What Is Abstinence? Abstinence is choosing not to have sex. How Does Abstinence Work? Abstinence (AB-stih-nints) is the simplest form of birth control. If two people don't have sex, sperm can't fertilize an egg and there's no possibility of pregnancy. Other forms of birth control: depend on barriers that prevent the sperm from reaching the egg (such as condoms or diaphragms) interfere with the menstrual cycle (as birth control pills do) With abstinence, no barriers or pills are needed. A person doesn't have to be a virgin to practice abstinence. Sometimes, someone who has been having sex decides to stop doing so. A person who has been having sex can still choose abstinence to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the future. How Well Does Abstinence Work? Abstinence is the only form of birth control that always prevents pregnancy. Practicing abstinence ensures that a girl will not become pregnant because there is no chance for sperm to fertilize an egg. Many other birth control methods have high rates of success if used properly, but they can fail occasionally. Does Abstinence Help Prevent STDs? Abstinence protects people against STDs from vaginal sex. But STDs can also spread through oral-genital sex, anal sex, or even intimate skin-to-skin contact without actual penetration (for example, genital warts and herpes can spread this way). Complete abstinence is the only way to guarantee protection against STDs. This means avoiding all types of intimate genital contact. Someone practicing complete abstinence does not have any type of intimate sexual contact, including oral sex. So there is no risk of getting an STD. Abstinence does not prevent HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C infections that can spread through nonsexual activities, like using contaminated needles for tattooing or injecting drugs or steroids. Who Practices Abstinence? Not having sex may seem easy because it's not doing anything. But peer pressure and other things can make the decision to practice abstinence difficult. If it seems like everybody else is having sex, you may feel like you have to also. But teasing or pressure from friends, a girlfriend, or a boyfriend shouldn't push you into something that's not right for you. Choosing abstinence is an important decision — and yours to make. What Else Should I Know? If you have questions about making this choice or about other birth control methods, talk to a trusted adult. If you feel you can't talk to a parent, reach out to a teacher, a counselor, a doctor, or a school nurse who can provide answers. Back to Articles Related Articles About Birth Control Before you consider having sex, you need to know how to protect yourself. Read this article to get the basics on birth control. Read More Birth Control Methods: How Well Do They Work? Some birth control methods work better than others. This chart compares how well different birth control methods work. Read More Virginity: A Very Personal Decision Deciding whether it's right for you to have sex is one of the most important decisions you'll ever have to make. Each person must use his or her own judgment and decide if it's the right time - and the right person. Read More STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) You've probably heard lots of discouraging news about sexually transmitted diseases. The good news is that STDs can be prevented. Find out how to protect yourself. Read More All About Periods Periods can be confusing. Get the facts in this article for teens. Read More Female Reproductive System Why do girls get periods? What goes on when a woman gets pregnant? What can go wrong with the female reproductive system? Find the answers to these questions and more in this article for teens. Read More Sexual Harassment and Sexual Bullying Just like other kinds of bullying, sexual bullying is intended to hurt, offend, or intimidate another person. Find out how to recognize sexual bullying and harassment and what to do. Read More Am I in a Healthy Relationship? Does your boyfriend or girlfriend treat you as well as you treat him or her? Does your BF or GF support you in good times as well as bad? Does he or she get who you really are? Find out if you're in a healthy relationship. Read More Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.