What Is Abstinence?
Abstinence is choosing not to have sex.
How Does Abstinence Work?
Abstinence (AB-stih-nints) is the most effective 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.
Even people who have previously had sex can and do practice abstinence. 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 (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?
Peer pressure and other things sometimes can make it hard for someone to decide to practice abstinence. But the truth is, many teens don't have sex. Abstinence also can give someone time to think about and grow an emotional connection. Having sex can change a relationship, and it's completely normal to not feel ready for that or the complicated feelings it can bring.
So don't let teasing or pressure from friends, a girlfriend, or a boyfriend 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.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995- KidsHealth® All rights reserved.
Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.