Staff photo by Shane McMillan--Best friends and high school seniors Leah Haynes, left, and Shelby Turner show off their promise rings, which the girls took when they were 13.
The topic of virginity at the Video Music Awards would seem to more closely resemble an oxymoron than controversy.
But VMA host Russell Brand’s repeated jokes about the Jonas Brothers’ promise rings Sunday night during MTV’s annual awards show had viewers talking from high school hallways to online forums.
“I’ve heard a lot of my friends discussing the VMAs,” said Leah Haynes, 17, a senior at Grace Baptist Academy. “It was a pretty big topic at school. I couldn’t believe someone would be that blunt and crude about something so important.”
Promise rings, or purity rings as they are sometimes called, symbolize a promise made between parent(s) and child regarding sexual abstinence. Wearing the ring marks a teen’s pledge to remain a virgin until married and frequently includes a resolve to remain abstinent from substance use as well.
It is well-known through media reports that all three Jonas brothers, the singing pop sensations, wear the rings. Jordin Sparks, the “American Idol” winner who defended the Jonases and stood up to Brand with a verbal smackdown on-air Sunday night, has had a promise ring since age 13.
Shelby Turner, 16, also a Grace senior, said wearing her ring is a covenant she takes seriously.
“I make it a huge deal. When my dad gave it to me, he explained it wasn’t only a promise between me and him, but me and God,” Shelby said.
Shelby and Leah received their rings from their dads when they were 13, the same age as the majority of their friends who wear the rings, they said. While they conceded that talking with their fathers about sex was awkward at first, “as dad explained the ring and what it meant, I had more respect for what he was saying and for him doing it,” said Shelby.
“I realized how much my dad loves me and wants the best for my life and wants me to make good choices,” said Leah. “I knew it must have been pretty difficult to discuss sex with his daughter. I haven’t taken the ring off a day since I got it.”
Both girls said the rings have opened opportunities to share their convictions with other teens and has helped take the pressure off setting dating boundaries.
“I was asked about the ring on a date and the guy was understanding and really respected me for my decision,” said Leah. “I think he was caught off-guard that a teenage girl would care so much about something like that.”
Promise rings come in a variety of metals and designs; some with pearls or other gemstones, most with a cross motif.
Johnny Smith, LifeWay Christian store manager at Hamilton Place, says several promise rings were sold this week, but did not know whether those sales could be attributed to VMA publicity. Mr. Smith said his store sells more than 50 promise rings each year, primarily during valentine’s season.
“We think it’s great that teens who wear them are standing up, but that’s not part of our program,” said Kathryn DeNovo, director of communications for Why Know Abstinence Education Inc.
Why Know is a nonprofit that provides age-appropriate materials on sexual abstinence to students in grades 6-12.
“We feel education should be ongoing and, in a lot of cases, having a teenager sign something or wear a promise ring is not giving them that ongoing support,” Ms. DeNovo said. “We try to be more of a constant presence. We feel like consistent support is the key to helping prevent teens becoming sexually active.”
Brainerd High School junior De-Marcus Finnell is a member of Why Know’s teen board. The football player said he has never worn a promise ring, but he isn’t afraid to speak up for sexual abstinence. It’s a stand, he said, that has garnered both respect and ridicule from his peers.
“There is some teasing, there are some students who don’t believe in abstinence,” he said, “but the majority of my friends support me. Students who don’t even know me know my character and respect my choice.”
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...