Taking the pledge: Teens commit to sexual purity until marriage
For most teens, the rings they wear are fashion accessories — received as gifts, purchased for a few dollars from an accessory store or handmade.
But for some teenagers, a ring signifies a commitment to wait until marriage before having sex.
Since they were introduced in the 1990s, “purity rings” have been seen on the fingers of members of religious youth groups, Christian families and even the Jonas Brothers to make a statement about emotional, mental, spiritual and (mostly) physical purity.
“It’s making a promise between myself and God to stay pure in every way, and giving myself a reminder to do so,” says Mary-Beth Alejandro, a 17-year-old junior at Springfield (Ill.) High School.
Mary-Beth’s mother bought her a ring when she was 15 — a silver band with the inscription “True Love Waits.” Other teenagers are buying the rings for themselves.
Seventeen-year-old Jordan Thomas, a junior at Springfield High School, bought a purity ring to remind himself of the new direction he wanted to take in his life.
“I wasn’t the person I wanted to be,” Jordan said.
His wake-up call came when he and a few friends were evicted from a local mall and had to go downtown with police officers to answer questions.
“When it was all over, I fell down the stairs coming out (of the police station) and just started crying. That’s when I realized I needed to change,” he said. Now Jordan’s purity ring serves as “a reminder of some of my past and also a reminder of how I want to live my future.”
Jake Killinger, 33, a youth pastor at Hope Church in Springfield, said purity rings are designed to keep a teen’s mind focused.
Killinger recently led a six-week lecture series on purity called “Good Sex.” Each year, the church does a series about sex for its teen members as a supplement to the rings, because Killinger doesn’t believe the rings are a protective shield against teen sex.
Jordan and Mary-Beth date, but they say the ring acts as a reminder to watch themselves.
“If you’re in the heat of the moment,” Killinger said, “no ring’s (going to) stop you.”
However, Killinger considers the ring a sign of the commitment teens make to themselves. He plans to give purity rings to his two daughters about the time they turn 11 to 13 years old.
“It’s getting younger and younger,” he said about the appropriate age to give the rings.
Though Jordan’s decision to buy a ring was his own, many parents and churches promote the True Love Waits campaign — an international challenge created by LifeWay Christian Resources in the early 1990s for teens to practice abstinence until marriage.
Sarah Struck, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Franklin Middle School in Springfield, signed on to the challenge at age 13, when she and her mother hopped in a car one Friday after school and created their own mother-daughter purity retreat.
On the way, the two listened to compact discs on topics related to abstinence and dating. Between checking into a bed-and-breakfast inn, having dinner, watching a movie and painting their nails, the two pored through “Passport2Purity,” a weekend-retreat program. The program features several projects that the two completed over the weekend.
One included holding a balloon full of water in the shower and puncturing it with a needle, which is designed to represent abandoning purity.
“The water comes out in a stream, and at the end, if you’ve given a lot of your purity away, there’s not much to give to your spouse,” Sarah said.
Another involved gluing paper together, to represent sex. When the pieces of paper were pulled apart, part of one piece was left on another.
“It shows sex is physically bonding — you leave a part of you behind or lose some of yourself,” Sarah said.
When Sarah returned from the retreat, her father presented her with a purity ring — and she has worn her ring every day since.
Representing a promise
For Nicole Alexander, a 16-year-old sophomore at Glenwood High School in Springfield, her purity ring is more of a confirmation of what she already believed before she bought the band, which is detailed with butterflies and cursive script.
“I went to a purity conference and they were offering (purity rings) — I had already made a commitment to myself and God, and I wanted something I could tell people about and a reminder for me,” she said. Her triplet sisters Alicia and Katherine also received purity rings.
She said she plans on wearing the purity ring until she marries, and she will only take it off to replace it with an engagement ring.
“I gave my life to God when I was 12 years old,” Nicole said about the year she attended a one-week religious summer camp.
Now Nicole honors this promise to God with an “outward statement about my real commitment to God and my future husband.” She is considering keeping the ring as a necklace when she marries, but for now it remains on her hand to “remind me to stay pure, mentally and physically, and not to succumb to the things of the world.”
Hope Church’s Killinger said he has presided over weddings where the bride gives her purity ring to her husband as a sign of her commitment.
Laura Alexander, mother of Nicole, Alicia and Katherine, said she was open to the idea of the rings when her daughters told her about the conference.
“We talk about what we believe, go to church, camps, expose them to what Jesus can offer, pray — it’s our daily life,” she says.
Laura Alexander is happy with the decision her daughters have made. “If the ring helps them stick to it, then it’s great,” she said.
Mary-Beth’s decision to wear her ring, however, is more personal and family-based rather than a result of a religious conference.
“My mom got it for me and told me I can make my own decisions, but this is what our family believes. She wants me to hold true to what the ring means — stay pure mentally, physically — in all aspects of my life,” she said.
Mary-Beth’s friends weren’t surprised about her decision.
“She’s always been a very pure, religious person,” Kelly Landers, a 17-year-old junior at SHS and Mary-Beth’s friend, said. “It didn’t surprise me at all.”
Purity rings are common in Mary-Beth’s church (iWorship Center in Springfield), but she is still frequently asked about her ring.
“I like it when people ask about my ring and I get to explain what I believe and what it means to me,” Mary-Beth said.
Farah Tamizuddin is a junior at Springfield High School.