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5 Reasons Purity Rings and Pledges Don’t Work

Last Updated: August 9, 2021

Jessica Harris
Jessica Harris

Jessica Harris is the founder of Beggar’s Daughter, a ministry dedicated to walking with women who have an addiction to pornography. Telling her own story of porn addiction and struggle with lust, Jessica seeks to help other women find hope, healing, and grace. Jessica enjoys traveling and speaking on the topic of female lust addiction and how churches can minister to women who struggle. She resides just outside of Washington DC where she works as a teacher and serves on the Biblical counseling team in her church. She is the author of Love Done Right: Devos—A Journey From Lust into the Love of God.

It might have been the most traumatizing day of my dramatic 13-year-old existence. My mom took me to the mall, and, only after walking into the department store, announced that she planned on buying me a purity ring. To me, she might as well have hijacked the PA system and told the entire mall her daughter was a virgin. I pitched a royal hormonal teenager fit, and we left ringless.

Purity rings and pledges were all the rage when I was 13, but I was embarrassed, humiliated, ashamed, and angry. I was a virgin, yes, but I had already lost my purity. Wearing a cute ring could never change that. The last thing I wanted was a shiny reminder of where I was supposed to be. I did not want one because I did not deserve to wear one. They were reserved for the pure, the chaste, the perfect; I was none of those.

My mother was crushed. In her heart, denying a ring was like saying, “No, Mom, I actually plan on having sex before I am married,” but that was far from the case.

Being a teenager during the “True Love Waits” movement meant purity rings in every magazine and purity pledges to sign and frame and hang on the wall. Yet, here we sit, in the aftermath of the “True Love Waits” movement, living together, divorcing, ‘hooking up,’ and more addicted to porn than ever before. The contracts are packed away gathering dust and the rings long since gone. My years of working with young women have taught me something. The purity ring approach does not work, and here’s why:

1. Purity is a heart choice.

With all the emphasis placed on abstinence, purity rings might well be renamed abstinence rings. Abstinence and purity are not the same. Purity actually has very little to do with sex. Sexual acting out is the ultimate manifestation of impurity.  Anybody—Christian or not—can be abstinent. Purity is a heart attitude that affects how I live my life, not just how I use my body.

2. Purity requires God’s strength.

Because abstinence involves our physical interactions with another living, breathing, human being, it can be accomplished through sheer grit, determination, logic, or fear. Because purity is more personal and less visible, it requires the working of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives. It requires His grace and His enabling in order for us to live lives that honor and glorify Him.

3. Purity is not a one-time choice.

It is an important decision, yes, but it is also a daily decision. Purity is a daily, even moment-by-moment battle that is only getting worse. Preparation for that battle does not take place in one moment. Victory is not guaranteed because of choices you made yesterday. Sign all the contracts you would like, but the porn will not go away.

4. Purity is ultimately their decision.

We can be guilty of treating purity rings and contracts like the 21st Century chastity belt. You, the parent, have placed the ring on your daughter; therefore she must be pure. No. You have given your daughter a piece of jewelry; she has to choose to be pure.

5. Purity is a lifestyle, not simply a part of your life.

I call this Jesus-fish Syndrome. You slap a Jesus fish (Icthus) on your car and it makes no difference what you do in that car, people should be able to notice, by the Jesus fish, that you are, obviously, a Christian. I have seen the same happen with purity ring wearers. One young woman I taught was overtly sexual and immodest. When I tried to approach the subject with her, she stopped me and showed me her hand, “I have a purity ring,” as if it were her license to do whatever she liked. It was her proof that she was, in her opinion, pure, but her life spoke loudly to the contrary. That ring had provided her with a false sense of purity.

. . . .

That being said, purity rings can be a great reminder of a choice to remain pure, but are by no means a prerequisite for purity. Choosing to wear a purity ring or choosing to sign a pledge is not the same as choosing to be pure. Purity goes deeper than a fear of STDs or the whole ‘emotional super glue’ speech. It is more than waiting until your wedding night to have sex. Purity even goes deeper than promising to never look at porn again. Purity addresses how you approach and worship an Almighty and Holy God, and it is a choice you are helpless to make without Him.

. . . .

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  • Comments on: 5 Reasons Purity Rings and Pledges Don’t Work
    1. Jessica,

      You are so right. Purity is an hour by hour decision from the heart. Parents certainly have a role and a right to worry about the choices their kids make. But it needs to be the child’s choice to not only be pure but act like purity is important.

      • Greg

        Hi, I’m wondering if you have a site or side to yours that addresses male lusts and addiction to such things?

