In certain evangelical Christian circles, the rings were given to young girls as symbols of a pledge they made to abstain from sex until marriage. But the rings ― and more broadly, the Christian purity culture of the 1990s and 2000s ― also shamed young girls into disconnecting from their bodies, Bolz-Weber argues.
“This thing about women that the church has tried to hide and control and that is a canvas on which other people can write their own righteousness ― it’s actually ours,” Bolz-Weber told HuffPost. “This part of me is mine and I get to determine what is good for it and if it’s beautiful and how I use it in the world.”
Some Christians believed that a renewed focus on chastity and traditional sexual values was the best solution to the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, Klein writes in her book. The U.S. government, influenced by this belief, began pouring money into abstinence-only education. This helped the purity movement spread beyond the most insular circles and into more mainstream evangelicalism.
In the end, Klein writes, purity culture essentially taught girls that they were responsible not only for their own chastity, but also for that of the boys around them. Girls who had premarital sex were compared to “used” cars, tissues and gum that no one else would want. Purity culture had a particularly devastating and dangerous effect on gay and lesbian teens, since in condemning all sex outside a heterosexual marriage, it left them with no hope for a future relationship. Ultimately, girls were led to believe that their sexual thoughts and choices determined their spiritual standing in the eyes of God.
Bolz-Weber said she recognizes that for many Christians, an emphasis on purity comes from a genuine desire to lead a holy life. But she said problems arise when people substitute purity for holiness, since purity is easier to regulate.
“The difference between purity and holiness is that purity is always about separation ― separating ourselves from people who are less religious, separating ourselves from our sexual natures, from our desires,” Bolz-Weber explained. “But holiness is always about connection ― to God, to ourselves, to our nature.”
While writing her new book, Bolz-Weber said she talked to women in their 40s who still wouldn’t wear V-neck shirts because they were once told the shirts were immodest and that female modesty was the best protection from unwanted male sexual advances. Some women who had waited to have sex until marriage spoke to her about struggling with sexual pleasure.
The idea is to tell former purity ring wearers that they are holy because of the life that God has breathed into them, the pastor said, and that this holiness isn’t something that can be taken away by another human being.
“To me, to be able to have the self-determination to take symbols and words and actions that might have harmed me at a different time in life and to reclaim and redefine and rework those into something healing and humorous ― that’s a powerful thing,” she said.