What is it?

In its simplest form, abstinence is the decision not to have sexual intercourse. However, it does mean different things to different people.

Some people might view abstinence as refraining from any and all sexual activity. Others might engage in outercourse, avoiding vaginal or anal penetration.

It’s important to remember there isn’t a “right” way to define abstinence.

Your personal definition is unique to you. You can choose to practice abstinence whenever you want — even if you’ve had sex before. Here’s why people do, how it works, and more.

Is it the same thing as celibacy?

While abstinence and celibacy are often used interchangeably, celibacy is usually viewed as a decision to abstain from sexual activity for religious reasons.

Someone who has taken a vow of celibacy is practicing abstinence. But in this case, it’s usually seen as a long-term decision.

The decision to be abstinent is usually limited to a certain period of time. For example, someone may decide to practice abstinence until they’ve been with a romantic partner for a given amount of time.

What about outercourse?

Just like abstinence, outercourse means different things to different people.

For some people, abstinence means refraining from penetration during sexual intercourse.

This definition leaves room for cuddling, sensual massage, and other forms of outercourse.

For others, abstinence may be the decision to abstain from any and all sexual activity — including outercourse.

Can you engage in any physical activity at all?

Honestly, it depends on your personal definition of abstinence.

If you believe sex is any act of penetration, then you can participate in other physical activities — like kissing, dry humping, and manual stimulation — while still being abstinent.

What can you do with your partner while still being abstinent?

Because the definition of abstinence depends on the individual, the things you can do with your partner while practicing abstinence vary.

It’s important to be open and honest with your partner about what you’re comfortable with so you can respect each other’s boundaries.

Depending on your personal definition of abstinence, you may be able to participate in activities like:


Researchers in one 2013 study found that couples who kissed more reported higher satisfaction in their relationships.

Not only does kissing release those “happy hormones” that help you bond with your partner, it can have an amazing effect on your overall health.

Dirty talk or texts

One 2017 study suggests that communication (verbal or nonverbal) may be linked to sexual satisfaction. This means that engaging in a little dirty talk with your partner might be a way to explore intimacy while practicing abstinence.

However, it’s important to note that — while sexting might be sexually liberating — you should proceed with caution. Some forms of sexting can be illegal.

Dry humping

Dry humping doesn’t have to be awkward. In fact, it can be a great way to get to know your body. Don’t be afraid of experimenting with different positions, techniques, and even what you’re wearing.

Just remember that whenever you come into contact with bodily fluids, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are always a risk. Some STIs can also be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.

Mutual masturbation (in some definitions)

There’s no rule that says masturbation needs to be a solo activity. It can also be a great way to connect with your partner and learn what they like.

Plus, masturbation offers some amazing benefits for your physical and mental health.

Manual stimulation (in some definitions)

Just like masturbation, manual stimulation — using your hands or fingers to pleasure your partner — can be a fantastic way to help you reach orgasm without sexual penetration.

You can also experiment with using sex toys or lubricant to stimulate each other.

Your risk for pregnancy and STIs increases when bodily fluids get involved, so be sure to take precautions.

Oral sex (in some definitions)

When it comes to pleasure, there are a lot of options for using your mouth on your partner’s genitals and other erogenous zones.

Whether you’re trying blow jobs, cunnilingus, rimming, or something else, it’s important to make sure you’re still using protection from STIs.

Anal sex (in some definitions)

Anal sex can be a great option for people of all genders. Penetration can occur with fingers, a sex toy, or penis, so use this opportunity to play around with different sensations.

How do you set boundaries with your partner?

Talking about sex or abstinence can feel awkward, but it doesn’t have to be.

If you’re worried about how to start the conversation, try to approach it from a place of affection.

Everyone wants to be happy. Your goal should be to not only tell your partner what you want, but to learn what they want, too.

Try not to wait until things get physical — or after you’re already uncomfortable — to set boundaries with your partner.

But if you’re in the heat of the moment and want to reaffirm boundaries, don’t hesitate to communicate with your partner.

Remember, consent is necessary and ongoing. You’re allowed to change your mind or preferences at any given time.

You should never feel pressure — or pressure your partner — to do something one of you isn’t comfortable with.

Is pregnancy possible?

Abstinence is the only birth control method that’s 100 percent effective, but that only works if you’re actually abstinent 100 percent of the time.

It only takes having unprotected vaginal sex once — or sperm entering the vagina through another form of sexual activity — for pregnancy to occur.

If you and your partner are ready for sex, be sure to talk about condoms and other forms of birth control.

Even if you aren’t sure whether you want to have sex, taking a birth control pill or having condoms on hand will help you be prepared if you change your mind.

Are STIs possible?

Even if you’re practicing abstinence, STIs might be possible. Some STIs can be transmitted through bodily fluids. Others can transmit via skin-to-skin contact.