      • Matt Soeter

        Dear Jessica,

        I totally agree with you, that one of the biggest dangers of any vow or spiritual discipline is certainly that it will end up being false in some way. But I’m afraid some of your logic is falling short. Allow me to address each one of your points: 1) Purity and abstinence are certainly not the same, but abstinence is perhaps the major struggle for young Christians, and it is surely a major step toward purity. If a person can win the abstinence struggle, they are likely to have victory in so many other areas of life. But saying that because abstinence is not the whole picture for purity does not disqualify abstinence as a wonderful discipline. 2) Putting on a ring as a visible sign of purity certainly doesn’t mean we are not relying upon God’s strength. In fact, it is a kind of commitment to God. 3) Yes, the commitment to purity is not a one time thing, but every time we make that commitment, we challenge the bondage and grow stronger in the other disciplines. Just because we’re not sure we can follow through doesn’t mean we cannot make the commitment. I think that part of accepting a purity ring should be the willingness to be held accountable at some level — even if it’s not with mom and dad. 4) I think your point about it being an individual decision is powerful. It’s easy to put pressure on someone, not give them the opportunity to work through the many issues which ministering folks like you understand so well. There’s so much to talk about, and so much to think about. 5) Lastly, all your other points should be a strong caution that what is happening on the outside will never replace what happens on the inside. But, it’s easy to think that we shouldn’t take a stand with external emblems, because it’s on the inside that counts. Really, that is a kind of docetism, don’t you think? That’s an over-spiritualizing in itself. Real spirituality is correspondence in both inner and outer life. Interestingly — and I think this is what you’re missing — often change really does happen from the outside in. By taking this stand, with a small ring, for all the world to see, God can honor that commitment, and give the strength to follow through. No guarantees, of course, but just as water baptism is a public commitment, it can also affect and reinforce the inner reality.

      • Sharron Diggs

        Ok first of all you don’t have to be Christian to wear a purity ring. And what’s with all the porn references? So what you’re saying is that if someone doesn’t want to have sex they will all adopt a lifestyle filled with pornography? I don’t believe in God but I still believe you shouldn’t throw yourself at any man that thinks you’re good looking. Of course I know it’s a choice and we have free will, but we’re goddesses. All women are goddesses who should realize our bodies aren’t worth some jackass that we don’t even know will marry us or love us at all. And men use sex as their way of saying “oh cool we’re having sex and it’s great, I should keep her then.” But what if the sex was never there? What if no sexual contact was ever made? Will they still love you? That’s my personal opinion of why women get purity rings til this day. They want to be sure that their relationship isn’t based purely on their sex life and that is an extremely smart move if you don’t plan on getting divorced.

      • I just want to say that a purity pledge and a ring worked for my mother and grandmother.They both had purity ring and pledges and they lived up to it.They were both virgins at their wedding day

      • Ingrid Ledbetter

        Jessica, my heart dropped when I read this I am so sorry this happened to you . My daughter came to me , & said mom this is what I want I to make a vow to the Lord . Purity is really about your commitment to the Lord , their can be no celibacy without the Lord, this Flash is a mess, it takes the power of the Holy Spirit to keep this Flash under subjection . Thank you for sharing your testimony.

    2. Beth

      wow, do i remember the True Love Waits! our youth leaders talked about abstinence often, but it always seemed the pressure was and still i) on the girls. There are so many books on purity geared toward girls, but i have yet to see more than one for boys/yooung men, and they struggle badly with youthful lusts! its ok for a man to have sowed his seed i suppose (???) but a girl must be pure. i think it should go both ways. thank yoiu fr your article!

      • Beth,

        There are quite a few more resources for boys now, just not a lot of them are not known. Some I can think of off the top of my head:

        Who Moved the Goalpost by Gresh

        God’s Gift to Women by Eric Ludy

        Meet Mr. Smith also by Eric Ludy

        Sex is Not the Problem, Lust Is by Josh Harris

        But you are right, the whole approach to purity is relatively sexist. Lord willing, that is changing.

      • Jean in the wildcat valley

        This is so wrong!!! What girl wants to talk about her vagina and her hymen, with her dad ?? That is so sick. I am a Christian, but some female issues need to be discussed with mom, and dad should be givng a ring to his wild sons and teaching his sons to keep sex on a leash and keep his penis in his pants. Stop worrying about girls.

    3. Hello Jessica,

      I appreciate your article, and I’m sorry that purity rings didn’t work for you. But I think you need to be careful about applying your own experience to the whole of reality. (That’s easy for us humans to do, unfortunately.) I could give you testimonies where both rings and certificates have worked.

      I could give you testimony right now about a friend I just met, Hannah, who is 26 years old and a very godly single Christian lady. She told me that during her teen years she was tempted to engage in sexual activity and that one thing that held her back was the purity promise certificate he father had previously given her. Her remembrance of that certificate, and the pain she knew she would bring her parents if she violated it, kept her from making a very bad moral choice.

