What Does Abstinence Mean in Contraception?

Abstinence. Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Abstinence is a self-enforced limit from behaving in any bodily activities that are typically related to desire. Most commonly, the term being abstinent refers to sexual abstinence, which means not having any type of sexual intercourse or sex play with a partner.

Abstinence is the only birth control method that is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy as well as sexually transmitted diseases.

People talk about abstinence in different ways:

  • Sometimes, people may refer to being abstinent as not having sexual intercourse, but other sex play is okay. This is not really the true definition of abstinence. Behavior that includes sexual activities that do not lead to pregnancy is better defined as outercourse.
  • To other people, abstinence means as not having sexual intercourse during the time of the month that you may be most fertile. A better definition for this practice is periodic abstinence, and is considered to be a method of natural family planning.

Technically, abstinence is considered to be a natural birth control method. This is because abstinence is a particular action that a person can physically do (without any assistance or device) in order to prevent conception from occurring.

Pronunciation: ab•sti•nence (ãb'stə-nəns)

Also Known As: self-denial, continence, abstinent, temperance

Advantages of Being Abstinent:

  • It can be a positive way of dealing with sexuality and/or resolving feelings about sexual intimacy that stem from religious or moral beliefs.

Disadvantages of Being Abstinent:

  • People may find it hard to practice abstinence for long periods of time.
  • If you have not had sexual education or been given information about contraception, and you choose to stop being abstinent, you may not be prepared to protect yourself from pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. 

    Reasons People Choose Abstinence:

    Women and men abstain from sex for many reasons, and these reasons may change throughout their lifetimes. Some people may choose to become abstinent even after they have been sexually active. You may choose to be abstinent because:

    • You want 100% prevention against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
    • Of religious beliefs and/or personal morals and values.
    • You may wait until you feel you are ready to be in a sexual relationship.
    • You want to focus on your career, school, extracurricular activities, and/or hobbies.
    • Of medical reasons.
    • You are waiting to find the right partner or until marriage.
    • You are in the process of getting over a break-up or the death of a spouse/romantic partner.
    • You just want to have romance and fun without the responsibilities that come along with having sex.

    Staying Abstinent:

    You may find that abstinence can be difficult. It is a choice that you will make every day. You may find it easier to remain abstinent if you have clear reasons for this choice. This way, if you find yourself questioning your abstinence, you can remind yourself of all the reasons why you decided to be abstinent. It is also important that you talk to your partner about your abstinence choice.

    Abstinence may be very tough to stick to if both partners don’t agree to it. So you may need to keep communication open and have ongoing discussions about why you've agreed to remain abstinent.

    Most people are abstinent at some point in their lives. Some people consider abstinence a well thought-out choice regarding one's mind, body, and sexual health. It’s important to point out that abstinence is a choice, and it is yours to make. You are the one in control -- whether you choose to practice abstinence or decide that you no longer wish to be abstinent, you are the one who makes this decision.

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