*Click here for Abstinence/Celibacy Charts and Stats

Abstinence can be defined in the following ways, and goes by different names.

Abstinence is generally “the voluntary self-denial of food, drink, or sex. Today, abstinence most commonly refers to denial of one’s sexual activity”;1 “Abstinence simply means not having sex, and refraining from sexual intercourse”;2 “Voluntarily not having sex. This could be for a period or for a lifetime.”3

Some practice a related but usually different version called celibacy, “the state of abstaining from marriage and sexual relations” for religious or spiritual reasons, or take a vow of chastity, “the state or practice of refraining from extramarital, or especially from all, sexual intercourse.”4 “Asexuality [‘a person who experiences little or no sexual attraction to others’] is not the same as celibacy.”5

Others abstain from sex, in some or all of its definitions (click here for What Is Sex? Topic), for various reasons, such as not having a partner, low or no interest in sex or medical issues. Some practice outercourse, “other sexual activities besides vaginal sex.”6

(Some consider themselves “incels” or “involuntarily celibate.” The word “incel” made the news after a few men allegedly committed mass murder under that label, which blog.oxforddictionaries.com7 defines as “an internet-based subculture of heterosexual men who blame women – often to radically misogynistic extremes – for their lack of a sex life and for their relationship failures more generally.” [Click here for the Incel Topic])

Whatever the motivation, prolonged periods of sexual abstinence (or celibacy) can have various effects on the mind and body.

The sourced articles below deal with some of the perceived benefits and drawbacks of abstaining from sexual contact, as well as teaching abstinence as a form of birth control.

    1. Footnotes: 1. “Medical Definition of Abstinence,” medicinenet.com, accessed on 10/6/2018; 2. “Abstinence,” americanpregnancy.org, accessed on 10/6/2018; 3. “sexual abstinence,” urbandictionary.com, accessed on 10/6/2018; 4. “chastity,” lexicon.com, accessed on 4/10/2020; 5. “Cultural Humility & Reducing Stigma and Discrimination,” seaetc.com, 7/10/2018; 6. “Abstinence and Outercourse,” plannedparenthood.org, accessed on 4/13/2019; 7. “Words of the year 2018,” blog.oxforddictionaries.com, 4/27/2018
    1. Abstinence And Outercourse

      “Abstinence can mean different things depending on who you ask. Many people say abstinence is not doing ANY kind of sexual stuff with another person, including vaginal, oral, and anal sex — that’s what we’re calling abstinence here. Abstinence prevents pregnancy by keeping semen away from the vagina, so the sperm cells in semen can’t get to an egg and cause pregnancy. If you’re abstinent 100% of the time, pregnancy can’t happen. … Many couples want to be sexual with each other without having vaginal sex and/or risking pregnancy. Outercourse can prevent pregnancy the same way abstinence does: by keeping sperm away from an egg.”

      Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., plannedparenthood.org, accessed on 3/22/2019

    2. Can’t Define Asexuality? You’re Not Alone.

      “Asexuality is also often confused with celibacy, in which a person deliberately abstains from sexual activity. Asexual people can and do have sexual activity for a number of reasons, including procreation, a desire to please a partner, or even for self-pleasure.”

      Gwendolyn Smith, lgbtqnation.com, 2/21/2019

    3. 10 Things That Happen to Your Vagina After You Stop Having Sex

      “Those are some daunting cautionary tales, especially when you consider that anyone who’s sexually active will inevitably go through the occasional dry spell. …
      [1.] If you’re premenopausal, you may lose elasticity temporarily …
      [2.] If you’re postmenopausal, you may lose more vaginal elasticity …
      [3.] You definitely won’t grow a new hymen …
      [4.] You’re not going to ‘dry up’ …
      [5.] If you use oral contraceptives, you may experience dryness …
      [6.] If you go off birth control, you may experience changes in lubrication or libido …
      [7.] Your sex drive won’t change …
      [8.] The first time you have sex again could feel a little uncomfortable …
      [9.] Once you have a new sexual partner, your libido may increase …
      [10.] The things that arouse you (and the time it takes to get aroused) will vary …”

      Laura Newcomer, prevention.com, 2/4/2019

    4. Understanding Celibacy: The Difference Between Celibacy, Abstinence, And Chastity

      “-Celibacy is generally recognized as a voluntary choice to remain unmarried or engage in any form of sexual activity, usually in order to fulfill a religious vow. In this sense, one can accurately be said to be practicing sexual abstinence as a condition of his or her vow of celibacy.
      -Abstinence — also called continence — refers to the often temporary strict avoidance of all forms of sexual activity for any reason.
      -Chastity is a voluntary lifestyle that involves far more than abstaining from sexual activity. Coming from the Latin word castitas, meaning ‘purity,’ chastity embraces abstinence from sexual activity as a praiseworthy and virtuous quality according to the standards of morality held by a person’s particular culture, civilization, or religion. In modern times, chastity has become associated with sexual abstinence, particularly before or outside of marriage or other type of exclusively committed relationship.”

