What Is Abstinence?
Abstinence is choosing not to have sex.
How Does Abstinence Work?
Abstinence (AB-stih-nints) is the simplest form of birth control. If two people don't have sex, sperm can't fertilize an egg and there's no possibility of pregnancy. Other forms of birth control:
- depend on barriers that prevent the sperm from reaching the egg (such as condoms or diaphragms)
- interfere with the menstrual cycle (as birth control pills do)
With abstinence, no barriers or pills are needed.
A person doesn't have to be a virgin to practice abstinence. Sometimes, someone who has been having sex decides to stop doing so. A person who has been having sex can still choose abstinence to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the future.
How Well Does Abstinence Work?
Abstinence is the only form of birth control that always prevents pregnancy. Practicing abstinence ensures that a girl will not become pregnant because there is no chance for sperm to fertilize an egg.
Many other birth control methods have high rates of success if used properly, but they can fail occasionally.
Does Abstinence Help Prevent STDs?
Abstinence protects people against STDs from vaginal sex. But STDs can also spread through oral-genital sex, anal sex, or even intimate skin-to-skin contact without actual penetration (for example, genital warts and herpes can spread this way).
Complete abstinence is the only way to guarantee protection against STDs. This means avoiding all types of intimate genital contact. Someone practicing complete abstinence does not have any type of intimate sexual contact, including oral sex. So there is no risk of getting an STD.
Abstinence does not prevent HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C infections that can spread through nonsexual activities, like using contaminated needles for tattooing or injecting drugs or steroids.
Who Practices Abstinence?
Not having sex may seem easy because it's not doing anything. But peer pressure and other things can make the decision to practice abstinence difficult. If it seems like everybody else is having sex, you may feel like you have to also.
But teasing or pressure from friends, a girlfriend, or a boyfriend shouldn't push you into something that's not right for you.
Choosing abstinence is an important decision — and yours to make.
What Else Should I Know?
If you have questions about making this choice or about other birth control methods, talk to a trusted adult. If you feel you can't talk to a parent, reach out to a teacher, a counselor, a doctor, or a school nurse who can provide answers.
Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date Reviewed: 5/1/2019