Considering Abstinence

Abstinence is the decision to refrain from having sex. It is a valid and worthwhile decision. Whether you choose to be abstinent or to become sexually active, it must be the right decision for you at the particular moment in your life that you are in. The decision should be based on careful thought and an honest examination of your feelings, desires, and needs.

Sex is a very serious and mature act. Because of its potential emotional and physical consequences, it is not something to take lightly or enter into carelessly. Deciding to have or not have sex is one of the first important life decisions you will make for yourself. The choice between the two may be confusing, even agonizing. However, you are the one who is in control of your life. It is up to you to decide what’s best for you. You have the power and the right to choose when and when not to have sex.

If you choose abstinence, you are far from alone, even if it sometimes feels as if you are the only one you know who is not sexually active. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 60 percent of high school students have never had sex.

Sex and Sexuality Are Normal

Sexual thoughts and feelings are normal. Everyone has them. Your friends and parents probably all have sexual thoughts. As a teenager, you are likely becoming more aware of sex and your sexuality. This is a natural part of growing up. For example, you may:

  • Think about kissing and touching someone you really like.

  • Fantasize about having sex with someone you know or with someone famous (this may be someone of either the same or a different sex).

  • Touch yourself and give yourself sexual pleasure (masturbation).

All of these activities are normal. An important part of growing up is learning how to deal with your sexual feelings and urges in a way that you feel comfortable with, is right for you, and makes you feel good about yourself.

Getting the Facts to Make an Informed Decision

Having sex is different from having sexual feelings. Being sexually active is only one way to express sexual feelings. It is not the only way, and, depending on the circumstances, it is not necessarily the best way. No matter what anyone else tells you about how “everyone is doing it,” you are the one who must decide whether and when you want to become sexually active.

Should you be sexually active? To answer that question for yourself, learn the facts first, consider the pros and cons carefully, listen to your feelings and instincts, and then decide for yourself. Many teenagers don’t know the facts. Most do not plan their first sexual intercourse. They just let it happen, and many times they are not prepared and don’t use protection. But a girl can get pregnant the very first time she has sex if her partner is male. In addition, it is possible to contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD) if a condom (a rubber sheath that covers the penis) is not used.

A note about condoms: Traditionally, condoms have been made from latex. But you may have seen newer polyurethane condoms too. Some people claim that polyurethane condoms are more sensitive than latex ones because they are thinner in texture. But studies show that polyurethane condoms are not as effective in protecting against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Polyurethane condoms are more likely to slip off the penis during withdrawal and also to break. The bottom line is, unless you are among the small number of people allergic to latex, latex condom are a far safer option.

Here are some other facts to keep in mind when considering abstinence:

  • Among the teens surveyed by Guttmacher Institute, 38 percent of females and 31 percent of males said that having sex was against their religion or morals. The second and third most common reasons for females who choose abstinence were “don’t want to get pregnant” and “haven’t found the right person yet.”

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were almost 200,000 pregnancies to American teens aged 15–19 in 2017 (the most recent year for which data is available). About seventy-seven percent of teen pregnancies are unplanned.

  • The CDC estimates that there are about 20 million new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the U.S. each year. Half of all new STIs occur among young men and women. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that four in ten sexually active teen girls have had an STD that can cause infertility and even death.

  • AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is the most serious of all STDS.There is currently no cure for AIDS. Until recent improvements in medication therapies that allow many patients to manage the disease over a longer period, AIDS was usually fatal. Even with the new drug treatments, however, AIDS killed just under 1 million people worldwide in 2017.

  • Thousands of teens in North America become infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus, the virus that causes AIDS) each year. The CDC reports that American teens and young adults aged 13–29 accounted for 21 percent of all new HIV infections in 2016 (the most recent year for which data is available). In 2017, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported 546 HIV infections among youth aged 15–19. Almost one-fourth (23 percent) of all new HIV diagnoses were in youth aged 15 to 29.

A Growing Trend

Some of your friends may be having sex. You also may see a lot of people having sex on television, in the movies, and in music videos. Sometimes it may seem as though “everyone’s doing it.” You may feel as though everyone but you is having sex. And you may wonder if you should be doing it, too, to fit in if for no better reason.

If you are feeling encouraged to have sex, either by your partner or by social pressures, ask yourself: Do I really want to become sexually active? If so, why? Because I’m ready? Or because I want to fit in or please my boyfriend/girlfriend? Think about your answers. It is OK not to be ready to become sexually active. This is your decision, and it does not make you abnormal, immature, or uncool.

Anyone can choose to be sexually abstinent at any time. You may have already had sex and may no longer be a virgin. However, you can still decide not to have sex again until you get married or become part of a serious relationship. It is never too late to change your sexual behavior. Having had sex with one person does not mean that you should have sex with everyone you date from now on. You can choose to be sexually abstinent at any time in your life.

More and more young people are learning the benefits of sexual abstinence. A recent study published by the journal Pediatrics says the current number of sexually active teens in the U.S. is lower than any time in the past twenty-five years. Many of these teenagers are choosing to wait until they are married or in a serious relationship before having sex. They believe that, for now, sexual abstinence is the best choice for them.

Sex may be an important part of some relationships, but it is not a necessary element in all relationships. You can have a fulfilling relationship with or without having sex. What type of relationship you want to have is your choice.