What is Abstinence?

Abstinence can mean different things for different people, it usually means no sexual contact of any kind. For a variety of reasons, many people may choose abstinence at some point in their life.

How does Abstinence work?

  • For birth control, abstinence means not allowing sperm near the vagina.
  • For STI protection, abstinence means no vaginal-penile, oral-genital, anal-genital, or intimate skin-to-skin contact.

How effective is Abstinence?

If used consistently (i.e., must be used 100% of the time), abstinence is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy and STIs.

  • Abstinence is free, always available, 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 side effects.
  • You may change your mind and not have protection on hand or available.
  • 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.

Things to Consider when practicing Abstinence

  • There are many reasons people choose abstinence; it is important to make your decision for yourself and decide 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.
  • If it helps to talk about it, find someone that you trust, respect and feel safe with to discuss your decision.
  • There are organized support groups that may assist in supporting wanting to wait until marriage before having intercourse. If this is your decision, you may find one of these groups will be helpful to you.
  • Have barrier methods handy ‘just in case’ you change your mind.
  • Consider getting emergency birth control if intercourse occurs without any birth control method.

Seems confusing? We’re here for you!

We know it can be confusing to choose a method. We are here to help. Our Options for Sexual Health Clinics are staffed by health care professionals who are there to answer your questions.  They can help you learn how to use the method you choose and bring you back to check in on how the method is working for you.

Between visits or anytime, our Sex Sense team is there to answer any questions you might have by phone (1-800-739-7367) or by email at

This is general information and should not be used in place of individual consultation with a qualified healthcare provider.

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