The goals of the Rice Purity Test are written plainly on its site: “The Purity Test has historically served as a segue from O-week to true college life at Rice. It’s a voluntary opportunity for O-week groups to bond, and for students to track the maturation of their experiences throughout college. Caution: This is not a bucket list. Completion of all items on this test will likely result in death.”
The test is a set of 100 checkboxes intended to give you a ‘purity score,’ listing off the tame — “Held hands romantically?”— to the questionable — “Been convicted of a felony?” Most of the boxes are romance and sex related, and the others have to do with drugs, alcohol, and breaking the law. The lower the score, the more someone’s done.
The test has reached beyond Rice University and managed to find its way into the hallways of my high school and, I suspect, high schools across North America. As much as I thought the test was a small phenomenon, it seems like many are familiar with it, despite their backgrounds; I’ve met someone who went to an international school in Singapore who recognized it.
Every time I go back to take the Rice Purity Test — approximately twice a year — I check off a few more boxes than before. But I always wonder why I even retake it at all.
Back in high school, there was a certain ritual in finding the courage to share my score with my friends. When everything on the list was taboo and I was underage and attending a nerdy school, there was an exhilaration that came with indulging in topics like sex and drugs.
In some messed-up sense, I liked the feeling of telling my friends I had a score of 70 by the age of 16 and seeing the concern on their faces. I liked the drama of sitting in the band practice rooms with the rhythm section, knowing everyone’s score but not knowing what they’d checked off.
And I always liked the sex-related questions the best — those were the ones I didn’t feel bad checking off. Most of the others were too illegal for my sheltered teenage self to handle, and I didn’t think of sex as being bad, as long as nobody was over-age.
My friends and I slowly transitioned into talking more comfortably about sex through hints dropped during midnight Zoom calls that were encouraged by the boredom of lockdown and the transition into the legal age to send nudes, watch porn, and sign up for Tinder. Suddenly, I found myself drabbling off on sexual topics I never would have talked about before.
I took the test a few more times. I watched my score drop. I heard from someone older that the score becomes drab when you’ve done so many of the things listed on these tiny inconsequential checkboxes, because that’s what simply happens when you age.
My score is around 58 now, but that number has lost the impact it would’ve had not very long ago. I still come back every now and then to take it as a contrived way to track how I’ve matured. The idea of metaphorical ‘purity’ aside, I still feel like I have more to experience, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m sure, to some people, a score of 58 is nothing. And I suppose it is to me too.