Abstinence is the only 100% guaranteed method to avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexual transmission of diseases. Abstinence is the practice of not engaging in any sexual contact: Intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, or fondling or any sort of foreplay.
What is Abstinence?
Sexual abstinence can be defined in different ways, but most frequently it is the avoidance of sexual intercourse with a partner. Abstinence always includes avoiding vaginal intercourse, and sometimes people extend it to mean forebearance from oral and/or anal sex as well.
Abstinence can protect against pregnancy and against sexual transmission of diseases.
To use abstinence to protect against pregnancy, no sexual contact that could allow sperm to enter the vagina can be engaged in - vaginal sex has the highest risk of pregnancy, but leakage of sperm from anal sex or contact with sperm from non-penetrative sex ('frotting') can lead to pregnancy.
To use abstinence to protect against sexual transmission of diseases, anal, vaginal, and oral sex must all be avoided. It must also be remembered that many sexually transmitted diseases, most importantly AIDS, can be transmitted through exposure to infected blood.
Many people who are abstinent refuse to have sex and some (or all) forms of sexual contact before marriage.
A person may masturbate while being abstinent, so long as the masturbation does not involve contact with another person, or another person's fluids or genitals. If complete abstinence is practiced faithfully, there is zero risk of pregnancy or sexual transmission of diseases.
Anal sex carries a higher STD transmission risk than vaginal and oral sex. If a person practices abstinence by engaging in anal sex when they would otherwise have engaged in vaginal or oral, they will raise their risk of contracting an STD if their partner or partners are infected.
It is important to remember that 100% protection only applies if abstinence is 100% practiced. Practicing abstinence most of the time and occasionally engaging in unprotected sex will elevate your risk of becoming pregnant or contracting an STD.
Keep in mind that even if you practice abstinence, STDs and other diseases can still be transmitted through direct blood contact with an infected person, or through sharing an intravenous needle with an infected person.
People who have never had sex are called virgins. As different people have different opinions as to what constitutes sex, some people may consider themselves virgins even if they have had some forms of sex. Also, some people who have had sex previously, but are now waiting until marriage to have sex again refer to themselves as born again virgins, and some people use the term lapsed virgin or non-practicing virgin to refer to a person who engages in sexual activity.
Romance and Abstinence
It is very possible to maintain a lasting romantic relationship and remain abstinent. Typically, people following this path choose to wait until marriage to have sexual intercourse with their partner for the first time. People who are taking this route are still not immune to risk, and should test themselves for STDs before engaging in sex for the first time with their partners. It is possible for an abstinent person to have contracted an STD at birth, or from another event, such as exposure to infected blood (blood transfusions were common culprits historically, but now all blood donated is tested for disease), sexual activity that happened before they began practicing abstinence, or anal or oral sexual activity, which can be passed to their partner after they are married. People who are abstinent until marriage may still use birth control methods to prevent unwanted pregnancies after marriage (if getting pregnant is unwanted).
Even couples that are sexually active may practice abstinence at certain times of their life. Certain medical conditions may make intercourse difficult, painful, or unsafe, for example. Also, couples that use fertility awareness for birth control must practice abstinence while the woman is fertile. Keep in mind that fertility awareness as a means of birth control has a high failure rate, especially in women with irregular menstrual cycles.
Instead of having sex, abstinent couples can bond in other romantic ways, such as cuddling, hugging or kissing. They can also express their feelings for each other verbally, instead of relying only on touch to convey affection.