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About Abstinence

What Is Abstinence?

Abstinence is choosing not to have sex.

How Does Abstinence Work?

Abstinence 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:

With abstinence, no barriers or pills are needed.

A person doesn't have to be a virgin to practice abstinence. Sometimes, someone who has been having sex decides to stop doing so. 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 teens to decide to practice abstinence. But the truth is, many don't have sex. Help your kids understand that abstinence can give them 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.

Choosing abstinence is an important and personal decision. Explain to your kids that teasing or pressure from friends, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, or even the media shouldn't push them into something that's not right for them.

How Can Parents Help?

Teens may have questions about making this choice or about other birth control methods. Make sure yours have an adult they can trust — you, a teacher, a counselor, a doctor, or a school nurse — who can provide answers.

Reviewed by: Lonna P. Gordon, MD
Date reviewed: January 2022