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Learning about abstinence

Learning About Abstinence

Learning about abstinence

What is abstinence?

Abstinence means choosing not to do something. It can mean different things to different people. In this information page, abstinence means choosing not to have sex, and includes not engaging in:

  • direct touching of your partner’s genitals
  • vaginal sex (penis to vagina)
  • anal sex (penis to anus)
  • oral sex (mouth to anus or genitals)

How well does abstinence work at preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

You can't get pregnant if you are abstinent from vaginal sex (no genital contact between a penis and vagina). There is a chance of pregnancy if sperm is near the opening of the vagina.

The only sure way to prevent STIs and HIV is to abstain from any activity that involves sexual contact between one person’s body and another person’s genital area, semen, vaginal fluid, or blood.

Why choose abstinence?

People may choose abstinence:

  • if they are not ready or don’t want to have sex
  • to prevent pregnancy
  • to prevent STIs and HIV
  • for health reasons
  • as a short-term type of birth control (like if they are waiting to start another method)
  • for religious, cultural, or personal reasons

How can I be abstinent?

  • You can choose to be abstinent at any time, even if you’ve had sex before.
  • Think about what sexual activities you want to do, and don’t want to do. Talk with your partners about your choices and limits.
  • Consider how alcohol, cannabis, and other drugs can affect how you make decisions about sex.
  • It’s a good idea to have a plan for safer sexual practices, including condoms and birth control, in case you decide to have sex.
  • If you have vaginal sex without birth control, think about getting emergency contraception as soon as possible to help prevent pregnancy.

What are the benefits of abstinence?

  • There is no risk of pregnancy.
  • There is no risk of STIs and HIV.
  • It’s free and doesn’t require hormones or medical devices.

What are the disadvantages of abstinence?

  • Many people find it hard to be abstinent for a long time.
  • Choosing abstinence does not mean that your desire for sex goes away.

What else is important to know about consent, sexual activity, and birth control?

  • You have the right to decide to have sex or not. Talk with your partner or partners about consent.
  • There’s an 85% chance of becoming pregnant within one year if no birth control is used for vaginal sex.
  • Use a condom or barrier every time you have sex (oral, vaginal, anal). Condoms help prevent pregnancy, STIs, and HIV.
  • You can lower your risk of HIV by taking an HIV prevention medicine every day. Many Albertans can get it for free. Visit HIV PrEP to find out more.
  • Transgender and gender diverse people who have a uterus can use hormonal birth control. It can help prevent pregnancy and make periods lighter and less painful.

Where can I find more information?

If you have questions, need to find a sexual health clinic near you, or want more information, call Health Link at 811 anytime, day or night, to talk to a registered nurse.

To see this information online and learn more, visit


Related to Sexual and Reproductive Health

For 24/7 nurse advice and general health information call Health Link at 811.

Current as of: February 29, 2024

Author: Sexual and Reproductive Health, Alberta Health Services

????This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.