June 10, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 50°F


The symbol of purity

While most single college girls wait in anticipation for guys to call and ask them out, Dana Butler said she would be hesitant to accept the offer.

Diana Cowdery/ The Ithacan

“When I’m in college, I don’t want a boyfriend,” she said. “I don’t want anything like that because I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t know if I’ll be ready to withstand the temptation.”

Butler, like a growing number of students at Ithaca College, is committed to not having sex until she is married. To symbolize this commitment, Butler, a sophomore, received a gold purity ring with diamonds from her parents while she was in high school.

Sophomore Jen Darrell was 13 years old when her father gave her a silver purity ring engraved with a key and a heart. At the time, Darrell said the ring did not mean much to her because she was too young to think about having sex.

“I didn’t really care because I was 13 and it didn’t matter,” she said.

At age 17, Darrell decided to wear the ring to symbolize her commitment both to herself and to God.

She is not alone in expressing her conviction through a ring. Wearing purity rings, and the meaning behind it, is becoming more common with stars such as the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus, and with everyday young adults like Darrell. There is no particular design for purity rings, though many have crosses, gemstones or sayings such as “True Love Waits.”

Junior Sarina Chu, who wore her silver braided purity ring until it broke, said purity rings are a trend that contrasts with a mainstream media driven by sexual images.

“Even if it’s a trend, it’s a great trend,” she said. “A purity ring is only a symbol of purity, and so if purity is what’s in, then awesome.”

But Priscilla Quirk, coordinator of health promotion at the Counseling Center, said it’s sex that’s in — at least that’s the perception most students have. Quirk said the average Ithaca College student thinks their peers have had two or three sexual partners, but in reality the average student has had zero to one.

“If you believe that everybody else is sexually involved with one or more partners … there is a pressure that exists,” she said. “I am always concerned that people might make a decision before they’re ready because it’s kind of ‘expected.’”

Chu said she knows 20 to 40 students from the college who share her commitment, though she admits they’re mostly people she met through the campus church organization.

Meredith Ellis, the Protestant community chaplain, said that pressure from friends can commonly influence teenagers and young adults into having sex.

“Peer pressure is enormous for adolescents and young adults,” she said. “It’s probably the biggest pressure in your life. It’s bigger than family, it’s bigger than church, it’s bigger than anything.”

Father Carsten Martensen, the campus’ Catholic chaplain, said though he does not think purity rings are necessary, because scriptures already teach abstinence, he will not criticize them if they help someone to carry out these teachings.

“If it’s going to help [individuals] respect themselves … to save that form of intimacy to a time when they’re married, then I think it’s a good thing,” he said.

Butler said the rise of celebrities with purity rings sets a good examples for teenagers.

“When I found out Jessica Simpson was wearing [a purity ring], it did make me happy,” she said. “People always say it’s not possible to stay abstinent until you’re married, and she did it.”

Senior Kate Milburn has a purity ring that she slips on occasionally. She said she thinks purity rings and people who abstain from sex are often criticized — Russell Brand called the Jonas Brothers “God’s favorite virgins” at the 2008 Video Music Awards — because people do not think young adults can exercise this control.

“They’re like, ‘Yeah, right, like you can really hold out until you’re married,’” she said. “It’s just not what our culture is promoting right now.”

Quirk said while the decision to wear a purity ring is based on an individual’s values — values can change.

“Somebody can determine that they’re not going to have sex and suddenly they realize that they actually want to,” she said. “I think the intent and the promise can be very genuine, and the reality might indeed be different.”

Butler said she has been criticized by people questioning whether she could make it until marriage.

“Who are [they] to tell me I won’t do it?” she said. “If I fail, then I fail. People don’t even try anymore.”

Even though Milburn is going against what is promoted in mainstream TV shows such as “Gossip Girl” and “90210,” she said she feels a sense of freedom and control from remaining abstinent.

“You don’t worry about possible STDs or anything like that,” she said. “It’s not that we don’t have a sex drive. We want to have sex. But it’s about meaning it.”

Milburn said she and her friends have not found it difficult to remain abstinent.

“If you make the commitment to not be sexually active until you’re married, you kind of attract similar company because you want to maintain that,” she said.

Junior Casey Dwyer has never dated a girl with a purity ring. He said he might be hesitant to ask a girl out if he knew she had one, but if feelings developed anyway he would have no problem dating her.

“The thing about love is you can’t really control it,” he said. “So if I did feel compelled to date a girl with a purity ring, so be it.”

But Milburn said she and her friends have had problems dating because of their decisions not to have sex.

“Sometimes they don’t want to date you because of it,” she said. “But why would we want to date someone that’s going to disrespect us and make us feel bad?”

Chu said the physical ring is not what has helped her to abstain from sex in the past.

“The ring doesn’t keep me pure,” she said. “That’s my decision, and the ring just represents that. The conviction goes deeper than the ring can carry.”