      Rings and certificates may not work for some: especially those bent on doing what they want morally regardless of outwards symbols. But for some they work and there is nothing wrong with an outward reminder of what is desired in the heart.

      My wedding ring is not my marriage, but it’s a good symbol that I’m married, and it lets others know that I’m “off limits.” Small reminders like that can be all that is needed to save a life from disaster.

      May God guide you as you seek to serve Him.

      In Christ,

      Paul Miller

      • Luke Gilkerson

        Thanks for your thoughts, Paul. I think Jessica agrees with you. She said at the bottom of the article: “purity rings can be a great reminder of a choice to remain pure, but are by no means a prerequisite for purity. Choosing to wear a purity ring or choosing to sign a pledge is not the same as choosing to be pure.” I think you are completely on the same page here.

      • Yep! We are on the same page. I was certainly not saying that they are wrong and that we shouldn’t use them, the point is “what does it do?” In Hannah’s case, I would hope it served as a reminder of a choice she had already made. There are too many, though, that think slapping a ring on a finger will automatically make their daughter make that choice and that isn’t true. It has to be her choice, just like your friend Hannah made her choice, just like I made my choice, even without a ring. The ring doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t make a choice that her own heart hasn’t already made.

        I have nothing against them. The title and spin of the article is that of promoting true purity.

    4. Many people don’t give Jesus’s words, “don’t take a vow” very seriously. How do pledges and purity rings play into this? If we’re supposed to let our yes be yes and our no be no, then could it be that we’re heaping sun on our selves unnecessarily by taking these vows of purity?

    5. Nathan,

      That is definitely an interesting thought. I think it is important to realize that Jesus is not condemning vows or oaths. In many cases, they are the same as promises and God makes plenty of those to us. What He is condemning, in the context of the culture, is the tendency to back out of a vow depending on what you swore. So it would be like a kid saying, “No, I didn’t promise to be pure, I signed a purity pledge and only purity ring wearers have to be pure. Pledges don’t count.” or “I had my fingers crossed when I made that promise, so it doesn’t count.” Those are the kinds of antics Jesus is speaking against. He wants us to be people of our word.

      Are we heaping sin on ourselves by taking these vows? Well, I think that goes back to the point of WHO is taking the vow and what we understand the promise to be. No one should promise that they will never struggle. No one should promise that they will be pure in heart, mind, body, soul and spirit until the day they die. We are ALL going to struggle. But, we can promise to try our best, knowing that we are fallen and will continue to fall.

      I don’t think you can condemn the actual act of promising, because if that were the case then there would be an issue with marriage, with business contracts, and with promising to pick up your friend’s kids from school. God simply wants us to be people of our word and to be careful about what we promise (or swear) to do.

    6. William Goldman

      Where does it say this in the Bible?

      “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to thy Word.”

      I think it’s a Psalm, and surely very relevant.

      • Luke Gilkerson

        Psalm 119:9.

    7. HI Jessica!
      You make some great points about the ceremony. And I totally agree with these 5 points. I’m sorry that you felt embarrassed, humiliated, ashamed, and angry. I hope there were people who came alongside you to affirm that you are not any less acceptable or loved by God.
      It would be good to have these ceremonies include something about how there is grace and forgiveness available if (and when) people stumble and fall in this. We cannot separate this from the gospel.
      If there are young people who have already had sex before marriage at the time of this ceremony, I’d hope that it would be affirmed that God loves them the same, and they can make a new commitment to purity until marriage, the so-called “second virgin.”
      This is the message of 1 Corinthians 6. After Paul lists a bunch of impurities, he writes: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

      The five things you listed are spot on. They can also apply to marriage vows and even baptisms. I agree with the comments above, I think the question needs to be “How do we approach these pledges in a God-honoring, gospel-centered way.” and not necessarily “Do they work?”

    8. Rashida

      You are so right! This should be a decision made by the child, my parents never even told me about this commitment but through their lives they’ve taught me to live a pure and holy life (even without a purity ring). Now that I am 22 I have decided on my own to participate in a purity ring vow with other young adults at my church in November. And clearly it’s not about the ring since I’ve been working at it and trying my best since I’ve known what a pure life is. Thank God for grace!

    9. Matt,

      Sorry I couldn’t reply to your comment directly, but I want to encourage you to remember the audience. This post is written to parents. Parents who think that slapping a ring on their kid gives them some kind of ‘forcefield of purity.’ Instead of sitting down and actually talking with their children about sex, and talking about boundaries, and the all-encompassing nature of purity, they start and end the conversation with a ring and pledge, and that’s not right.