      Robert Longley, thoughtco.com, 10/22/2018

    5. Understanding ‘Abstinence,’ The Trump Administration’s Favorite Sex-ed Buzzword

      “‘Wait wait wait,’ I hear someone scoffing in the back. ‘Isn’t saying no to sex just celibacy? Are abstinence and celibacy just different names for the same thing?’ No, but they overlap. A celibate person passes on sexual activity, usually because of personal convictions or their belief system. An abstinent person, meanwhile, does not have sexual intercourse—usually because, according to Dr. Laura McGuire, a consultant at the National Center for Equity and Agency, an overarching social or cultural force tells them not to. A celibate person can be abstinent because intercourse represents one item on a larger sexual menu from which they decline to order. However, the parameters of ‘sexual behavior’ should be clarified. A priest may take a vow of celibacy, for example, but does that mean he can’t kiss someone? Can’t masturbate? It’s open to subjective interpretation.”

      Claire Lampen, dailydot.com, 6/17/2018

    6. What Do Celibacy And Abstinence Mean In Relationship To Virginity?

      “Abstinence means to voluntarily give up something, including food, alcohol, or sex. Celibacy specifically refers to sexual abstinence. It means not having any form of sex.”

      Teens and Virginity, WebMD Medical Reference, teens.webmd.com, medically reviewed on 2/20/2018

    7. Abstinence-Only Education Is Ineffective And Unethical, Report Argues

      “The analysis confirms previous public health findings that abstinence-only education programs don’t succeed in reducing rates of teen pregnancies or STDs.”

      Sarah McCammon, npr.org, 8/23/2017

    8. Sex Education Based On Abstinence? There’s A Real Absence Of Evidence

      “Abstinence as a goal is more important than abstinence as a teaching point. By the metrics listed above, comprehensive sexual health programs are more effective.”

      Aaron E. Carroll, nytimes.com, 8/22/2017

    9. Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs Are Ineffective And Harmful To Young People, Expert Review Confirms

      “In theory, abstinence is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy and STIs. However, many adolescents who intend to practice abstinence fail to actually do so, and they often fail to use condoms or other forms of contraception when they do have intercourse.”

      Online resource, guttmacher.org, 8/22/2017

    10. Sexual Abstinence And Sperm Quality

      “Thus, the data argues that so as to present the best semen samples for fertility treatment, men should collect semen sample after 3-8 days of abstinence as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).”

      Ahmed AlAwlaqi and Mohamed E. Hammadeh, ijwhr.net, 1/2017

    11. 4 Reasons To Embrace Celibacy (That Don’t Involve God)

      “Broadly, abstinence is largely seen as a form of restraint. When you’re abstinent, you are choosing to deny yourself something that you acknowledge gives you pleasure. (This is why abstinence as a form of birth control can be a hard pitch to teenagers.) But, when it comes to celibacy, the decision isn’t usually about denying yourself something that you want. When a person chooses to become celibate, there are often larger, more philosophical reasons involved (hence, why celibacy is so often associated with religion). In her book The New Celibacy, author Gabrielle Brown described the difference like this — ‘abstinence is a response on the outside to what’s going on, and celibacy is a response from the inside.’ … If you’re wondering why someone who wasn’t a priest or a nun would choose to opt out of having sex, here are four pretty understandable, non-religious reasons some people choose to be celibate: …
      [1.] It prevents STDs. …
      [2.] It boosts (non-sexual) intimacy. …
      [3.] Celibacy creates more ‘me’ time. …
      [4.] It’s EMPOWERING. …”

      Gwendolyn Bond-Upson, yourtango.com, 12/29/2016

    12. Temporary Sexual Abstinence: 6 Surprising Ways Your Body Changes After You Stop Having Regular Sex

      “Sexual ruts happen from time to time, but a lack of sex can have significant effects on our body. From erectile dysfunction to a weaker immune system, below are six surprising ways sexual abstinence influences our mental, emotional, and physical health.”

      Lizette Borreli, medicaldaily.com, 10/12/2016

    13. 9 Things That Happen To Your Body When You Stop Having Sex

      “There are physical consequences of going a while without sex, but many of them are basically negatively focused, which means you’re simply not getting the health benefits sex usually brings. … Here are nine things that happen to your body after you stop having sex. Most of them aren’t great, but they also aren’t going to kill you. It’s all good. …
      [1.] No, You Won’t Get ‘Tighter’ …
      [2.] Men Are More Likely To Have Erectile Dysfunction …
      [3.] Your Immune System Becomes More Vulnerable …
      [4.] Your Libido Might Drop …
      [5.] You May Become More Stressed …
      [6.] Your Cardiovascular Health Might Suffer …
      [7.] You Might Take Longer To Get Wet …
      [8.] You Drastically Lower Your Risk Of UTIs And STDs …
      [9.] You Won’t Be As Intelligent As You Could Be …”

      JR Thorpe, bustle.com, 1/26/2016

    14. How Celibacy Strengthens Your Sex Life

      “Making the commitment to abstain from sexual activity should be taken seriously by both partners, and only undertaken if one feels it’ll bring happiness and improvement to his/her life.”

      Glamazon Tyomi, ebony.com, 7/22/2014