Diseases & Conditions
What is sexual abstinence?
Abstinence is the choice to refrain from an activity. Sexual abstinence is a choice to limit your sexual activity. This choice is usually made for a specific reason. The reason may be moral, religious, legal, or for health and safety.
Everyone has a different definition of sexual abstinence. The most common meaning of sexual abstinence is not having sexual intercourse, vaginal or anal. It is important to discuss with your partner what abstinence means to you, especially if you are developing a new relationship. A specific definition of abstinence should include the expressions of love and sexuality that are acceptable to you and those that aren't. Examples of acceptable behaviors often include holding hands, dancing, and kissing.
The choices of what is acceptable may depend on the purpose of the abstinence. Your choice of abstinence may be based on moral or ethical reasons, such as a belief that the act of intercourse should be reserved as an expression of a lifetime commitment to one person. In this case you and your partner will create your list of do's and don't's depending on your beliefs. If the goal is to avoid pregnancy and any accidents that might lead to pregnancy, then any sexual activity short of intercourse might be acceptable. If the goal of abstinence is to avoid any sexually transmitted infections, then any contact between oral and genital areas is also likely to be unacceptable unless barrier protection, such as a condom, is used.
What are the advantages of sexual abstinence?
Many young people are saying no to sex before marriage. They are choosing abstinence as an issue of personal integrity and an expression of strong self-esteem.
Avoiding premature sexual relationships may help you avoid painful emotional situations for which you may not yet be prepared. You can also avoid unwanted pregnancy and potentially damaging or life-threatening diseases.
What do I need to know?
Successful abstinence requires education and preparation. You and your partner need to discuss and agree on what you mean by abstinence. You should also know how to avoid situations that promote sexual intimacy, such as drinking alcohol or being alone with a possible sexual partner. And it is important to consider how to get out of such a situation if it occurs unexpectedly.
Some promoters of abstinence feel that being prepared for safe sex (for example, having condoms on hand just in case) is to expect failure. Others feel that preparation is mandatory, so that if you and your partner unexpectedly find yourselves giving up abstinence, condoms are available to protect against pregnancy and infection.
The choice of abstinence is a very important and very personal decision. You should base your decision on what you believe is right for you. If you are unsure or decide against abstinence, make sure you talk about birth control methods with your health care provider.
Written by Dee Ann DeRoin, M.D.