This means you could be at risk anytime you have unprotected oral sex, anal sex, share sex toys, or engage in other physical activities where skin-to-skin contact can transfer bodily fluids.

Using condoms and dental dams can help reduce your risk.

It’s also important to get tested for STIs at the start of a new relationship — before you’re sexually active with your partner — or if you’re thinking about not using condoms.

What’s the point?

Different people have different reasons for abstinence. There’s no “right” answer.

It’s important that you do what’s best for you, and — if your partner is the one who wishes to be abstinent — always respect set boundaries.

Here are some reasons why someone might choose abstinence:

  • You want to explore other forms of intimacy.
  • You or your partner aren’t interested in or ready for sex.
  • You’ve already had sex, but decided you aren’t ready to have it again.
  • You want to increase sexual pleasure outside of intercourse.
  • You don’t feel comfortable having sex, have pain during intercourse, or are recovering from trauma.
  • You don’t have access to other forms of birth control, such as birth control pills or condoms.
Bottom line:

You’re allowed to choose abstinence at any given time and for any reason. You don’t have to have sex to be part of a loving and intimate relationship. The most important thing is that you’re doing what makes you comfortable.

And regardless of your reasons for practicing it, abstinence can be a fun way to try new things. Exploring different pleasures can help you figure out what sensuality means for you.

What are the effects of not having sex for a long time -or EVER?

There’s nothing wrong with not having sex

Sex positivity is a great thing. In a time when we’re constantly working to undo decades of sexual guilt or shame, being sex positive can be an educational balm for many people and their partners.

But sex positivity isn’t about pushing everyone into the same bed. It’s about making sure the experience is healthy and consensual.

While there are many reasons people choose to have sex (pleasure, pleasing others, intimacy, stress relief, escape, or self-validation), there are plenty of other ways to meet these reasons without having sex.

Meaning, if you’re completely disinterested in sex, you don’t have to do it! Nothing will “break” or “get old” just because you aren’t having sex. More importantly, being purely and wholly disinterested in sexual activity is a choice that needs to be respected.

So, in a world that oversimplifies sex, it may be helpful to understand what never having sex really means and how to explain it to others.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What does it mean if you never want to have sex?

First, it’s good to understand that there’s a lot of social shame around people who choose not to have sex, especially in a relationship. Mainstream media can say a lot of unfair things, from it’ll kill you and you’ll have cobwebs in your vagina to you’ll lose your ability to have an erection.


If you find that you feel significantly distressed by your lack of sexual desire, find a sex-positive therapist to validate your experience.

According to adolescent psychology research, an awareness of sexual interest and desire may develop during puberty, but that’s not the full story. An interest in sex might depend on when someone’s aware of their sexual interest and whether they are knowledgeable and willing to take what comes with it.

That can also mean, for some people, that an interest in sex just never develops, or they have an opportunity and decide it’s not for them.

A quick primer on asexuality vs. celibacy

In a hypersexual world, people who are asexual might come to believe they’re defective. Asexuality is not considered a sexual dysfunction, though.

Research on the body’s ability to respond to sexual stimuli found that there were no physiological differences between heterosexual or asexual women’s ability.

What makes celibacy different from asexuality is that celibacy is a decision to completely abstain from sexual activity, whereas asexual individuals may engage in solo or partnered sexual contact and not be sexually attracted.

Most importantly, there’s diversity in sexuality. Everyone is different. It’s best to ask the individual how they experience asexuality and not shame anyone.

Society might deem the way you bond as shameful and place unnecessary pressure on you to conform. It’s best to connect with other like-minded individuals or others who are able to support you. You can also find resources here.

But let’s reiterate: You won’t be unhappy for the rest of your life just because you’re not getting it on. Even if you constantly hear about the health benefits of sex, not having sex can also provide similar benefits.

All benefits, no sex
  • Get a workout to give yourself an endorphin boost.
  • Spend time with like-minded people who love and respect your choices.
  • Immerse yourself in nature.

Not having sex can be a time to let go of social pressures and engage in nonsexual activities that bring you pleasure and soothe you, just like sexual activities offer others. Not having sex can be a time to create a deeper relationship — but instead of doing that with another person, you’re prioritizing you.

How else can you get the benefits that sex offers?

While sex can offer feelings of warmth and connection, boost your immune system, and help you burn calories, it’s definitely not the only way to get these benefits.