      I actually spoke with my old youth pastor about this. He still pastors in the church where I grew up. In a church where purity rings are still a big deal. He did an anonymous survey of his youth group. 90% of the students said their parents had never talked to them about sex. About the same percentage of his students had some type of purity ring: guys and girls both. So here we have a continuing generation of children whose parents have skirted their God-given responsibility to teach and train their children- to teach them how to walk uprightly, how to respect the other gender, how to embrace a lifestyle of purity. Instead, these parents expect a ring and promise to ‘protect’ their children. It’s a shame-based culture of sexual abstinence. The only message they hear about sex is “don’t do it.” If you fail, you are unworthy of the ring; you have broken your promise; you have disappointed your parents, you can’t wear white; you are less-than. Or, on the other hand, you have teenagers who wear them anyway, and then go out and have sex behind the church (true story) and when caught say, “I would never do that. I am wearing a purity ring!”

      I have no problem with purity rings. I have a problem with them being used as an excuse for parents not to do their jobs or when they are used by Christian communities as a whole as a proof of virginity. They don’t mean anything if the heart is not behind it, and parents cannot make heart decisions for their children.

    10. Jenn

      My son is wanting to larticipate in a purity ceremony at his youth group. Hos father and i are happy about his decision to do this. This article was very good for me to read and i will be sharing your wisdom in a card i give to him on ceremony night. Thank you for sharing.

    11. Ceanti

      I almost didn’t read this. I thought it was going to be something bashing abstinence until I saw the website. Oh but I am so glad I did! I am a 29 year old virgin, but was looking for something to encourage my heart because I have the body part down and God MUST have led me to this! Thank you so much for writing this! We all need this reminder – purity is about God doing something through us and not really what we can do or not do ourselves. Awesome!!! Thank you!

    12. Ben Lomond

      How about some data, rather than your opinion? You’re coming from a dark place and that’s not necessarily where all these girls are.

    13. Mitch

      Purity rings are another aspect of the works-based mindset that is so tempting to everyone, even Christians who believe they are grace based. So is the “Courageous Resolution” or the “Love Dare” push by Kendrick brothers movies. These are essentially acts of virtue signaling designed to draw attention to the individual rather than to God. Christian leaders use them as marketing gimmicks. Look at all the marketing associated with Fireproof, Courageous and War Room. Purity balls and purity rings are only good for selling more product.

      • Mitch, I do not agree that the movies you mention are a marketing gimmick. I truly believe they can have a major impact on many non believers who are then inspired and drawn to God, and to live a Godly life.

    14. Oyama

      I need advise, me and my friends made a covnant of no sex before marriage we even have purity rings when we were 15years old now that we are growing we find oursalves facing the same challenges at the same time….disappointments, stacknation and so o, so I dont know whether is it caused by the convnant we made 7years ago

    15. Breanna

      First of all, I am so sorry that you felt forced into a purity ring! You are right! Purity and abstinence are both a choice of the individual and shouldn’t be forced on anyone! It’s not a parents job to take away a child’s free will. God created us with free will for a reason. I think purity rings are sometimes just used as an excuse to not have to have uncomfortable conversations with kids about how to be responsible with their bodies. Sex is so taboo that I feel like a lot of parents try to get out of discussing the issue by just giving the kids a purity ring and telling them that “mommy” and “daddy” will take care of it for them. I had a purity ring, and my parents tried to use it as an excuse to choose the guy I was supposed to marry. They didn’t like my boyfriend, and told me that I would be cursed if I didn’t listen to them. My dad went so far as to say that I had lost my innocence because I kissed my boyfriend when I had a purity ring. The main problem is that, if you don’t educate a kid on why it’s safest to be abstinent then they will end up listening to lies about preventing STIs and pregnancies. Whether they are abstinent until marriage or not, they still need to be told the truth about both of those things. I really feel like Christian parents should tell their kids that having sex is a responsibility. Young men and women should both be taught to treasure their bond during sex, and not treat it as just a way to experience a high. It’s an investment into a committed relationship!

    16. My argument against purity pledges is they’re superfluous. I never took one. I’m still a virgin at 45. (All decent men get married before they’re 25. Too late after that. I was painfully shy as a young adult. Sigh.)

      I made a pledge to obey God when I came to Jesus at age 6. Why is it so noble to not do something He has forbidden? Isn’t that what Christianity is about? If we love Him we’ll obey His commandments.

      These purity pledges are like having a bunch of teenagers sign papers swearing not to commit armed robbery, then celebrating this pledge of self restraint. While others wail about how unreasonable it is to encourage kids NOT to commit bank robbery. Ridiculous.

      If you want to get money out of the bank, set up an account, pay money into it and use it lawfully. Just like sexual relationships/marriages. The Bible makes no distinction between the two. Just our distrustful, faithless society.

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