What is Abstinence?

Abstinence can mean different things for different people but strictly speaking it means no sexual contact of any kind, especially no penis-to-vagina contact. For a variety of reasons, many people may choose abstinence at some point in their life.

In terms of birth control, abstinence means not allowing sperm near the woman's body below the waist.

In terms of STI protection, abstinence also means no oral-genital, anal-genital, or intimate skin-to-skin contact.

How effective is it?

If used consistently, abstinence is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy and STIs.


  • Abstinence is free, available to all, and can be started at any time in one's life
  • Abstinence may encourage people to build relationships in other ways - there are ways to be intimate with someone that don't involve sexual activity
  • Abstinence may be the course of action which you feel is right for you and makes you feel good about yourself
  • There are no medical or hormonal side effects


  • If you are counting on abstinence and change your mind in the heat of the moment, you might not have protection handy.
  • Choosing abstinence does not mean that your sex drive (libido) goes away and you may need to find other ways to redirect your sexual energy.

Important points to think about

  • There are many reasons people choose abstinence; it is important to make your decision for yourself and define what abstinence means to you and, if you are in or beginning a relationship, what it means to your partner.
  • You don't have to be a virgin to practice abstinence - many people abstain from sex at different times, and for different reasons.
  • Find someone that you trust, respect and feel safe with to discuss your decision.
  • Have barrier methods handy 'just in case' you change your mind
  • Seek emergency contraception if intercourse occurs without contraception

Some churches and sex education programs have organized support groups or curricula for young people wanting to wait until marriage before having intercourse. If this is your decision, you may find one of these groups helpful to you.

Revised March 2009