Wearing purity rings originated in the United States to symbolize abstinance until marriage. CNS photo/Jon L. Hendricks

Maybe wearing a purity ring doesn’t make you ‘chaste’

By  Chanelle Robinson, Youth Speak News
  • April 17, 2015

“Are you an engineer?” I ask, pointing to the slim, shiny ring on his pinky finger.

“No,” he replies. “This is my promise ring.”

He slips the ring off of his finger and hands it to me; engraved on the inner side is “true love waits.”

I was never a member of the chastity-ring bandwagon and I don’t intend to be. As much as I am stirred by young people living out holiness, I still question purity ring culture.

I wonder if chastity movements have co-opted bodies as part of an agenda that does not necessarily reflect the beliefs and traditions of the Church. I write this column in response to two stories that went viral on the Internet: “Why I waited till my wedding night to lose my virginity and wish I hadn’t” and “Christians, stop staying pure until marriage.”

The promise ring, as a cultural practice, is essentially worn when one vows to refrain from premarital sexual activity. Abstinence in these situations is good. But I think a doctrine of “waiting” has re-emerged in our vernacular because some Christians have adopted a distorted view of the goodness of our bodies.

If we can learn anything from the Gospel account of the risen Jesus, who still bears His wounds and scars, it is this: our bodies matter. If the Word became incarnate then our flesh is good. Our bodies are not separate from us. They are not empty shells. We are not divorced from our bodily experiences — that is why our parents teach us not to touch hot stoves.  

I can’t believe we are still having this conversation but, somehow, purity ring culture informs the lives of many people today. This culture can impede dialogue between ring wearers and non-ring wearers as they are split into polarized camps: one that resents Christianity and embraces the body and one that seeks to overly moralize their faith.  

Unmarried couples are called to abstain from sexual intimacy. But one of my concerns with Christians who parade abstinence is that they risk trivializing the goodness of the body and human sexuality.
St. John Paul’s Theology of the Body teaches that sexuality is an important part of our created body.

But purity rings can represent piety masquerading as orthodoxy and send the message that Christians do not acknowledge the goodness of sex even within the sanctity of marriage.

Those who wear purity rings are skirting with aspects of the ancient religious practice of Gnosticism. On a cool autumn evening a few years ago, my first year Bible-study group started a reading circle around a book entitled I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. The title alone evoked an image of someone finding inner strength to refute societal pressures; this is essentially an aspect of Gnosticism.

As a religious studies student, I’ve learned that Gnosticism was an ancient religion that stressed dualism, especially the intrinsic tension between the body and the spirit. Celibacy was integral to Gnosticism because sex was understood as a sinful form of gratification and the body needed to be tamed. Some Christian religions might have inherited a warped understanding of sex because of Gnostic teachings.

Promise rings can impede development of a holistic understanding of the body because they reinforce a dichotomy between the evil body and the sexual person. Even though promise rings point towards potential healthy sexual relationships in marriage, in the short term they can cause the wearer to develop an unhealthy understanding of human sexuality as  St. John Paul wrote about in Theology of the Body.

Abstinence is a component of chastity, but the two are not synonymous. God created the world, including sex, and He deemed creation very good. So it is wrong to encourage a notion that sex in itself is sinful, as the Gnostics believed and as purity rings seem to endorse, and instead encourage a fuller understanding of the beauty of human sexuality that is lived in marriage.

The struggle to be more God-like is the bedrock of Christian marriage. Early Christians and the Orthodox Church today identify the Greek term theosis, or the process of becoming Godlike, with chastity. By virtue of this imago dei, we are journeying towards holiness already. There is no need to wear a purity ring to enhance this divine promise.

As a future educator, I hope that the days of quirky gym teachers giving quasi-speeches regarding abstinence have ended. The Ministry of Education in Ontario is currently updating the sexual-education curriculum, arguing the curriculum should reflect the gender and sexual diversity of society. As the Catholic Church continues to co-exist in tandem with the secular world, Catholics should be discussing the narrative about abstinence and how it will be reflected in future dialogues.

(Robinson, 21, is a fourth-year Catholic Studies for Teachers student at King’s University College in London, Ont.)

Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I'm sorry, but no.
I get the idea behind the leap to Gnosticism, but what a leap. I feel like this article leaves more questions than it does answer the issue at hand.
Current culture has grossly perverted sexuality in every way. We would do...

I'm sorry, but no.
I get the idea behind the leap to Gnosticism, but what a leap. I feel like this article leaves more questions than it does answer the issue at hand.
Current culture has grossly perverted sexuality in every way. We would do well to step carefully in any advice we give that discourages people, especially teens, from outwardly expressing their faith.
"This culture can impede dialogue between ring wearers and non-ring wearers as they are split into polarized camps: one that resents Christianity and embraces the body and one that seeks to overly moralize their faith." I'm sorry, there's no in between? I'm sorry you haven't run into anyone who is capable of holding the middle ground. I feel like this article was written out of emotion and needed a great deal more reflection and prayer before being publishing for all the world to read.
We should, in every way, encourage our young adults to seek purity, and holiness through their faith in Christ. It is our obligation as parents and fellow members of the Body to instruct from the heart based on TRUTH. So yes, we should condemn any and all superficiality, but that isn't the heart of the problem: A lack of understanding the beauty of sex in a world that has materialized a gift from God, that's the problem.
Parents should be having real conversations with their teens about sex and all the beauty and wonder that comes with it. People need a deeper understanding of what chastity is and isn't according to their station in life. We need to remind others that it (the virtue of chastity) governs the way you think, dress, act, what you do, what you allow yourself to look at and talk about and most importantly WHY. We must "always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;" 1Peter 3:15. Sacramentals are a treasured part of being Catholic. If they don't mean anything to you, or you can't explain their meaning to others, than they aren't doing what they were intended to do: point yourself (and others) to Christ. To deepen and enrich your faith. In many ways a purity ring can and should be a meaningful evangelization tool.
Go ahead and condemn hypocrisy, educate those who don't know the difference between prudence and being a prude and by all means, celebrate the glory of sacramental marriage and the pleasures and perks therein, but don't discourage the few living in this culture of death from making a small step in the right direction. Don't, as they say "throw the baby out with the bathwater."

Read More
Megan Miller
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I'm not really sure what the article might be stating, but I think that it can only be a good thing to wear one. Of course you have to know what it represents, but it just seems like a positive thing that shouldn't be discouraged. Striving for...

I'm not really sure what the article might be stating, but I think that it can only be a good thing to wear one. Of course you have to know what it represents, but it just seems like a positive thing that shouldn't be discouraged. Striving for purity is a good thing

Read More
Nz
There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location
Type the text presented in the image below

Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.