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Sexual and Reproductive Health


What is abstinence?

Abstinence means different things to different people. It may mean making the choice not to have any sexual contact including:

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

For some people, abstinence may include certain types of sexual contact.

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

  • You can't get pregnant if you are abstinent (no genital contact). You can get pregnant if sperm is near the opening of the vagina.
  • You can't get STIs if you don't have skin to skin contact or pass body fluids between partners.

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 medical reasons
  • as a short-term form of birth control (like if they are waiting to start another method)
  • for other personal reasons

How can I be abstinent?

  • You can choose to be abstinent at any time, even if you’ve had sex before.
  • Set your sexual limits and think about what sexual activities you are okay with. Talk with your partner or partners about your choices and limits.

What are the benefits of abstinence?

The benefits of abstinence (no genital contact) include:

  • no risk of pregnancy
  • no risk of STIs and HIV
  • always available

What are the disadvantages of abstinence?

It might be hard to stay abstinent for some people. Alcohol, cannabis, and other drugs can affect how you think and make decisions.

Consider having a plan for safer sexual practices including condoms and birth control.

Think about getting emergency contraception as soon as possible to help prevent pregnancy if birth control wasn’t used.

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 pill 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.

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