What Is Abstinence? - Definition & Facts

Instructor: Bethany Lieberman

Bethany is a certified OB/GYN nurse who has a master's degree in Nursing Education.

In this lesson, you will learn about a medical term called abstinence. We will also learn facts, surrounding the practice of abstinence, in relation to sexuality, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections.

Questions About Intimacy

Jennifer is in a serious relationship with her boyfriend and he has asked her about her feelings towards taking their relationship to the next level, sexually. Jennifer and her boyfriend have not been sexually active, and she has some concerns about intimacy. She feels uncomfortable discussing her concerns with her boyfriend, parents, or pastor, so she booked an appointment with her nurse practitioner.

A Trip to the Nurse's Office

Jennifer arrives to her appointment and explains to the nurse practitioner that her primary concerns, with sexual activity, are pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. She wants to know what the most effective form of birth control is, as well as the best way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia and HIV.

The nurse practitioner explains to Jennifer that there are many forms of birth control out there, to protect against pregnancy, like hormone pills, injections, and implants to prevent ovulation (release of an egg from the ovaries). In addition to these, there are also barrier methods available, such as condoms, sponges, and diaphragms (which prevent sperm from reaching an egg, without containing medication or involving invasive procedures). She explains that the only way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, is to prevent genital contact by using barriers such as condoms, or avoiding sexual contact all together. She informs Jennifer that pills and injections are not 100% guaranteed to prevent against pregnancy, and do come with risks. The practitioner explains that the only method that is 100% guaranteed, to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, is abstinence.

What Is Abstinence

The nurse practitioner explains to Jennifer that abstinence means to refrain from doing something, which in her case means to restrain from having sexual activity. The nurse explains that sexual abstinence can be defined in two different ways. The first being abstinence from vaginal intercourse, which prevents a woman from getting pregnant, and the second being, abstinence from sexual play and sexual arousal. There are many reasons why an individual may wish to abstain from sexual activity:

  • To prevent pregnancy
  • To prevent contracting sexually transmitted diseases
  • For religious reasons
  • For medical reasons
  • For personal reasons (such as the desire to wait for the right partner, grieving the death of a partner or the end of a relationship, or to concentrate on other things like career, education etc.)

It is not uncommon for individuals or couples to abstain from sex for both short-term, and long-term, periods during their lives. For example, a couple may choose abstinence after the birth of a baby, or to heal emotionally after a divorce.

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