Abstinence, What Is It?

Abstinence, also referred to as celibacy, is the practice of not participating in sexual behavior. Since the definition of “sexual behavior” varies from person to person, there is no concrete sexual act that draws the line between sexual participation and abstinence. There are two general types of abstinence: complete and partial. Complete abstinence precludes all sexual behavior with a partner as well as ruling out masturbation. Partial abstinence allows for masturbation as a means of sexual gratification.


Reasons to Abstain

A very common reason for abstinence is adherence to religious and moral codes that deem sexual activity as a sin or an immoral act. Many of these people aspire to hold off sexual intercourse until after they have married. Others feel that they are not yet prepared to engage in sexual intercourse due to physical or emotional immaturity. As such, abstinence is a great way to adhere to one’s religious and/or moral beliefs. Even for those who are not abstaining for moral reasons, nonparticipation in sex can still be beneficial. Stress about sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies are virtually nonexistent. However, one must strictly adhere to the practice of abstinence for these benefits to hold true.


Your Partner Says That They Were Previously Abstinent?

It is important to always be safe when taking a person’s word that they are celibate. Since participation in sexual activity is viewed differently in different places and age groups, false claims of abstinence may be made in order to avoid judgment or bias. As such, it is always a safer course of action to request STI testing before engaging in sexual intercourse, even if that person claims to be previously abstinent. Many sexually transmitted infections can be asymptomatic, or devoid of symptoms, and thus would not be apparent to the partner of the infected.


Benefits of Abstinence (Assuming Complete Adherence to the Practice)

  • Little to no chance of contracting a sexually transmitted infection 
  • Little to no chance of becoming pregnant or impregnating your partner 
  • It is free
  • There are no health side-effects that are sometimes associated with other contraceptive methods, such as oral contraceptives 
  • It is a safe way to comply with religious and moral codes that prohibit or discourage sexual activity before marriage
  • One can change their mind about abstinence, so there is no physically binding commitment, such as Intrauterine Devices or sterilization


Disadvantages of Abstinence

  • Many abstainers feel like they are the only people not having sex (although this is far from the truth) 
  • Not experiencing the physical pleasure of sexual intercourse
  • Straying from abstinence just once may undermine all benefits of the practice


Noncoital Sex

Many people feel as though sex is the only way to experience physical pleasure. However, there are many alternatives to sex that can be both emotionally and physically fulfilling, not to mention highly enjoyable. These activities are also appropriate because they have virtually no chance of creating a pregnancy and are unlikely to result in transmission of an STI.

  • Kissing
  • Cuddling
  • Exchanging massages
  • Creating special dates (go to a movie, amusement park, etc.)
  • Talking
  • Taking long walks
  • Masturbation
  • Making up your own fantasies (romantic or sexual)
  • Holding hands
  • Dancing 

Any other sexual act that is not penile-vaginal intercourse can also be lumped into this category. However, many of these activities (such as oral sex and anal sex) do carry a risk of STIs, unlike their counterparts above. Anal sex, in particular, is notorious for the transmission of STIs (including HIV) because it can cause minor tears in the rectum, which increase the chances of getting a STI from an infected partner. Extra care, and additional contraception (preferably the use of a condom) is recommended if participating in these “outercourse” sexual activities.


Advantages of Noncoital Sex (Assuming Complete Adherence to Practice)

  • Little to no chance of STI transmission or pregnancy
  • Free, except for the possible purchase of additional contraception
  • No health side-effects associated with other contraceptive methods
  • Maintenance of “vaginal virginity”


Disadvantages of Noncoital Sex

  • Lack of participation in coitus (penal-vaginal intercourse), widely considered the most pleasurable sexual experience
  • It is difficult to stop noncoital sexual activity from escalating to coital activity (intercourse). Although abstinence requires an extraordinary amount of discipline, it can be done!



1. LeVay, Simon, Janice I. Baldwin, and John D. Baldwin. "Contraception and Abortion." Discovering Human Sexuality. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2009. Print.

Last Updated 13 May 2014.


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