(I apologize in advance. this is like 3 days in the making and it’s a little long.)
I am turning 26 this fall. and I still wear my “purity ring.” when I celebrate my 26th birthday this year, I will have worn this ring for 10 years. in those years, my identity has been shaped, my reasons for my choices have changed, and my attitudes have been altered. but the ring remains. it has moved around on my hands, first from my left ring finger, to my left middle finger, and now to my right pointer finger. I wore it on a chain for a few months. it’s not as shiny or clean as it once was. it’s a little beat up, some scratches and dents now obvious, and I think it’s kinda starting to lose its ring shape (or are rings normally slightly egg-shaped?). but it’s still there.
my daddy gave me this ring on my 16th birthday, but the idea of it has with me for far longer than that.
I don’t remember exactly when I first heard the words “courtship,” “purity,” or “virgin,” but I do have a lot of memories of talks along those lines. my parents were always adamant that there would be plenty of time to date later on — and that I should not simply aspire to be a princess in need of rescuing, but rather a woman capable of rescuing herself who chose to humble herself and let a prince rescue her. I remember from an early age being told to dress differently, choose my words carefully, be aware of who was watching me. my friends and their parents, by-and-large members of a conservative homeschooling network, all reminded me that it was my responsibility to protect the eyes and minds of the boys around me. a lot of youth group activities happened under promises of “appropriate swimwear,” “adequate supervision,” and the all-important, “gender-specific discussions.” two-piece swimsuits were covered with old, paint-spattered t-shirts, courtesy of my youth pastor. carpooling with the youth group always needed one MALE leader AND one FEMALE leader in each vehicle–or the cars had to be gender-specific. and PDA was not really allowed, at all, among the peers I grew up with.
now, don’t misunderstand me; I might only be 25—but I do not see the need for 9 & 13 & 17 year old girls to wear string bikinis and only post model-esque shots of themselves on Istagram. I don’t really understand dating at the ripe old age of 14 (let alone younger). nor do I feel particularly drawn to take, um, pictures of myself and send them to, well, anyone.
I understand and appreciate the attitude behind all of the rules and expectations I grew up with. they were designed to help keep kids safe–to “guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (that’s from the Bible, you know, although “out of context”), and to encourage us to be modest, humble, respectful, mature adults. I get it. I love the heart.
but the actions… not so much.
I was–and am–more of a tomboy at heart. my closest friends in elementary school were boys. making friends with girls was HARD — and I really only successfully did it a few times until I was about 17. so growing up, and being expected to be a good, Christian, modest girl, who didn’t talk too much to boys or give them any special attention, was REALLY difficult.
and then I got older, and I went to college–suddenly PDA was the norm! expected! everywhere! guys would COME INTO GIRLS’ DORM ROOMS and hang out. alone. just the two of them.
okay so I wasn’t THAT naïve. but pretty dang close.
the experiences and expectations I grew up with; the countless purity talks; the examples where we would all take a red construction paper heart, tear off pieces and give them away, then try to put our own heart back together again; the fairy tale, Prince Charming, only-dated-one-guy-my-whole-life-and-excuse-me-I-mean-COURTED; the whole idea that kissing and even holding hands was something special and sacred and worth guarding — all of that teeters preeeeeeeetty close to the edge when the hottest, most exotic boy in your class says he wants to be make-out buddies. or a couple of semesters later when your first “real” boyfriend assures you, your family, your friends, that he’s The One and you’re Meant To Be, and so, naturally, you should let him kiss you and try for a couple bases. I mean… you’re Meant To Be. you’re getting married. right?
until he left. and until I was left with a broken heart and “impure” lips and a mostly-paid-for wedding.
and until the next boy I “dated” only wanted to sleep with me.
and the one after that.
and somehow it became harder and harder to say no.
and of course, I didn’t want to be single.
so I compromised. 2nd base became easier. then, suddenly, by the time I was dating The Senator, just 18 months after breaking up with The One I was Meant To Be with, 3rd base became the norm. sleeping over was just “part of being a grown-up.”
I remember texting L and saying something like, “this is what adults do, right? they sleep over at their boyfriend’s apt after giving him a birthday bj?” (um. side note. this is not a necessary component to being a grown-up. btw.)
so there I was. 24 years old. still clinging desperately to my “V-card,” which was feeling more tattered and dog-eared and grey and thin by the week. and I began thinking about why I was even wearing that silly old 16-year-old’s purity ring, anyway.
because here’s the thing: my virginity is not defined by my ring. nor is my purity defined by my virginity.
