Abstinence at a Glance
- A behavior that prevents pregnancy
- Prevents sexually transmitted infection
- Safe, easy, and convenient
Is Abstinence Right for Me?
People are abstinent for many reasons, including to prevent pregnancy. Here are some of the most common questions we hear people ask about abstinence. We hope the answers help you decide if it is right for you.
What Is Abstinence?
You may have heard people talk about abstinence in different ways. Some people think of abstinence as not having vaginal intercourse. They may enjoy other kinds of sexual activities that don't lead to pregnancy. This is better described as outercourse.
Some people define abstinence as not having vaginal intercourse when a woman might get pregnant. This is better described as periodic abstinence, which is one of the fertility awareness-based methods of birth control.
And some people define abstinence as not having any kind of sex play with a partner. This is the definition we use on these pages.
Being continuously abstinent is the only way to be absolutely sure that you won't have an unintended pregnancy or get an STD.
How Does Abstinence Prevent Pregnancy?
Abstinence prevents pregnancy by keeping sperm out of the vagina.
How Effective Is Abstinence?
Used continuously, abstinence is 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. It also prevents STDs.
How Safe Is Abstinence?
Abstinence is one of the safest ways to prevent pregnancy — there are no side effects.
What Are the Benefits of Abstinence?
- has no medical or hormonal side effects
- is free
Women and men abstain from sex play for many reasons — even after they've been sexually active. A couple may even choose to be abstinent after having had sex play with each other. The reasons people choose to be abstinent may change throughout life.
People choose abstinence to
- prevent pregnancy
- prevent STDs
- wait until they're ready for a sexual relationship
- wait to find the right partner
- have fun with romantic partners without sexual involvement
- focus on school, career, or extracurricular activities
- support personal, moral, or religious beliefs and values
- get over a breakup
- heal from the death of a partner
- follow medical advice during an illness or infection
Any woman or man can abstain from sex play. Many do so at various times in their lives. Some choose to abstain from sex play for long periods in their lives.
Special Advantages for Teens
Sexual relationships present risks. Abstinence is a very good way to postpone taking those risks until you are better able to handle them.
Women who abstain until their 20s — and who have fewer partners in their lifetimes — may have certain health advantages over women who do not. They are less likely to get STDs. Because they are less likely to get an STD, they are also less likely to become infertile or develop cervical cancer.
What Are the Disadvantages of Abstinence?
There are few disadvantages to abstinence.
- People may find it difficult to abstain for long periods of time and may end their period of abstinence without being prepared to protect themselves against pregnancy or infection.
How Do I Talk with My Partner About Being Abstinent?
Talking with your partner about your decision to abstain from sex play is important — whether or not you've had sex play before. Partners need to be honest with each other and make sexual decisions together. These are some of the best ways to keep a relationship happy. Even so, it may not be easy to do. You may feel awkward or embarrassed.
- It's best to talk about your feelings before things get sexual. For many people it's hard to be clear about what they want if they get aroused. It is helpful to think — ahead of time — about how you can say "no" to sex play. What behavior will be clear? What words will be best? You can practice saying the words out loud. Then think about how someone might respond to you.
- Take the time to consider fully what being abstinent will mean for you. It is important to know what you are thinking and feeling and what you need. Then you can tell your partner about it.
- Be straightforward about the limits you want to set.
Keep in mind that having sex is not the only way two people can get to know each other. Sex play is also not the only way couples can be close. People get closer as they build trust by
- being honest
- respecting each other's thoughts and feelings
- enjoying one another's company
Abstinence can only work when both partners agree to it. So it is also helpful to keep talking with each other about why you've agreed to abstain from sex play. Your relationship may change. And your decision to be abstinent may change, too.
How Can I Stay Abstinent?
Staying abstinent is a choice you make every day. There are ways to help yourself with that choice.
- Remind yourself why you chose to be abstinent.
- Think about the consequences.
- Don't reevaluate your decision to stay abstinent during sexually charged situations — stick with your decision until you can think about it with a clear head.
Abstinence can be difficult for some people. Women and men need to be clear about their reasons to stay abstinent. If you are tempted to have sex play, it helps to remember why you made the decision to be abstinent in the first place. How can you stay abstinent? Think about your answers to these questions:
- Am I clear about why I want to be abstinent?
- Am I aware of situations that could make staying abstinent difficult for me? Can I avoid them?
- Alcohol and other drugs can affect my judgment and decision-making ability. How do I feel about not using them?
- Are there people in my life I can talk to about my decision to be abstinent? Will they be supportive?
Most people stop being abstinent at some point in their lives. When you decide not to be abstinent, ask yourself
- Do I have information about other methods of birth control and do I have access to them?
- Do I know how to protect myself from STDs?
Find Dr. Cullins' Answers to Common Sexual Health Questions
Q&A with Dr. Cullins