If sex means you can express various sexual interests with a partner and enjoy another person’s body, a celibacy period could:

  • give you space to discover new interests, whether through sexual fantasy and self-pleasure, or trying nonsexual activities that bring you joy
  • help you focus and give love to your non-genital body parts
  • build stronger emotional connections with a partner

If sex serves as a stress reliever for you, celibacy could:

  • reconnect you with yourself, instead of using sex to avoid dealing with what is actually bothering you
  • help you prioritize your sleep and self-care over your physical satisfaction
  • teach you to practice emotional regulation, such as noting what you’re feeling instead of escaping
  • encourage you to find a physical activity that lets you release tension
If sex is all about performance for you, a break could help you:
  • practice mindful touching
  • learn how to increase body awareness and pleasure without pressuring yourself to please someone else
  • turn your attention to fitness to help maintain your cardiovascular health, or get you to compete in an athletic event to get your heart pumping
If you’ve lost interest and stop having sex

It could mean a time of renewal. A time to discover the world and have fun in new ways. Or a period of being honest with yourself. Perhaps it’s a time of increased stress or loss and you need a period to reset.

If at one point you felt sexual desire and made efforts to get your sexual needs met and now you’ve lost interest, that’s perfectly OK. You don’t always need to know why your interests have changed.

Not wanting to have sex isn’t a bad thing, unless your belief that it is starts to affect your mental or physical health. Although some people may judge or make assumptions based on your choices, trust yourself and don’t believe the negativity.

If you’re really interested in figuring it out, then remain open, curious, and nonjudgmental of yourself. You may discover more if you ask yourself kind questions about why you lost interest in sex in the first place.

If you’re feeling bad about your loss of interest, don’t try to numb the emotional pain. Instead, focus on letting yourself feel whatever arises. Work on compassionately discovering what transpired that led to the loss of interest.

Medical reasons for losing interest in sex
  • Your libido can change over time — and that’s also perfectly normal. If you think your decreased interest is out of character, double-check any new medications or reflect on significant life changes. Everything from stress and birth control to menopause can affect your libido.
Waiting to have sex?

If you’re deciding, for any variety of reasons, to wait on having sex with someone, it doesn’t mean you need to avoid it completely. If you intend to have sex eventually, this is the time to learn about your body and experiment with self-pleasure. That way, when the right person comes, you’ll have a better idea of what you like and how to show them.

If you’ve waited and taken the time to experiment, you might also be in a better position than waiting for someone else to show you what sex is like. The trouble with waiting for someone else to show you the ropes is that they might enforce their desires onto you without engaging in what you need.

It’s also normal to choose to avoid sexual activity even after you’ve been sexually active. Choosing not to have partnered sex with someone (or at all) can be an intentional act of selfhood and falling in love with yourself; to pause, reflect, and learn what interests you.

It’s also a perfect time to deconstruct sexual norms and ideas that have been passed down in order to evaluate if they’re actually working for you.

It doesn’t mean an aversion to sex or intimacy, either. It’s a personal choice. A personal matter that’s normal and enough.

How to maintain optimal health below the belt
  • Perform Kegel exercises (squeeze and release) to maintain muscle tone.
  • Maintain regular medical and gynecological or urological appointments.
  • Wear breathable undergarments to prevent yeast infections.
  • Maintain good hygiene.
  • Surround yourself around individuals who support your decisions.
  • For people with a vagina: Practice the art of therapeutic touch by inserting two fingers into your vagina and wiggle them around to stretch your vaginal walls or squeeze your two fingers with your vagina until you can feel your fingers being held by your vagina. Or seek the care of a physical therapist who specializes in the pelvic floor to provide you with more specialized exercises.
Red flags to recognize

Often, there’s a little whisper inside of you, warning you to be cautious of those folks who have trouble respecting your decisions. If someone doesn’t respect your decision, then give yourself permission to set boundaries — especially physical ones.

Behavioral red flags
  • They talk over you, interrupt you, and don’t listen to you.
  • They contradict themselves, meaning they say one thing but their behavior says another.
  • You set a boundary and they ignore it.

Don’t ignore your instincts. Pay attention to their message. Don’t tell yourself that you could convince them to accept you or your decision.

Not having sex with someone isn’t an end-all

The sex message that the media bombards us with is oversimplified. Sex is more than meets the eye, more than penis in vagina. Becoming sexually active is a personal act. And staying celibate can be an act of self-love. You can still go on dates and spend intimate nights without physical touching.

If you find that you’re not sexually attracted to anyone, that’s fine, too. Sexual diversity is the spice to life. To avoid feeling isolated, it’s best to find an affirming support system where you can be yourself without much explanation.

Instead of getting swept away from external messages, it’s better to be honest with yourself about what being sexually active means to you — or if you even need it. Don’t fall into peer pressure but take the time to know yourself and understand your needs and how to communicate them to others.

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Brotto LA, et al. (2017). Asexuality: Sexual orientation, paraphilia, sexual dysfunction, or none of the above? DOI:
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UBC Women’s Health. (n.d.).  Brotto on the Discovery Channel’s “The Science of Lust”[Video file].