It is not always easy to define abstinence. Sexual abstinence is a choice that some make to abstain from sex. The choice might be made because of moral beliefs or it may simply be a form of birth control or for protecting their health. Abstinence seems at face value to be clear cut–no sex. But the meaning can be different for people who choose to be abstinent.
- A strict definition of sexual abstinence is refraining from any sexual activity. This might include sexual play, oral sex and viewing pornography. Some may even include masturbation in their definition of sexual abstinence.
- At the other end of the range are those who choose abstinence purely as a means of birth control. For those who just want to be sure they do not become pregnant or impregnate a woman, then they may define sexual activity as intercourse only. It is the only 100% effective means of birth control. Those who use define abstinence in this way must be careful about using birth control for other forms of sex in order to avoid spreading a sexually transmitted disease.
- A moderate definition of abstinence might be abstaining from vaginal or anal sex. Some would also include oral sex in their definition. This is probably the most commonly used meaning of abstinence. For these persons, sexual play and affection is normally permissible.
- For those choosing abstinence on very strict religious or moral grounds, any activity that would encourage sexual thoughts and temptation such as talking about specific sex acts, fondling or even kissing may not be acceptable. The goal is to have a pure mind unclouded by sexual thoughts. This is not a common definition of abstinence but is used particularly by some strict religious groups, especially when counseling teenagers.