In my second year of university, I took off my purity ring.
I had worn it on my right hand (it didn’t fit my left) for almost four years. It was something I had acquired at an abstinence conference, and because everyone else there was wearing one, I felt like I should, too.
It wasn’t a particularly fashionable ring. It had a Bible verse inscribed on it (I can’t even remember which one) in comic sans, and no discernible qualities other than once in a while someone would ask me about it. The only significance it held for me was that I believed I was somehow on this holy level that people who were having sex weren’t on.
In high school, when I first started wearing the ring, it made me feel proud. I felt level-headed, innocent, and able to practice self-control. I didn’t particularly care if others saw me as prude, because I knew I was making smart life choices. Their experimentation with sex would end in sadness and broken relationships; mine would end in a blissful and committed marriage. I had value and I could love myself because I was Waiting.
But then I went to university, a small, private Christian one at that. And unlike high school, I found myself surrounded by girls wearing purity rings. There were even girls who didn’t want to kiss until marriage (and I wasn’t about to wait for that). I felt slightly less set apart in this environment, suddenly not in the noble minority as someone who had made the courageous decision to Wait.
A few months into my freshman year I began dating someone. I had dated a little in high school, but this time it was different. No longer were there curfews or watchful parents; I distinctly remember feeling that my transition from girl to woman was completed now that I was in college. I could handle an “adult” relationship and whatever that entailed.
My new boyfriend was not a Christian (something I would eventually realize was a deal-breaker). And while we tried to be on the same page about physical boundaries, it proved to be very difficult for both of us. Waiting, it turned out, was virtually impossible when you really liked someone and could stay in his room well past midnight.
Eventually there came a night (which turned into many nights) when we went too far. And while we never actually had sex, we did just about everything but.
I was crushed.
As I sat in class next to girls proudly displaying their purity, I felt like I could no longer count myself amongst them. I was both angry and disgusted with myself, heartbroken that I was letting go of my convictions night after night. And while I still wore my purity ring, I felt like a fraud. I couldn’t believe that I, a girl who was clearly so capable of waiting, could compromise herself and her aspirations for sex within marriage. I mercilessly beat myself up.
It wasn’t until several months later when I actually took my ring off, after my boyfriend and I finally broke up. At that point, I had come to terms with the fact that I had gone too far. I stopped feeling so angry with myself.
So when I did finally take it off, it wasn’t because I did not feel worthy to wear it. I took it off because my purity had become my identity.
Who I was as a person and a Christian had become wrapped up in whether I was having sex or not, and there was something distinctly wrong with that.
The reason it affected my self-worth so deeply was because waiting had become such a part of how I saw myself. I had used abstinence as a means to feel good about who I was, rather than understanding what it meant to me. I thought that “being pure” affected everything else about me: how others saw me, how God saw me, and my own worth as a person.
It also gave me a false sense of entitlement.
I had begun to perceive abstinence as a means to an end, as though a husband was a reward for my dutiful waiting. When I wasn’t going too far physically, that meant I deserved a happy marriage, and I wouldn’t have to wait too long for the wedding bells to ring. When I was going too far, I felt like I didn’t deserve that anymore, which only added to my sense of loss.
I took off my purity ring because I was done with what waiting had become to me: a badge of honour, a method to get what I wanted, a way to feel good about myself.
I am still waiting to have sex. And while there are many reasons for this, my hope is that I do not rest my identity on that one aspect about myself.
Sex, especially for Christians, should be about so much more than just the act of waiting. Abstinence should not be a scheme to make ourselves feel beautiful or worthy or “good.” It should instead be used to demonstrate the beauty of God and the perfection of His design for intimacy.
So now when I look down at my right hand, it doesn’t look like it’s missing anything at all.