Abstinence 101

Did you know that over two thirds of teens in the United States are not having sex? In California, that number is even lower. Less than one third (30%) of teens in the US reported that they have ever had sex, and less than a quarter (20%) said they are currently sexually active.

What is abstinence?

Abstinence is choosing to not have sex. Different people define abstinence in different ways, but because any type of sex can spread sexually transmitted infections (STIs), we define abstinence as not having any type of sex – oral, vaginal, and/or anal sex. People can choose abstinence at any time in their lives. Even if someone has had sex in the past, they can still choose to be abstinent now or in the future.

How effective is abstinence?

If someone chooses to not have any type of sex or sexual contact, abstinence is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy and the best way to prevent STIs! Pregnancy is caused by sperm meeting with an egg in a uterus, so by choosing to not have vaginal sex, sperm can’t get to an egg and cause a pregnancy. Some STIs can be spread through skin-to-skin contact so in order to be 100% effective at preventing STIs, abstinence means excluding ALL types of sexual contact, even “outercourse.”  Choosing to not have sex, but to have “outercourse” may be a great way to protect against pregnancy and STIs, but remember, it may not be 100% effective!

Why choose abstinence?

People choose abstinence for many reasons. Abstinence is the best way to protect against STIs and pregnancy, and can help a couple or individual focus on their relationship and goals. Abstinence is also free and easy. Someone may not feel ready to have sex or may be waiting for the right time in their life to start having sex.

What if I have had sex before, can I still choose abstinence?

You can choose abstinence at any time, even if you have had sex before. People may choose abstinence at different times in their life and for different reasons.

What if I want to have sex?

Many people choose to have sex at some point in their life. If you are choosing to have sex, you should use a condom or another method of birth control and also get tested to protect against STIs. For more information or to get condoms, STI testing, and birth control, find a clinic near you!

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide when and whether to have sex or to choose abstinence.