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Learning About Abstinence for Teens

What is abstinence?

Abstinence means not having any kind of sex with a partner. Sex includes vaginal intercourse, oral sex, and anal sex. Oral sex is any kind of contact between the mouth and the genitals or anus. Anal sex is intercourse through the anus instead of the vagina.

A lot of teens think being abstinent means not having vaginal intercourse. They may still have other kinds of sex and think of themselves as abstinent.

But complete abstinence is the only way to avoid getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) like herpes or HIV/AIDS. And it's the best way to prevent pregnancy. To make sure it works, you have to be abstinent all the time.

Abstinence doesn't mean "never had sex." You can choose to be abstinent even if you've had sex before. Many people decide to be abstinent on and off throughout their lives, for a lot of different reasons.

Why might you choose abstinence?

You may have religious, cultural, or personal beliefs about abstinence.

Or you might decide to be abstinent to:

  • Avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Abstinence is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy if you practise it consistently.
  • Prevent getting an STI. Teens who are sexually active have a higher risk of getting an STI than adults. You can't get an STI if you abstain from vaginal, oral, and anal sex.
  • Focus on school, work, or life goals. Maybe you're worried that you'll be "missing out" by not having sex now. But it's okay to focus on the things that are really important to you.
  • Wait until you've found the right person. It's normal to want to wait to share sex with someone special in your life.

How can you talk to your partner about abstinence?

You don't have to be dating to be thinking about abstinence. In fact, it's a good idea to know how you feel about sex before you have to make a decision about it.

If you're dating and you decide to be abstinent, talk about your reasons with your partner. It's important to be honest with each other, even if you feel embarrassed or awkward.

Here are some things to think about:

  • Know what you want and how you feel before things get sexual.
  • Think about the kinds of situations or activities that could lead to arousal and make it hard for you to say "no." These might include things like heavy petting or mutual masturbation ("hand jobs"). Be clear with your partner about your limits.
  • Keep in mind that sex isn't the only way to be close with someone. Talking, listening, sharing, holding hands, kissing, and enjoying one another's company can build trust and closeness.

How can you make abstinence work?

Your partner may pressure you to "give in." Your friends might try to make you feel embarrassed about your choices. And there's probably a part of you that's curious about sex, even if you don't want to have it now. Although it can be hard to stay abstinent, there are things you can do to overcome the pressure to have sex.

  • Remember why you chose abstinence. Think about your reasons and why they are important to you. How you feel and what you believe matter.
  • Think ahead. Try to avoid getting into situations where staying abstinent could be hard.
  • Don't use alcohol or drugs. Alcohol and drugs can affect your decisions. They can make you let down your guard and forget why you decided to be abstinent.
  • Get support from someone you trust. It really helps. Share your decision, and talk about any challenges you're having staying abstinent. Your local sexual health clinic may have a teen support group where you can talk with other teens about abstinence.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.