Abstinence is restraining from certain indulgences. The word is often used to describe avoiding sexual activity, but can also mean refraining from other types of things, such as alcoholic beverages or even food. For example, a person may abstain from eating dessert while she’s on a diet.
When a person abstains, he maintains control over his actions and decides whether or not he wants to engage in a particular activity. This means he willfully decides to abstain rather than having another person withhold something from him. Abstaining typically requires a great deal of self-control, as the abstainer may have a strong desire to participate in the activity or consume the substance in question. For example, an alcoholic may abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages, even though his body craves them.
Despite the fact that there are many things from which a person may abstain, most people relate abstinence to sex. Many teenagers, and even some adults, exercise sexual abstinence. Abstaining is not an indication of virginity, however. A person may be sexually active at first and then decide to abstain later.
There are many reasons a person might practice sexual abstinence. Some people do it for moral or religious reasons, for example. These people believe having sex outside of marriage is wrong. They choose to wait to have sex with a marital partner.
Some people exercise abstinence to prevent unwanted pregnancy. There are, however, many types of birth control that prevent pregnancy. Many of them are considered more than 98-percent effective, but a small percentage of women may become pregnant while using them. Besides sterilization, abstinence is the only guaranteed way to avoid pregnancy.
Other people choose abstinence as a way of avoiding sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Some people think a healthy, clean-looking person must be STD-free, but this is a dangerous misconception. A healthy-looking person could be harboring an STD. In fact, it’s possible for a person to be unaware that he has an STD because he doesn’t develop symptoms right away or at all. As such, many people think it's safer to avoid sex until they're in a committed relationship.
Some types of STDs cause painful or irritating symptoms, but that’s not the worst they can do. Some of them can cause a person to become sterile or lead to disease of the pelvic organs. Others can be deadly. Condoms, when used properly, help to prevent STDs, but abstinence is the only 100-percent sure way of avoiding them.