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You've probably heard a lot about abstinence as you have moved through life, and it can be a healthy choice for many people. Abstinence can be up to 100% effective in preventing STIs and unintended pregnancy. So, what exactly is it?

Abstinence can mean different things to different people. If you want to practice abstinence, you need to ask your partner what it means to them, and then explain to them what it means to you. That way, everyone is on the same page, and things won't go beyond your boundaries.

Deciding not to engage in sexual activity, waiting for the right time, place, or person, and/or discovering other ways to be intimate with your partner without the exchange of body fluids can all constitute abstinence.

Abstinence isn't necessarily a lifetime choice - it could last years, but it could also just last for one evening.

Why might someone choose abstinence?

The answer to this can be multi-layered. Even folks who have been sexually active in the past can choose to abstain. But the reasons for why someone might choose to be abstinent can also change over time. Here are some common reasons:

  • To prevent pregnancy

  • To prevent STIs

  • To wait until they're ready for a sexual relationship

  • To wait to find the right partner

  • To support personal, moral, or religious beliefs and values

  • To get over a breakup

  • To follow medical advice during an illness or infection

  • To have fun with their romantic partners without sexual involvement

  • To focus on career, school, or extracurricular activities

  • Because they want to!

No matter the reason behind it, someone's choice to be abstinent is THEIR choice. Do not put pressure on someone to start a sexual relationship that they are not ready for.

Staying Abstinent

Abstinence can be really tough for some folks - it takes a lot of willpower and a partner who is willing to be abstinent with you. When you're struggling, it's important to remember all of the reasons why you're choosing to be abstinent. If you are tempted to engage in sexual behavior with your partner, it helps to remember why you made your decision to be abstinent in the first place. To do this, think about the answers to these questions:

  • Am I clear about my reasons for wanting to be abstinent?

  • Am I ready to handle a situation where my choice to stay abstinent will be challenged? How will I handle them? Can I avoid these situations?

  • Do I know how alcohol and other drugs can affect my judgment and decision-making ability?

  • Are there people in my life that I can talk to about my decision to stay abstinent? Are they supportive?

Ending Your Abstinence

  • A lot of people choose to stop being abstinent at some point in their lives. If/when you decide to not be abstinent, make sure to ask yourself:

  • Am I doing this because I want to? Does this align with my values?

  • Do I know how to protect myself from STIs?

  • Do I have information and access to other methods of birth control? [If you engage in behavior that could lead to pregnancy.]

  • Am I willing and comfortable talking to my partner about safer sex methods?

  • Am I comfortable actually USING safer sex methods? [like condoms and dental dams]

  • Do I know where to get safer sex methods?

  • If you choose to engage in sexual behavior, check out our Condom Caravan, where safer sex supplies are available to WVU students free of charge!

Related Educational Resources

See similar informational materials.


Learn about types of STIs, symptoms of common infections, and how to be tested for them.

Safer Sex

Learn ways to lessen your risk of STIs, engage in sexual activity in a healthier way, and care for the wellbeing of you and your partner(s).

Spectrum of Risk

Not all sexual activities carry the same level of risk. Understand the levels of risk associated with various activities.


No matter how you choose to engage sexually, it is vital that healthy communication is taking place between partners.