From a sexual health perspective, abstinence means avoiding sexual intercourse. You may choose to abstain from different sexual activities depending on why you use abstinence. Research tell us that any where between 5-20% of people will choose to be abstinent their whole lives. For some abstinence feels like the best choice for them while others feel it is not a desirable or realistic choice for them. Knowing how you personally define abstinence is really important to all sexual decision making processes.

  • For abstinence to prevent pregnancy, you need to avoid any activity that could allow semen to enter the vagina.
  • For abstinence to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), you need to avoid all sexual contact.
  • For abstinence to satisfy your moral or emotional needs, you need to decide what kinds of activities you will avoid based on your personal, family, religious, cultural and social situation.

You can use continuous abstinence as your only method of birth control and infection prevention. You can also use abstinence any time that other reliable birth control and infection protection is not available (or any time at all!), even if you’ve had sex before. Abstinence is available to everyone at any time, for any reason. Abstinence is normal, common, acceptable, reversible and free of cost.

Abstinence to prevent pregnancy

If you choose to practise abstinence to protect yourself or a partner from an unintended pregnancy, you must avoid sexual intercourse and any activity that could allow sperm to come into contact with the vagina. This means avoiding:

  • Vaginal intercourse
  • Anal intercourse (“anal sex”)
  • Withdrawal (vaginal/anal intercourse without ejaculation)
  • Masturbating and ejaculation near the vaginal opening
  • Any other activity that allows sperm to contact the vagina

Intercourse without ejaculation (withdrawal) is not considered a reliable method of pregnancy prevention because a) there can be semen (containing sperm) in the pre-ejaculate fluid on the tip of the erect penis or b)failure to withdraw.

Abstinence to prevent infections

If you choose to practise abstinence to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), you must avoid all sexual activity that allows contact with sexual fluid and skin to skin. This means avoiding:

  • Vaginal intercourse
  • Anal intercourse
  • Oral sex (mouth and genitals aka cunninglis/fellatio/rimming)
  • Digital sex (hand and genital contact btwn partners)
  • Dry sex (Skin to skin external genital [penis to labia/labia to labia/penis to penis/penis to scrotum/scrotum to labia contact)
  • Sharing sex toys

Intercourse without ejaculation (withdrawal) will not protect you against STIs because there can be bacterial and/or viral infections in all sexual fluids on/in either person’s body. Infections can also be spread through skin to skin contact.

STIs can be spread in different ways; through sexual fluids and/or skin to skin contact.

Abstinence means different things

Remember, abstinence means different things to different people. You and your partner(s) may have a different definition of what abstinence means so make sure you talk about your own personal meaning and feelings.