Monday, July 16, 2007

Chastity rings

The High Court has ruled that a girl who was forbidden from wearing her "Chastity Ring" at school was not discriminated against (see BBC report for more info).

Lydia Playfoot rather melodramatically said the decision will "mean that slowly, over time, people such as school governors, employers, political organisations and others will be allowed to stop Christians from publicly expressing and practising their faith". The school argued that she was not obliged by her religion to wear the ring and thus it contravened school uniform. Her lawyers argued that "Secular authorities cannot rule on religious truth" despite the fact that they brought the case to court themselves (presumably for a ruling).

Apparently Lydia is one of eleven girls at her school to join up to the "Silver Ring Thing" (SRT) and her parents help run the UK branch from their church. If you've not heard of this before it's where young people pretend they are not going to have sex before marriage and wear a ring inscribed with Bible verses to symbolise the current teenage phase they are going through.

I'm torn about the judgement to be honest. I think she should be allowed to wear any religious item, no matter how stupid. It's counter productive to tell people what they can and cannot believe spiritually and I think it's healthy for people to shape their own religious views as far as possible, rather than have them mediated through, for example, the Catholic Church. From Spinoza onwards the idea that someone can have a personal relationship with God has been a progressive one at odds with the entrenched elites of society.

But that doesn't mean she isn't full of shit mind you. It's hardly progressive to make out that people should be ashamed of themselves, live their lives in a nuclear family governed by an iron law of sin for all those who deviate from their prescribed "norm" that is far from typical. This article from the Washington Post takes an interesting look at the sexual behaviour of those who take the pledge, and it suggests that although the SRT may delay the onset of premarital sexual encounters they don't actually prevent them.

Many of SRT adherents try to cope with their feelings by engaging in sexual practices that they believe allow them to "technically" retain their virginity whilst also relieving the pressure. Which means they are more likely than their class mates to engage in oral and/or anal sex. These symbols are beginning to look more like attempts to pretend that they're immune from their own human desires, and almost inevitably this is going to lead into dismal failure or hypocrisy.

Some studies suggest that those who wear the ring are more at risk from STDs than their sin seeking contemporaries. Of course they are. SRT avoids all discussion of sex, opposes sexual education and simply does not prepare teenagers for the torrent of hormones they'll be experiencing for the next hundred years or so.

Johann Hari quotes one SRT video saying "Will this condom protect your reputation? Go ahead and use a condom. You'll still be known as a slut." Charming. Better to just get infected or pregnant instead. Monbiot is cutting in his assertion that, ironically, "abstinence training increases the rate of teenage pregnancy". Pretending something doesn't exist rarely makes it go away - and that goes for desires twice.

Similarly, studies suggest that SRT wearers may also be more likely to have an abortion - which is kind of counter intuitive until you realise that these kids have studiously avoided all understanding of contraception, so when they do have sex (as they surely will) they are more likely to get pregnant - and more likely to be ashamed of it. That baby would be the proof of their sin. Not only would the teen be subject to social stigma in their peer group it would also symbolise the failure of their pledge to God, and we know that God is an angry God.

Perhaps at this point I should point out something obvious. Sex is not a *bad* *thing*, although teenage pregnancies, whilst not being the end of the world, are probably best avoided where possible.

The upside is if you join the "movement" after you've become a sinner you can acquire a second virginity, which is handy.

Shame is at the heart of the Silver Ring Thing, shame about your body, your feelings, your loves, and your fallibilities. Needless to say they are not big fans of homosexuality either, although I'm not sure what they think of masturbation as they are explicitly opposed to discussing sex in any detail - ignorance is their weapon, their cause and their master.

If this young woman wants to wait until she's married to have sex then fine, good luck, but that ring she's so desperate to wear can only do her harm. It will make it all the more difficult to tell her parents that she made a mistake and got an STD or an unwanted pregnancy. It'll make it all the more difficult for her to deal with any feelings not prescribed by the church (like finding any of her female friends attractive, or wanting to take a thick church candle to bed with her). It will also make it so much harder for her to get educated about the facts of life, or learn how to fuck properly, because she's publicly declared that she just doesn't want to know.


peter said...

If somebody's allowed to wear a wedding or engagement ring to show they've made a vow of commitment to somebody, I don't see why they can't wear a ring to show they've made a vow of chastity.

And school locker room talk is full of pupils bragging who's done what with whom - so what's the big deal about a silent comment in the other direction.

Where this case does get murkier though, is that the girl was no longer a pupil, and her parents were involved in the Silver Ring franchise in the UK - more publicity stunt than human rights perhaps.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with you on both points Jim.

I just don't buy any of the arguments in favour of school uniforms in general, and stopping young people from wearing symbols that are important to them is, in my opinion, clearly a pointless and unacceptable limit on their freedom of expression.

