What you need to know about abstinence as a form of birth control

Is it really as good as people say?

Surely the best way to avoid pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases is simply not to have sex, right?

Abstinence is the practice of avoiding sex altogether, be it as a means of birth control or as a life choice. It is free, has no side effects, is generally harmless and is effective against preventing STDs and pregnancy, so long as it is practiced.

However, there’s a small problem: many people who intend to practice abstinence fail to do so, thereby rendering the claims that it’s the 100% effective way to avoid pregnancy or STDs as questionable to say the least.

In addition, Abstinence Only Until Marriage (AOUM) education programs (which exist in 19 states, while in 27, abstinence education is stressed) are ineffective on several counts.

  • A number of studies found these programs do not delay adolescents from having sex, do not reduce the number of sexual partners, nor do they facilitate abstinence after having sex for the first time.  
  • When abstainers do have sex, some fail to use protection. This is possibly due to the fact that in some states with AOUM sex ed, condoms are not part of the curriculum.
  • Young women who took “virginity pledges” have higher rates of human papillomavirus and pregnancies outside of marriage.
  • At best, abstinence policies have no significant effect on teen pregnancy rate, and at worst have associations with higher rates of youth pregnancy, teen mothers and  STDs like chlamydia.

Abstinence in itself can be healthy. Especially in an online dating culture that preys upon and monetizes desperation and loneliness, it can be good to step back from the world of sex. It’s a weight off one’s mind, and abstention from sex doesn’t necessarily mean abstention from kissing or masturbation, or even from relationships.

Whether or not you choose to have sex is not massively important, but what is, is that if you do choose to, that you do it safely. Using barrier protection like condoms, female condoms (femidoms) and dental dams prevent almost all pregnancies and the transmission of many STDs.


  1. Santelli JS, Kantor LM, Grilo SA, Speizer IS, Lindberg LD, Heitel J, et al. Abstinence-only-until-marriage: An updated review of US policies and programs and their impact. J Adolesc Health. 2017;61(3):273–280.
  2. Stanger-Hall KF, Hall DW. Abstinence-only education and teen pregnancy rates: why we need comprehensive sex education in the U.S. PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e24658.


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