University Health Service

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What is abstinence?

Abstinence is defined in many ways, but in the context of pregnancy prevention it means not having vaginal sex. People may abstain from vaginal sex or sex play for many reasons, even after they have previously been sexually active.

Outercourse

Abstinence is often associated with sex play that does not include penetrative sex and will therefore not lead to pregnancy, also known as outercourse. Outercourse may include activities such as kissing, rubbing, masturbation, and acting out fantasies.

Periodic Abstinence

Periodic abstinence, a fertility awareness birth control method, is when a woman monitors her menstrual cycle closely and gives up having sex during the time of the month when she is most likely to get pregnant.

How does abstinence prevent pregnancy?

Abstinence prevents pregnancy by keeping sperm out of the vagina. Pregnancy is not likely if the penis and/or semen (the fluid that contains sperm) do not come in contact with the vagina.

How effective is abstinence?

Continuous abstinence is the only birth control method that is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy.

What are the benefits of abstinence?

  • Abstinence and outercourse are free.
  • There are no side effects.
  • If body fluids are not exchanged between partners and the penis does not come in contact with the vagina, anus, or mouth, your risk of getting an STI decreases.

What are the downsides associated with abstinence?

  • Abstaining from penetrative sex will reduce or eliminate risk of certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs), however some STIs can  be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact in the genital area.
  • It may be difficult for you or your partner to give up sex for long periods of time. This may put a strain on your relationship or result in a sudden decision to have sex without the proper protection.
  • There is a slight risk of semen getting into the vagina during outercourse. If no other method of birth control is being used and semen does enter the vagina, pregnancy could occur.

Important tips

  • An important aspect of abstinence is talking with your partner about your decision regarding vaginal sex and/or sex play. These sexual decisions should be made together, but it may not be easy. Abstinence is only effective when both partners agree to the terms.
  • If you are having difficulty with abstinence, reflect on your reasons for choosing it. If it's aligned with your values and preferences, think about who can support you. If not, learn about and use a reliable method of contraception. Consider having condoms on hand in case they are needed.

Personal experiences

School is the most important thing in my life right now. I need to focus to do well and having sex would just be a distraction. My life is so complicated right now that I just don't even want to worry about sex.

Waiting to have sex until I get married is really important to me. It's something I believe in and am truly proud of. Granted it isn't the easiest thing to do but having sex before marriage is not an option for me.

For more information

You can get reliable information from Planned Parenthood.