areas are not discussed. We all feel much more comfortable with the black and white so we try to stay there. Black and white means only two things here: Doing It and Not Doing It. The gray area is everything in between. Oh crap, the Bible doesn’t say if we can make out. So where should we draw the line? It’s just kissing, right? Okay we can. Then…hey where did my shirt go? Well, it’s okay because I’m still totally a virgin cause I have my jeans on. But…now he doesn’t. Stopping sucks. Well, as long as we’re not doing IT then it’s okay, right?

The Bible doesn’t talk about the exact details so we have to struggle with them. WWJD? Not sure exactly, it’s a grey area. Great, now we actually have to deal with this because we don’t have our black and white guidelines.

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When a girl who has worn a purity ring gets married, this detail is almost always announced at the altar on the day of her wedding so that no soul present is unwitting to the fact that her hymen is intact. While the pastor talks at length about this priceless gift she will give her husband, the wedding guests fight to get the vagina visual out of their minds. Hymen Bride’s parents beam with pride at their daughter’s alleged morality. And even if she IS very pure, is God pleased? Has she entered a struggle to get there and has she wrestled with God in the context of relationship, or has she played it safe and stuck to the churchy rules so she can feel happy with herself because of this good work she’s accomplished? And if she has wrestled with God and anguished and cried and pitched a fit about it, could God be more happy about their interaction than he is about the technically pure bride who white-knuckled it there totally on her own? What IS purity? What IS true love waiting? Not being sure is difficult. It’s easier to make a ceremony out of it and focus on the symbols.

*This post originally aired on September 24, 2008, and warranted a repost just because I saw some people wearing purity rings today.

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