So, I wear an abstinence ring. It’s really pretty and fairly unobtrusive and my parents and I think it’s great. My dad’s a minister and my mom’s a worrywart, but I was the one who got the ring and then told them. They were thrilled with my responsible responsible-ness and all, but that’s not the problem.
The problem is that I’m not your typical church-going, abstinence-ring-wearing girl. I go to parties, I kiss people I don’t know very well sometimes, and my general personality is, well, kind of earthy and frank, and the fact that my ring is an abstinence ring usually surprises people. And it bothers me, because then people’s favorite thing to do is jump to conclusions. Better not be honest with HER about my sex life, they think, and pass me off for a pitchfork-toting, “ABSTINENCE!” chanting lunatic. Which I’m not! I don’t care who does the HND with who as long as I’m not involved, and a careful observer would realize that, because a lot of my friends are really… well… relaxed about such things. And we accept each other! The only reason I wear the thing is because I’ve been hurt really badly in relationships, and I know deep down that I would be really beat up if I went that far with a guy I wasn’t attached to permanently. And HOLY HORSE, I don’t want to have to explain that to every jewelry fanatic who asks me “What’s with the ring?” I tried passing it off as the Ring of Power once, but it doesn’t turn me invisible. I’m stuck.
Really, all I want is a short, simple explanation that will convince people I’m not judging them by wearing the thing, and that I’m still me. I just can’t help thinking, ALL THIS OVER ONE MOTHERFRANKING RING? The last time I had to explain this was to my then-boyfriend in the middle of a cuddle session on his couch. He knew we weren’t going to do it, but he still “didn’t know I was like that.”
Well, okay—but I don’t think you’re going to like it.
Because I’ve gotta admit: when you say, “All this over one motherfranking ring?!”, I’m like, Blaaaaargh. Because honestly, I think that your really pretty, fairly unobtrusive abstinence ring is problematic for the same reason that it would be problematic if a girl wore a really pretty, fairly unobtrusive ring… which, when asked, she explained that she’d purchased to commemorate the wonderful, magical day when she gave her first handjob.
As in, rings that advertise your sex-having status—whether that status is “not until marriage” or “five times a day”—are a total tacky overshare.
And look, I know not everyone will agree with that statement, and I fully admit that I’m coming at this question as a cranky old hag who grew up in a time and place (the 1990s, the northeastern U.S.) where purity rings and public abstinence pledges were decidedly not a thing. And for the record, my disdain for these things is NOT the same as disdain for abstinence as a practice. Be abstinent if you want to! That’s a valid, responsible, personal choice! But take the personal public, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a slim gold band or a giant honking zirconia or a statement necklace the size of a grapefruit. When you make your jewelry a means of broadcasting the state of your sex life, you have officially gone too far.
That said, I understand that it’s personally meaningful for you to wear this ring, and that of course you wish people wouldn’t jump to conclusions about your character because of it. But here’s the thing: as lovely and non-judgmental as you are, you’ve adopted the totem of a very particular and widely-known movement (the Purity Pledge and its ilk), with very particular and widely-known associations and connotations (slut-shaming, fearmongering, and the unparalleled creeepy creepy creepiness of father-daughter purity balls). And despite being wholly uninterested in any of that stuff, the mere fact that it’s you wearing the ring isn’t enough to magically whisk away all the cultural baggage that comes with it.
And because you’re obviously a smart, thoughtful person, I think you can probably appreciate the futility of trying to redefine the meaning of an abstinence ring— just as I think you probably know that there is no actual need for you to make its meaning public, or even for you to wear it at all. An abstinence ring doesn’t make you sexually responsible anymore than a wedding ring makes its wearer faithful. (Like you said, magic rings don’t exist outside of Middle Earth and its ilk; out here in the real world, commitments are made in your mind, not on your fingers.)
So if you truly feel that the ring is personally useful to you, and if you truly don’t want people to peg you as an obnoxious abstinence cheerleader for wearing it, then here’s my suggestion: be classy and discreet where those people aren’t, and treat your sexual choices like the private, personal matter they are. People don’t need to know that your ring is a no-sex ring, anymore than the world needs to know that I’m wearing a scarf in August because my husband gave me a hickey. (Not that he would ever do such a thing to my pristine, swan-like neck; this is purely hypothetical.) And when someone asks about your ring—which, if it’s as unobtrusive and attractive as you claim, should happen rarely if ever—then all you need to say is, “Oh, this? It’s my favorite, I wear it all the time.” The end.
Thoughts on abstinence rings? Purity balls? Face tattoos? Leave ’em in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want more info about how this column works? Check out the Auntie SparkNotes FAQ.