The symbol in question, and the nonsense it represents is sad and depressing and should be deconstructed in just the way you have done. But that doesn't mean that the state or its institutions (be they educational or legal) have any right to impose seemingly random rules about which religious symbols are acceptable and which aren't.

John A said...

Not random, but political. If you belong to a religion which requires certain items of clothing as standard then you will be accommodated. But I've been going through my gospels, my Aquinas, my Augustine, the Latin mass, the Book of Mormon etc. etc. and there is nothing in Christianity which says that a girl must wear the jewellery of a shady cult to impress her friends.

"Jesus entered the Temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 'It is written,' he said to them, 'My house will be called a house of prayer but you are making it a den of robbers.'" (Matthew 21:12-13)

Jim Jepps said...

Oh Bible quotes make me go all funny... this reminds me though, why aren't those statues of Christ and Mary etc "Graven Images" I've never understood that

peter said...

John Angliss - religion and faith is about more than is written in dusty tomes.

I think the test should be in such cases not, is this traditional (I've never liked expressions of faith based purely on tradition). But is this a genuine expression of faith, and would it be unreasonable not to accommodate it.

So somebody wearing a small ring might be reasonable, but somebody wearing a face mask when teaching five year olds might be unreasonable.

peter said...

Jim - the graven images is about worshipping other gods - the full quote is about not bowing down to worship any graven image or likeness of any living thing that dwells under or on or above the earth.

It's an Old Testament Commandment, before God had taken human form. So once God had taken the form of Jesus, it was arguably acceptable to have religious statues of Jesus.

Mary is a bit more complicated - call it a fudge if you will. The tribes of Europe were very attached to their nymphs and goddesses. Statues of Mary were part of the compromise needed to get them to convert.

Besides, God told the Christians to abandoned all the old Hebrew laws - sticking only with love the Lord thy god, and love thy neighbour as thyself.

Freckles said...

ahem... "Pretend not to have sex before marriage"? If you didn't wanted to be neutral, you sure have a funny way of showing it. I wear a chastity ring and I am proud of it. I also have no intention of "Pretending".

Agreeing with Peter, we aren't publicly trying to transform people into believing our faith, while other people who worship "nothing" aka: Themselves/The World, are allowed to freely express themselves verbally and physically and we're not even allowed to wear a ring.

Jim Jepps said...

Hi freckles, welcome to the blog.

I'm sure you are *intending* to keep this vow, but experience shows that most of these vows get broken. That's because they cut against your body and quite normal and welcome feelings we all have for our fellow human beings.

I'd like to see people with a healthier attitude to sex than a simple "none before marriage" or "as much as I can get" The point is where "faith" becomes a status symbol there are unintended consequences, some of which I've already outlined - like leaving you more at risk of stds and unwanted pregnacy rather than less.

Having said this I hope I was clear before that I'm opposed to banning the wearing of the rings, whether or not they are "central" to Christian teaching. I don't agree with the ethic behind them, but am absolutely for your right to wear one and no one should have the power to stop you wearing it.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with freckles. I wear a chastity ring as a reminder for myself of the commitment I made to God to remain pure until I marry the man He has intended for me. I am appalled at your logic about chastity rings bringing about unplanned pregnancy, abortion, and STDs. I know many people who have made this promise and remained true to it. My wearing a ring about it is intended to be a source of strength for myself and others that it is okay to follow God's will and remain pure. This is not about a cult or an intention to remain pure; it is a concsious choice to live for God. There are many saints who chose to remain pure for God, and He protected their purity.

Anonymous said...

I wear a chastity ring and I'm not even christian. As a matter a fact I'm wiccan. But when I put on my ring I swore to myself that I wasn't going to have sex until I was ready and if that means until marriage then so be it, but if its before marriage I couldn't care less. I don't think the ring I wear is going to make me a prude about sex. If anything the only reason why the rates of unplanned pregnancy and such things are higher in teens with chastity rings is because their parents won't let them take a sex ed class.

Jim Jepps said...

Hi anon, it sounds to me like what your describing as a chastity ring is not the same thing as the silver ring thing people where the ring is bound up with a whole host of attitudes towards sex.

For them marriage is the key.

What you're doing sounds fine to me by the way. I certainly don't think people should be having sex before they want to - although I'd never have personally made it into a 'thing'.

As you say the attitudes towards sex education and, frankly, the deliberate and wilful ignorance about sex are what cause the harm - not the ring, which is a symbol of that.

Anonymous said...

Instead of criticism advise the problem decision.

Anonymous said...

I thank for the information, now I will not commit such error.

Unknown said...

