What Is Sexual Abstinence?
Abstinence is not having sex. A person who decides to practice abstinence has decided to refrain from having sex at that time.
How Does It Work?
If two people don't have sex, then sperm can't fertilize an egg and there's no possibility of a pregnancy. Some forms of birth control depend on barriers that prevent the sperm from reaching the egg (such as condoms or diaphragms). Others interfere with the menstrual cycle (as birth control pills do). With abstinence, no barriers or pills are necessary because the person is not having sex.
You don't have to be a virgin to practice abstinence. Sometimes people who have been having sex decide not to continue having sex. Even if a person has been having sex, he or she can still choose abstinence to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs--also known as STDs or sexually transmitted diseases)
How Well Does It Work?
Abstinence is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy. Although many birth control methods can have high rates of success if used properly, they can fail occasionally. Practicing abstinence ensures that a girl will not become pregnant because there is no opportunity for sperm to fertilize an egg.
Protection Against STDs
Abstinence protects people against STDs. Some STDs spread through oral-genital sex, anal sex, or even intimate skin-to-skin contact without actual penetration (genital warts and herpes can be spread this way). So only avoiding all types of intimate genital contact can prevent STDs. Avoiding all types of intimate genital contact -- including anal and oral sex -- is complete abstinence.
Only complete and consistent abstinence can totally prevent pregnancy and protect against STDs. Because a person does not have any type of intimate sexual contact when he or she practices complete abstinence, there is no risk of passing on a sexually transmitted infection.
Consistent abstinence means that someone practices abstinence all the time. Having sex even once means that the person risks getting an infection. Abstinence does not prevent AIDS and hepatitis B infections that come from nonsexual activities like using contaminated needles for doing drugs, tattooing, or taking steroids.
How Do You Do It?
Not having sex may seem easy because it's not doing anything. But peer pressure and things you see on TV and in the movies can make the decision to practice abstinence more difficult.
If it seems like everybody else is having sex, some people may feel they have to do it, too, just to be accepted. Don't let kidding or pressure from friends, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, or even the media push you into something that's not right for you. The truth is that most teens are not having sex.
A couple can still have a relationship without having sex. If you've made a decision not to have sex, it's an important personal choice and the people who care about you should respect that.
You may have questions about making this choice or about other methods of birth control. Your doctor or nurse -- or an adult you trust, such as a parent, teacher, counselor, or school nurse -- can help provide some answers.
Can I Still Have a Relationship If I Am Abstinent?
Sexual intercourse is not the only way two people can get to know each other. Too often, people open this door for drawing closer to one another only to regret the decision later because they did not really know each other at all. Intimacy can be achieved through a variety of means including:
- talking and listening
- sharing joys, hurts, dreams, goals, wishes and other aspects of life
- honesty and respect for one another
- having fun and playing together
How Can I Express My Affection?
Intimacy and affection can be expressed in a number of ways other than sexual intercourse. Kissing, hugging, massaging, and holding hands are some ways that couples express their affection in a physical manner. Intimacy and affection can also be expressed in other ways such as:
- Cards, letters, and love notes
- Support in your partner's activities
- Creative and fun dating (other than movies!)
- The caution with any physical affection is that it can lead to passion and a desire for something more.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Abstinence?
The Pros of Abstinence include:
- No side effects or health risks
- Prevents pregnancy and the prevention of STIs (sexually transmitted infections)
- Reduces emotional and psychological challenges related to relationships that involve sexual activity
The Cons of Abstinence include:
- Requires willpower and discipline
I'm Abstinent. Now What?
Practicing abstinence doesn't mean you can't or don't have sexual feelings. Just because you choose to not have sex doesn't mean you can't date, have feelings for another person, find somebody incredibly sexy, or be in a serious relationship. You can still be emotionally and physically intimate with your partner and not have sex.
What Do I Do If I'm Tempted?
Being physically attracted to another person and trying to figure out how to deal with these feelings is perfectly normal. Kissing and hugging are often accompanied by really intense sexual feelings. These feelings may tempt you to "go all the way."
Before things go too far, try asking yourself the following questions:
- Do I really want to have sex?
- Is this person pressuring me to have sex?
- Am I ready to have sex?
- What will happen after I have sex with this person?
Remember, you can show how you feel about someone without having sex (being abstinent) with him or her.
Are you ready?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- How do you feel when you are with this person?
- Is this person kind and caring?
- Does this person respect you and your opinions?
- Have you talked together about whether to have sex?
- Have you talked together about condoms and other birth control?
- Will you stay together even if one of you does not want to have sex?
- Do you know if your partner has ever had sex with other people?
- Do you feel pressured to have sex just to please your partner?
If you and your partner find it hard to talk about sex, it might be a sign that you are not ready to have sex. Open and honest communication is important in any relationship, especially one that involves sex.
Know the risks
It's normal for teens to be curious about sex, but deciding to have sex is a big step.
Sex does increase your chances of becoming pregnant, becoming a teen parent, and getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI), and it may affect the way you feel about yourself or how others feel about you.
Some things to think about before you have sex are :
- What would your parents say if you had sex?
- Are you ready to be a parent?
- Could you handle being told that you have an STI?
- Do you know where to go for birth control methods?
- How would you feel if your partner tells you it's over after you have sex?
- How would you feel if your partner tells people at school the two of you had sex?
- How would you handle feeling guilty, scared, or sad because you had sex?
No matter what you've heard, read, or seen, not everyone your age is having sex. In fact, more than half of all teens choose to wait until they're older to have sex. People who wait until they are older to have sex usually find out that it's:
- More special
- More satisfying
- Less risky to their health
- Easier to act responsibly and take precautions to avoid infections and pregnancy
- More accepted by others