Having sex is a totally personal choice, and whatever you decide to do is valid. It’s not really for the world to comment on. But, unfortunately, if you choose abstinence they will. So, be prepared to have your people pry into your sex life (or lack thereof). A lot. But what is abstinence anyway? The Mix explains.

A young woman is talking to her friends. She is thinking about abstinence. This is a wide-angle image.

What is abstinence?

Sexual abstinence is basically just not having sex. It’s not the same as celibacy, which is never having sex. Abstinence can be for any length of time, as long as it’s not forever.

Sexual abstinence means different things to different people. Some people go the whole nine yards and abstain from all sexual activities: masturbating, oral sex and giving or receiving hand jobs, as well as penetrative sex a.k.a complete abstinence. But others only abstain from vaginal intercourse or anal sex. Ultimately, it’s up to you how you define it. Whilst abstinence is the only one of the birth control methods that’s 100% effective, if you decide you only want to abstain from penetrative sex it’s important to remember you could still catch sexually transmitted infections through oral sex.

Why might I choose abstinence?

Now that we’ve answered ‘What is abstinence’ you probably want to know why the hell anyone would choose abstinence. Well, there are actually many reasons why you might decide to take a break from sex. Some of the reasons people choose abstinence are:

  • You’re single and waiting for someone you actually want to have sex with.
  • You and your partner are taking a breather so it’s more exciting next time you have sex.
  • You want to have more time and energy for other things, like work or friends.
  • You’re waiting until you’re married for religious or personal reasons.
  • You just don’t feel like having sex at the moment.
  • Abstinence is the only 100% effective form of birth control/way to avoid getting STIs and prevent pregnancy.
  • Your doctor might have given you medical advice to practice abstinence.

The positive side of abstaining from sex

We know it’s hard to believe, but life’s not all about sex. And although you may miss the occasional orgasm, the rest of your life could benefit from keeping your pants on for a while

  • Less sex equals more sleep.
  • Time you’d usually spend having sex / thinking about having sex can be used to write a novel, start a small business or go to the cinema.
  • It takes the pressure off. You can stop worrying about finding someone to sleep with, or performing well when you do.
  • Not having sex can give you time to know your partner in other ways; you know, like having deep conversations with them.
  • You end up saving the money you would normally spend on condoms and sex toys – or whatever else floats your boat.

The negative side of abstaining from sex

The obvious downside to not having sex is that you don’t get to have sex. But there are some other things to consider as well:

  • If you get swept up in the moment and end up ripping each other’s clothes off, you might not have contraception ready. To fully protect yourself from STIs and pregnancy, we’d recommend carrying condoms around, just in case .
  • Sex connects us with people; if you’ve gotten used to that connection, not having it can feel a bit lonely.
  • Sex can be good exercise and a way to de-stress. You’ll have to up the cardio to replace that.
  • If you’re in a relationship, one of you wanting to have sex and the other wanting to be abstinent could cause tension.
  • Not having sex could make you want to have it even more.

Challenges of sexual abstinence

Abstaining from sex isn’t always an easy choice. Especially if your partner or friends are giving you crap for it. So think carefully about why you want to do it and what the pros and cons are before declaring it to loved ones. If you know why you don’t want to have sex right now, then it’ll be easier to explain it to other people and stand by your decision. Plus you’ll end up feeling more confident about your decision through the process. 

But if you do change your mind, that’s OK. You can stay abstinent for as short or long as you like. Your body, your choice.

More support for sex & relationships

  • Check out The Mix’s sex and relationships hub here for tons of free articles and information.
  • Brook provides free sexual health and wellbeing services for young people in the UK. Brook’s services include local clinics and online digital sex and relationships tool.
  • Relate is an affordable relationship and sex counselling service. 0300 100 1234
  • Ever tried abstinence yourself? Share your story on our discussion boards.

Next Steps

  • Brook provides free sexual health and wellbeing services for young people in the UK. Brook's services include local clinics and online digital sex and relationships tool.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 30-Dec-2021