Alright, read the article and the comments. Chastity rings are whatever to me. I don't wear one and I never will, however, I have never had sex. It's not because I've made some kind of silent vow, it's because I'm not supposed to before marriage. I don't need a reminder. I mean, if there comes a point where I'm lying next to some guy, I don't suddenly notice my hand and the shiney thing on it and go, "Oh, no. I can't do this." I've simply set standards for myself. I don't allow myself to get into situations where I need a physical reminder. If you don't want to or know you shouldn't...that's good enough. I've never had an STD or engaged in any other type of sex. I'm quite knowledgeable about intercourse and my hormones. I do make out and even get hot and heavy but I'm not stupid. He knows and I know...this is going nowhere. In about an hour, I'll be saying goodnight. Standards.

Now, on another note, I think this writer is making a mockery of vows or just not having sex at all. It's not PRETEND. Pretend is to give a FALSE appearance of being, possessing, or performing. If someone decides they won't have sex, to abstain, they are making a conscious decision and are putting forth considerable effort. Not everyone succeeds but that doesn't mean they were pretending or planning on doing it. It just means they're human and that we ALL fall short of things we want at some point. Failing does not make you a hypocrite and neither should it cause shame.

I feel that while you were geniune in your argument about her having the right to wear the ring, you may have found the case humorous and subconsciously set out to make a mockery of one's belief to even wear a chastity ring. People who right about things they appeal to variety people have a responsibilty to their readers to be a neutral party and simply cover the facts. An opinion is one thing but a judgement is another.

Jim Jepps said...

Hi Kim, certainly there are people who never have sex before marriage although I think they can only be as knowledgable about intercourse as someone could be as knowledgable about swimming without having ever stepped in the water.

Without question no one who does not want to have sex should feel pressured into having sex - and while I think it is a mistake to think you'll have a happy sex life without having accumulated a broad range of experiences in the field that's a choice people are free to make.

However ostentatious public vows designed to place people on a moral high ground above their peers have a poor track record. For me there is a difference between not always coming up to difficult standards that you've set yourself and proclaiming your virtue from the highest rooftop and then failing miserably at the code you insisted everyone else had to live to.

I'm not intending to criticise those who choose not to have sex, it is the manner of the unrealistic public declarations that I want to take issue with.

Unknown said...

So, according to you, it's not okay for people to wear chastity rings because they're making everyone else feel like they have to also live by the same code of conduct? You're catergorizing them and lumping them. I'll using your swimming reference: Just because you see a bunch of people in a pool...doesn't mean they all can swim. Just because them douche is wearing a chastity ring for everyone to see, doesn't mean that person over there is.

Some of these people HONESTLY do it for themselves. It not always about being on a pedestal or a high horse. Some do it for the attention, some don't. It doesn't seem like you realize that, Jim. (Lol, our names rhyme).

And as for myself, I'm perfectly fun fine not having total and complete knowledge about the sexual experience as long as I stay true to myself, which I do. I don't care how pleasureable it is. It's not for me, YET. Whomever I marry will teach me what I NEED to know. I'm alright marrying someone who's had sex. We both felt certain ways, obviously. My abstainence was for ME and no one else.

People will always be able to do what they want to a certain degree. But people will also always judge regardless of rather or not it's their business. If these people aren't ready to be judged or can't handle it then maybe they should keep it on the hush. Otherwise, more power to them. It's THEIR business if they're doing it for the right reasons.

Jim Jepps said...

"So, according to you, it's not okay for people to wear chastity rings because they're making everyone else feel like they have to also live by the same code of conduct?"


I'm taking issue with the movement and looking at the way people claim to be living to one set of ideals but end up falling fall short of that.

I don't think I'm claiming that they are dishonest nor am I doubting their commitment - I think I'm claiming that the *movement* promotes dishonesty, ignorance and shame (or keeping it on the hush if you prefer).

For example; "Whomever I marry will teach me what I NEED to know." Sadly this is unlikely to be true, particularly if they too have entered marriage as a virgin.

The best way to learn any skill is from an experienced practitioner.

Unknown said...

People might as well not wear crosses or rosery beads either. Or turbans or yamakas or any anthing of religious afiliation. I don't think you like religion much. You don't like seeing it. That's YOUR business.

As I mentioned before, it's alright to fall short. We're human. You making it sound as if these people are perfect after making this public if not subtle vow. They are not perfect. If they fall short, they fought the good fight as best they could.

Your issue is not with the movement. Your issue is that you cannot and will not accept the fact that it's possible to make it to marriage a virgin. You DO doubt the commitment because you're calling these people hypocrites. If you didn't doubt, your article would have been neutral. I highly believe your the type of person who is heavily opinionated and can't accept other people's opinions or in this case, beliefs. It really grinds your gears that people are "claiming" to be able to do something that you think is not able to be done. I hate to break the news to you buddy but Obama. It happened when no one thought it would. Opinions aren't facts.

And as far as my marrying someone who can teach me, I WANT to marry someone who's experienced. That's MY perference. Don't assume which you do a lot in your article and comments.