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Abstinence is the practice of refraining from bodily or sensual pleasures in order to attain
a higher spiritual state or a more thorough concentration on the sacred. It is integral to the
practice of asceticism (training in self-denial for religious benefit), common in Buddhism,
Hinduism, and some forms of Christianity.
Abstinence is the avoidance of any sexual activity that could cause pregnancy. This
includes intercourse and other sexual activities in which semen may come in contact with the
vulva (external female genitals) or vagina. Abstinence is completely effective in preventing
pregnancy as well as STIs, and it poses no health risks.
No birth control method, other than abstinence from sex, is 100 percent effective in
preventing pregnancy. Some methods are more effective than others, and scientists use two types
of pregnancy rates when describing effectiveness. Method effectiveness, or perfect use, is the
percentage of pregnancies that occur when a particular method is used correctly and consistently
with each act of sexual intercourse. User effectiveness, or typical use, is the percentage of
pregnancies that result from average use of the method, which accounts for improper or
inconsistent use. This article provides typical use statistics in its overview of birth control
Some women prefer periodic abstinence from sex during fertile periods as a method of
birth control because it does not rely on devices or drugs to prevent pregnancy. In addition, some
religions and cultures that do not approve of other methods of contraception permit the use of
periodic abstinence.
If a woman chooses periodic abstinence or the use of a barrier method of birth control
during her fertile period, she remains at risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at other
times of the month when she has unprotected sex. In addition, fertility awareness methods
require a woman to keep careful records to determine her fertile periods. Also, if a woman has
irregular periods, she may not be able to use fertility awareness methods to effectively prevent
pregnancy. Many health-care professionals recommend that a couple use more than one fertility
awareness method to more reliably track fertility.