The problematic culture of ‘virginity rings’

Symbols symbols  
By MARY ANN SORRENTINO  |  August 15, 2007
Lydia Playfoot, a 16-year-old English student, regrets that London’s High Court rejected her request to wear a Christian “virginity ring” to school. Playfoot sees the ring as a religious symbol, representing her commitment to virginity before marriage. The High Court said the ring is not a religious symbol, but jewelry, which the school forbids for all students.
This case echoes several recent court challenges in Europe. Each is similar to Playfoot’s case, but different in very precise and troubling ways.
Last year, Shabina Begum lost her appeal for permission to wear a Muslim gown to school in Luton, outside London. In 2006, France banned headscarves for Muslim girls in state schools, yarmulkes for Jewish boys, and turbans for Sikh boys (as well as large crosses for Christians.) When banned items are mandated by religious law, we should be more concerned.
Wearing the virginity ring — like the cross or Star of David — is not obligatory under religious law. Such accessories are trappings worn because of fashion preferences or the wearer’s desire to signal religious leanings. (Madonna, hardly the poster girl of Christian values, often sported a large cross in the ’80s. Today, she favors the red string Kabbalah bracelet, a symbol of her latest fascination, with this ancient sect based in Judaism.)
It is apparently not enough for conservative Christians for a young woman to privately pledge to “save herself” for her groom. She must also announce publicly her commitment to virginity. The lesser push for boys, as potential sex partners, to wear purity rings is also curious.
Girls adorned with these rings attend “Purity Balls,” father-daughter dances during which the girl pledges to her father to abstain from sex. (I find no evidence of similar balls for young men, during which they might make the same promise to their Moms.)
As the former longtime head of a birth control and abortion facility, I am very familiar with the dueling tugs of racing hormones vs. family moral codes. The pledging of abstinence to one’s father also sounds too incestuous to me, as does this quote from Purity Balls’ founder Randy Wilson, as told to the Denver Post: “We believe that the identity of our daughters is tied to the father’s heart. If the father isn’t involved, our daughters are left to navigate through relationship and culture by themselves.”
My guess is that most young girls turn to Mom, not Dad, for sex talk.
Celibacy isn’t easy, especially for teens with raging hormones in their bodies and peer pressure pushing from the outside. I’m not sure all the rings and balls in the world can compete with young love and lust. I am happy to cheer for those who try to resist and also to be there to catch them if they fall.
But this virginity sideshow pales alongside bans on serious religious garb mandated by whatever holy texts wearers hold dear. It is worrisome that some courts are missing the same fine distinction that the British High Court, in its wisdom, made in the Playfoot case.

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