What Does Abstinence Mean in Contraception?

Abstinence
Abstinence. Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Abstinence is a self-enforced limit in engaging 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 percent effective in preventing pregnancy as well as sexually transmitted diseases according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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) to prevent conception from occurring.

Types of Abstinence

People talk about abstinence in different ways:

  • Full abstinence includes not engaging in sexual intercourse, sex play, or any sexual activity with another person.
  • Sometimes, people may refer to being abstinent as not having sexual intercourse, but other sex play is okay. This is not 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. However, this method will not be completely effective at preventing pregnancy.

    Advantages of Being Abstinent

    • It can be a positive way of dealing with sexuality or resolving feelings about sexual intimacy that stem from religious or moral beliefs.
    • It has no medical or hormonal side effects.
    • It doesn't cost anything.

    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 for these reasons:

    • You want 100 percent prevention against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
    • Abstinence aligns with your religious beliefs, personal morals, or 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, or hobbies.
    • You may have medical reasons.
    • You are waiting to find the right partner or until marriage.
    • You are in the process of getting over a breakup or the death of a spouse or 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. You 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.

    Source:

    Sexual Risk Behaviors: HIV, STD, & Teen Pregnancy Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/sexualbehaviors/.

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