What Is A Purity Ring? Meaning, Types & History

what is a purity ringA purity ring is a ring worn to symbolize the wearer’s commitment to abstaining from sex before marriage. They’re often tied to religions like Christianity, though not everyone that wears a purity ring does so for religious purposes. 

Everyone talks about engagement rings and wedding bands, but purity rings are another type of ring that represent a different commitment, often one of sacred significance.

What is the point of a purity ring? We’ll explore that in this article as we break down the meanings, styles, and history of purity rings. 

To start, let’s go over the purpose of wearing a purity ring.

what is a purity ring

Meaning of a Purity Ring

A purity ring symbolizes one’s commitment to not having sex before marriage, a.k.a. sexual abstinence or continence. Other terms for the ring include “abstinence ring” and “chastity ring.” 

Much of a purity ring’s meaning ties to the virtue of chastity. 

By most modern definitions, “chastity” refers to refraining from sexual activities, either temporarily or permanently. Etymology-wise, “chaste” comes from the Latin castus, meaning “separated” or “pure.” In the mid-1300s, chaste was synonymous with virtuous. 

Though you don’t have to be Christian (or religious at all) to wear a purity ring, the practice is based on the moral values of Western Christianity. 

Outwardly symbolizing your inner “purity” doesn’t have to come in the form of a ring. Some Christians wear special cords around their waist or other types of purity jewelry, like bracelets or necklaces.

The practice of wearing a purity ring is often accompanied by abstinence pledges, also called “virginity pledges” or “purity pledges.” Purity rings are most common among Catholic and Evangelical denominations of Christianity.

What about promise rings? 

purity ring vs promise ring - historical posy ringPictured above: Gold posy ring, dated between 1650 and 1750, with inscription: ""Let this present my good intent" | Image credit: The Portable Antiquities Scheme/ The Trustees of the British Museum

Purity Ring vs. Promise Ring

You’ll often hear “promise ring” come up in purity ring discussions. But what’s the difference between a promise ring and a purity ring?

The meaning of a promise ring is much broader than that of a purity ring. 

Promise rings represent a committed bond to someone, be it a friend, relative, or romantic partner.

Purity rings may be called “promise rings” based on the fact that they represent a promise to stay celibate until marriage. Sometimes, two people in a relationship that haven’t married yet wear a hybrid purity/promise ring to symbolize both their mutual commitment to each other and their promise to stay celibate until they’re married. 

Promise rings actually have a longer history than purity rings, going back to the Middle Ages. 

Back then, promise rings were called “posy rings” after the French term poésie, meaning “poetry,” due to the common practice of engraving a short poem or saying onto the ring. The saying could be romantic, religious, or affectionate in some other way. 

In the 1700s to 1800s, acrostic gemstone rings became popular, with gems arranged by their name to create a word. One popular one was “DEAREST” that had Diamond, Emerald, Amethyst/Alexandrite, Ruby, Emerald, Sapphire, and Topaz placed in that order.

Today, promise rings are often a precursor to buying an engagement ring in the future, sometimes dubbed a “pre-engagement ring.” 

Back to the ring at hand, what does a purity ring look like?  

Claddaghring.jpgPictured above: Claddagh style ring | Image credit: I, Royalcladdagh

Types of Purity Rings

Many purity rings look similar, with silver bands and an engraved phrase on the outer or inner rim. But purity rings can be virtually any metal — gold, silver, silicone, tantalum, etc. — and any style. 

Some choosing purity rings opt for a Claddagh ring, a traditional Irish fede ring style with a crown atop a heart cupped by two hands. The three symbols (heart, crown, and hands) represent love, loyalty, and friendship, respectively. 

Fans of history may even go for a signet ring, a style with a raised, engraved surface historically used to stamp or sign documents. 

All that said, certain inscriptions and symbols are more common than others for purity rings. 

ugqg1v8wzlqylvcn.jpgPictured above: Sterling silver purity ring with "I will wait for my beloved" inscription| Image credit: Bibleknowledge; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license


Most purity rings have words engraved on them. The most common engraving is “True Love Waits.” Religious wearers may choose a Bible verse, such as Matthew 5:8 (“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” NIV). 

Other popular inscriptions include:

  • Purity

  • Promised

  • Faithful to My Beloved

  • I Am My Beloved’s

  • Love is Patient

  • One Life One Love

  • When the Time is Right

  • I Will Wait For You

What about more abstract embellishments?

silver purity ring with flowers and nature symbols


A more subtle way to embellish a purity ring is with a symbol. The symbol chosen is often religious, but may be more broad or secular. 

Common symbols on purity rings are:

  • Hearts

  • Flowers

  • Crosses

  • Keys

These shapes often carry their own meanings, like a key symbolizing a “key to my heart” or a cross representing a Christian choice for purity. Flowers may simply be decorative or may symbolize purity, such as a lilly.

