1. People & Relationships

What Is Abstinence?

From no sex to 'sex without sex'

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What is abstinence? You've probably heard the word "abstinence" on TV, in health class or from your parents, but people define it in lots of different ways. So, what does it really mean, and is it for you? Get advice and answers to these popular questions about sex from teens.

What Abstinence Is

To make a long story short, abstinence (also called celibacy) means different things to different people. For most, it means that a person is not having sexual intercourse. However, people define sexual intercourse differently, too: Some people consider anal and oral sex to be sexual intercourse, while other people don't. What matters most is that you know your own definition of abstinence and communicate it clearly to your partner.

What Abstinence Isn't

Abstinence isn't limited to people who are very religious or scared of sex. It's a choice like any other. And you can be a sexual person and an abstinent person at the same time.

You can practice it whether you're straight, gay or bi, and you get to decide your own reasons for doing it. For some people, these reasons are moral or religious, for others they have to do with preventing pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Lots of people are abstinent simply because they want to make sure they're ready for all of the emotions and responsibility that go along with being sexually active.

Abstinence and STDs

News flash: Some activities that many people consider "abstinent" still carry a risk for spreading sexually transmitted diseases. In particular, this is the case if you touch another person's body fluids or broken skin.

For instance, herpes can be spread by touching an open sore or by lip-to-genital contact. Unprotected oral or anal sex carries the risk of gonorrhea, hepatitis B, HIV, herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV). Masturbating with your partner or touching your genitals to your partner's also carries a small risk of transmitting or contracting HPV, hepatitis B, gonorrhea, syphilis or scabies. Using a condom or a latex dental dam for these activities lowers the risk of disease.

Sex Without Sex? Really?

You and your partner can get turned on in lots of ways without having intercourse. Hugging and kissing are two obvious ways to do this. Find out what you and your partner like by touching them and yourself in a variety of ways.

Exchanging massages and sharing sexual fantasies are some other ways to express yourself sexually with your partner. People get turned on in all sorts of ways: Discovering them can keep you interested -- and busy -- for a long time without having sex.

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