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What is Abstinence?

In simple terms, the definition of abstinence is not having sex. However, in reality, things are a bit more complicated than that and abstinence means different things to different people. In this post, we’re going to take a look at everything to do with abstinence including how abstinence works, the reasons people choose to use abstinence, and more…

Reasons for abstinence

There are many reasons people choose to use abstinence. For example, for some people, abstinence is another way to prevent pregnancy, for other people it’s a choice about waiting until it feels like the right time to have sex. 

Some people might be abstinent for short periods of time throughout their lives, whereas others may choose long periods of abstinence, or in some cases choose lifelong abstinence. Abstinence is an individual choice, and for some people, it’s a great option - but as with all individual choices, it doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone! 

It’s common practice for fertility clinics to ask for a 48-hour period of abstinence before patients produce a sperm sample. This is to ensure the maximum number of sperm cells and an increased quantity of ejaculate for analysis in the clinic. 

How does abstinence work?

People use abstinence in different ways, but in terms of preventing pregnancy, abstinence works by keeping sperm cells away from a female egg cell. In practice, abstinence involves either not having any kind of sex, or not having the kind of sex that can lead to pregnancy.

Birth control, abstinence, and outercourse

Natural family planning works by finding the fertile days when you are at risk of pregnancy. During this fertile window it’s important not to have unprotected penatrative sex. For some people this means using condoms, and for other people this means abstaining from penetrative sex. 

Having other types of sex like oral sex or masturbation can also be a part of this kind of abstinence, this is sometimes known as ‘outercourse’, and is a great way to explore pleasure at any time of the cycle - not just during your fertile days!

Keep in mind that pregnancy can happen if any sperm cells get into the vagina, it doesn’t have to just be through penetrative sex. So it’s really important to wash hands and sex toys if they get ejaculate on them, before putting them in the vagina to avoid the risk of pregnancy.

Benefits of abstinence

Abstinence can protect you from sexually transmitted infections and unexpected pregnancy. Many people strongly believe in the benefits of abstinence and believe it can strengthen relationships. From time to time, we may all want to take a break from sex for whatever reason. Remember consent is important and you should always wait until you’re ready to have sex.

Disadvantages of abstinence

Some people find abstinence really difficult to stick to. When abstinence is enforced, it can lead to feelings of shame and lack of sexual expression, so we believe abstinence should always be an individual’s choice.

Does abstinence work?

When it comes to preventing pregnancy, abstinence is 100% effective. However, it can be difficult to practice and, as we already touched on, it’s really up to an individual whether or not abstinence suits their lifestyle and values. 

While no birth control method is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy, it’s good to consider an option that you are willing to use and will suit you. In short, abstinence works if you can stick to it, but if it’s not for you, you might want to consider another birth control option

Natural Cycles and abstinence

Natural Cycles is a birth control app that works alongside a thermometer to calculate your fertile window by analyzing basal body temperature. The app gives you a daily fertility status, and on days when you’re fertile you need to either use protection (such as a condom) or abstain from penetrative intercourse. 

Why use a birth control app?

Thanks for reading up on the topic of abstinence! At Natural Cycles we know a thing or two about reproductive health. In 2018 Natural Cycles became the first birth control app to be FDA cleared. It’s a useful option for those looking to prevent pregnancy without hormones, and an alternative to invasive options. 

As well as helping you learn about the pattern of your own unique cycle, the app offers another level of education, with access to articles on women’s health, and bespoke alerts and reminders for each user. 

If and when you’re ready, Natural Cycles can also be used to plan pregnancy, making it a useful tool throughout your fertility journey. Why not find out if the birth control app could work for you today?

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Written By

Jennifer Gray

Jennifer Gray is an award-winning writer with more than five years’ experience covering reproductive topics ranging from birth control to planning pregnancy. She is passionate about providing women with accurate information grounded in science they can use to take charge of their own health - while also dispelling myths that exist within the field of women’s health. She holds a Master of Science from the University of Edinburgh and currently lives in Ireland.

Jack in a suit and tie holding a microphone and giving a presentation.

Scientifically Reviewed

Jack Pearson

Dr. Jack Pearson is a previously HCPC registered Embryologist with a PhD in reproductive medicine. Prior to joining Natural Cycles leading Medical Affairs, he worked for more than 10 years in a clinical setting working at some of the busiest fertility clinics in the UK. Today he spends most of his time working with experts at the world’s leading institutions to carry out important research with the vision to further the field of female health. He earned his PhD from the University of Sheffield specializing in Sperm Metabolism and currently lives in London.

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