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Why I Stopped Wearing a "Purity Ring"

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I have worn a "Purity" ring since early in middle school. For most people a purity ring is something encouraged by their parents or church congregation. That was not the case for me, my church nor my parents have never told me anything close to the ideas I developed from a young age about sex being a sin. I suffer from a form of OCD not widely known called "pure" OCD. Ironic, maybe. It causes me to feel immense guilt about a variety of things and experience thoughts on a daily basis that are not my own, causing such guilt. It is complex and there are other posts and formats in which to explain it more clearly, I mention it here only because it is the means in which my faith developed. When the symptoms of my OCD first developed I was about 13, my specific OCD largely revolves around sexual themes. It therefore is the reasoning why when I turned to faith in my graspings to escape this mental prison, I turned to the experiences of Christian Culture I read about and heard about from friends. The Christian culture that states that sex is dirty, that we must do certain things to be saved, and that purity is vital (even with the best intentions).

Many people who call that expression of Christianity their home would say that I had turned to the right path, that I was walking a life worthy of the blessing of Christ. I would call it hell. It tore my life and mind apart consistently attempting to run away from anything and everything I believed was supposed to be bad. This covers a very wide variety of experiences but the one it hit most strongly was my developing sense of sexuality. I turned my head and emotion from experiencing or feeling anything sexual. I taught myself to fear it. I spent days in fogs of guilt and depression for thinking of even being curious about anything sexual, even the idea of kissing became repulsive to me. I avoided relationships and flings of any sort because being single (even of it was someone I really liked) was far easier to deal with than the guilt of attraction.

This disease and the plague of running away from sexuality has chased me and haunted me for 6 years. It wasn't until the course of the last year that those things started to change for me.I met a woman who works with young adults in a large faith community, she is particularly outspoken about her experiences around mental health, self care, and sexuality. The things she said about such topics intrigued and freed me. She related all of those things to the experience of faith through her actions and words in a way I had never seen or experienced, and I loved it. It gave me the permission I never knew I needed to ask questions and explore anything and everything that my mind wanted to, it opened the door for me to breathe freely as well as to understand that God is present in all of it.

After several conversations with her, and journeys with several others very important to me, I slowly but surely found myself in the process of healing the wounds my OCD and self-inflicted faith ties had caused. It is something I work on still and still struggle with from time to time, but my experiences led me to pursue studying religion and gender studies. I have become a fiery advocate for women's rights, breaking gender roles, the freedom to understand/explore sexuality, and theology that values such things. I proudly call myself a feminist for all these things - yet I look down at my hand to see that my "purity ring" still remains, and it has every day for the past 6 years. If anyone were to ask me why, my response would and has been "Oh, well I've always worn it." But the truth is I hate the word "purity." I hate what it did to me, the box it put me in, and I hate what it does to a women's right to her own body. I hate the assumptions it makes about one's value. Purity rings take a person's (and especially a woman's) value and crush it until it fits on a little silver band on her finger. I say especially a woman because it is too often women who are made to feel that sex is something they should avoid and have a responsibility to save themselves for. That is not to say this pressure does not exist for men, especially men in conservative faith traditions, but I do want to recognize that it is women who when these "vows" break are looked upon with disgust, while men are often given the "excuse" of just being men unable to help themselves. Both these ideals are harmful and dangerous and wrong.

I recently decided to finally remove my ring after reading a story written by a woman who was (much like I was, but perpetuated until and past marriage) traumatized by the ideals of sex being a dirty, sinful thing until marriage. I looked down at my hand and was again disgusted by the idea that I sport a piece of jewelry that attempts to control a person's sexuality and emotion through fear and guilt. As I removed the ring I found myself anxious about what people would immediately assume that meant, and I realized that it doesn't and shouldn't matter. My decisions about my body and my sexuality as well as what my choices are regarding such are my decisions. It took a lot of hurt and anxiety and sorting through my faith (as well as much guidance from the Holy Spirit) to get to a place where I feel comfortable enough to recognize that those are my decisions and I refuse to let a ring (and the fear of assumptions made around it) dictate otherwise.

The obsession with controlling sexuality in our society, and in the Christian church especially, are unhealthy and scarring. I am done perpetuating a tradition that participates in and expresses such control as okay. Because it is not. So I took off my "purity" ring, because the choice to or not to have sex before marriage are both personal and respectable decisions that should be made and designed around respect, value, trust, self love, and the recognition that God exists wherever love exists. Not out of fear and control.

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