As you can see, purity rings can have a variety of looks 

Purity Ring “Rules” & Common Questions

Many people take the commitment of a purity ring very seriously. Naturally, that means some may have “rules” regarding purity rings. 

First, who can wear a purity ring? Purity rings are most common among teenagers and young adults, regardless of gender.

Do you have to be a virgin to wear a purity ring? No, anyone can take a pledge from that moment forward. However, some religious authorities may have differing opinions on it. 

From a religious standpoint, is it Biblical to wear a purity ring? There’s nothing in the Bible about wearing purity rings, though many religious folks who decide to wear them reference Bible verses related to sexual purity. 

Can you buy yourself a purity ring? Yes. Traditionally, a mother would give a purity ring to a son while a father would do the same for a daughter, but this isn’t always the case. 

What finger do you put a purity ring on? You can wear it on any finger, though there are different ring finger meanings. Traditionally, a purity ring is worn on the left ring finger to later be replaced with an engagement ring.

On that note, what do you do with a purity ring when you get engaged? That’s up to you. You may wear it on the right hand, store it away for a future child, string it on a necklace, or simply get rid of it. If the metal is valuable, like gold or sterling silver, you can even resell it

Another question you might have: when did purity rings become a thing?

what is a purity ring

History of Purity Rings

 While early abstinence movements focused on abstaining from alcohol, sexual abstinence movements began in the late 1860s with the social purity movement. 

The social purity movement was based in evangelical Christian views on morality, with the word “social” really meaning “sexual” in this time period.

The movement “aimed to preserve feminine virtue and purity by protecting young women and girls from prostitution, contraception, abortions, and male sexual predators,” according to scholar Khadija Tyson. 

The push also tied into similar “moral reform” movements of the time like temperance and abolitionism. 

In terms of pledges of sexual abstinence, vowing celibacy has been part of various religions for centuries — e.g. vows of permanent celibacy taken by monks, nuns, and priests. 

Wearing something symbolic of celibacy goes far back — like Medieval chastity belts — but the idea of “purity rings” didn’t come until the late 1900s. 

1980s Moral Panic

The origins of the modern purity ring can be traced back to the “sex panic” of the 1980s. 

This era was rife with “moral panic” largely stemming from the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The later purity movement’s catalyst was when American president Ronald Reagan’s Christian conservative Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, pushed for sex education in public schools, particularly education surrounding HIV/AIDs. 

Sex education in American public schools became more widespread in the 1990s, leading evangelical Christian groups who opposed it into another moral panic: the “purity panic.” 

Thus began the purity movement. 

true love waits purity ringPictured above: 2006 purity ring similar to those sold by Silver Ring Thing | Image credit: Weaponofmassinstruction; Public domain

1990s & Early 2000s Purity Movement

Proponents of abstinence-only sex education had major political influence, leading to American President Bill Clinton’s 1998 act to federally fund abstinence-only sex education. In 2001, George W. Bush established the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) that gave federal funding to Christian abstinence-only groups like the Silver Ring Thing. 

Now called Unaltered, the Silver Ring Thing (SRT) is a virginity pledge program founded in 1995. The Christian organization focuses on getting teenagers to sign “purity pledges” of sexual abstinence, followed by buying a “purity ring” to symbolize the pledge.

Another important organization was True Love Waits (TLW), an international Christian organization founded in 1993 by Southern Baptists that similarly promotes sexual abstinence until marriage for young people. 

Mid-2000s Shift & Lawsuits

The campaigns of these groups were largely successful, with roughly 2.4 million American youth taking the pledge by 2004, including pop stars like the Jonas Brothers. 

But studies revealed the abstinence-only model didn’t actually lead to lower STI rates or even greater abstinence among teens. Additionally, Christian organizations receiving federal funding presented a separation-of-church-and-state issue.  

Therefore, the ACLU sued the government in 2005 for funding the Silver Ring Thing, ending federal funding for SRT. By the Obama administration of 2008-2016, federal funding for abstinence-only sex education was largely phased out. 

The Purity Movement Now

In the years since, many former proponents of the Christian “purity movement” have publicly denounced their association with the movement, citing issues of abuse, shaming, and patriarchal power, among others. 

While many people who once sported purity rings in the public light — particularly Disney stars like Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez — have abandoned the practice, many people still maintain their sexual abstinence commitment with a purity ring.

sterling silver purity ring with diamonds

Is A Purity Ring Right for You?

Despite the controversial political history, many people still value the meaning of wearing a purity ring. Although a purity ring is simply a jewelry item, it’s a complex and deeply personal connection that signifies an intimate and sacred promise.

Purity rings come in all shapes, sizes, and designs, so if you’re looking for a purity ring to symbolize your commitment, you’ve come to the right place. 

Ready to shop? Browse our collection of rings!

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