I am a technical virgin… with a purity ring… and with a string of exes, all of whom know things about me I’d rather they didn’t.
so I was technically a virgin. what do the kids say? I don’t know. I’m not cool. I go to seminary. but I was technically a virgin.
except I wasn’t living a very “pure” life.
I am NOT saying that your life or your choices are wrong or inferior or gross or impure. but I was wearing a full-on PURITY RING and yet I couldn’t even look myself in the mirror. I didn’t feel very pure or clean or holy or righteous or blessed or anything. I mostly just felt a lot of shame.
and somewhere along the line. these thoughts formulated into this: maybe you should stop playing at sex and start living purely.
so I did.
I broke up with the Senator.
I journaled a lot.
I wrote a history of my sexual experiences for a class (apparently being a sex therapist means you have to do this? I don’t know) and suddenly realized that I had been thinking about my virginity the wrong way my WHOLE LIFE.
all growing up, I had been told that my “V-card” was a gift FOR MY HUSBAND. that I should protect it and save it and give it only to him, only on our wedding night. and that ideally, the only person I should have any sort of real physical intimacy with at all, was my husband. otherwise I would be bringing ghosts from the past into my marriage bed and bringing echoes of experiences to peer over my shoulder and intrude into my life with my husband. (seriously guys. could we try to be a little creepier, please?)
and that’s all likely true — if my virginity was a gift I should keep for my husband.
but it’s NOT.
I realized, last summer, that my virginity is a gift for ME.
guys. I like sex. it’s fun and it’s playful and it’s hot, and even my fake, incomplete, one-person-has-to-wear-pants-or-at-least-underwear-at-all-times “sex” was awesome. I miss it. I want to have sex with Gem like, ages ago.
but it’s a gift, for me. and I don’t want to open it yet.
when I was 16, my reasons for wearing a purity ring were pretty simple–and shallow. people noticed it and I could brag a little, then change the subject. I grew up in a circle where EVERYONE knew what a purity ring was, even if mine wasn’t the “True Love Waits” design that was so popular. even now, 10 years later, people understand the concept. I liked that I had a cut-and-dried, one-stop-shopping answer to my sex life, my sexual identity, and my sexual preferences. “oh, that’s my purity ring; I’m waiting for my own Beloved.”
apparently, this answer is insufficient to convince X-ray techs that I’m not pregnant. but. whatever.
but my answer isn’t that simple anymore. I am a sexual being–I have urges and desires and hopes and hormones. and that is OKAY. it is also OKAY that I hold hands and cuddle with Gem, because he’s my guy and we’re committed and we trust each other, and trust is reiterated silently through touch.
but I am not ready to have sex with him. and after having come so close to having it before with too many men who weren’t worth my time, I want to keep this gift for myself. to be able to know that I’m clean and safe and loved and cherished. I’m not a prize to be won, like exes made me feel. I’m not even a prize I will give Gem someday–I am my own prize.
I am wearing my purity ring and living as a virgin not because I have to. not because my community expects me to. not even, although this IS part of it, I admit, because I think that’s what God wants for me. I DO think that He wants us to have full and abundant lives, filled with happiness and pleasure and love and joy. but for me, my gift to myself, is to only ever experience that with one person.
being a virgin when I get married, whenever I get married, living as a virgin, wearing my purity ring–it is not about what I’m not doing. it is not about what I am missing out on. it is about what I am choosing for myself. I choose to live this lifestyle because I think it is best, but not because of youth group discussions or a broken heart.
every time I touch Gem, even take his hand, the fact that he touches me back radiates such trust and commitment and faith in our love. he knows that I touch him not for my own pleasure, but to assure him of my love. and he does the same for me.
I think living this way is best because I have no questions about my worth or my status or my value. I know where I stand with Gem–but more importantly I know where I stand with myself (and with God). I will keep wearing my ring until my wedding day, because I am going to keep choosing to wait to give myself my V-card until that night.
and after that, maybe this little, slightly egg-shaped, silver ring can take a break.
I don’t have any way of comparing if my decisions will be “better” in the long run than anyone else’s. but I’m still making them. and I have no regrets about the decisions I made in past relationships–they weren’t the ones I am making now, but then again, I’m a little different, and Gem’s a little different.
I can say that, being back-to-back with a guy who’d slept with several girls, and a guy who has really only kissed several girls, that my emotional connection is better with Gem. but who knows.
all I know is that my purity ring and my V-card are staying just a little bit longer. and I like knowing that Gem has kept his V-card for even longer than I have, and it’s still waiting for him on his wedding night, too.