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Why waiting makes sense


You may be getting so many messages telling you to have sex, from songs on the radio to talk at school. You may also feel curious about sex or have a strong attraction to someone. But having sex is a major decision, and you should think it through carefully. You certainly don’t want to deal with getting pregnant or developing a painful disease. Also, having sex before you’re ready can wind up seriously hurting your relationship and your feelings. Few people regret waiting to have sex, but many regret starting early. Read on to see why abstinence — not having sex — makes a lot of good sense. And remember that even if you’ve already had sex, you can still choose to stop.

Unplanned pregnancy top

Being a teen mom can be tough. MTV’s “Teen Mom” Maci Bookout says, “The hardest thing about being a teen mom for me is the fact that my relationship with my son's father, Ryan, did not work out. I am constantly trying to put a family together for my son, and since I am only 18, it's likely not going to happen very soon.” Read Maci's interview.

Teen Mom Maci kissing her son.

Each year there are around 750,000 teen pregnancies in the U.S., and most of those are unplanned. Getting pregnant before you’re ready can be a huge shock. The emotional and financial stress of raising a baby can be a lot even for an older couple. Imagine what your life would be like if you had to get up with a baby in the night and take care of it every day!

Abstinence is the safest way to prevent the challenges that come with teen pregnancy. Check out some of these challenges:

  • Teen mothers are less likely to go to college.
  • Teen moms are more likely to be — and stay — single parents.
  • Babies born to teen moms face greater health risks.
  • Teen moms face health risks too.
  • Teen moms are at high risk of poverty, which can make caring for a baby very hard.

If you do get pregnant, remember that you need to take care of yourself. Be sure to see a doctor. Get help from a trusted adult, like your parents, grandparents, or school counselor.

Sexually transmitted infections top

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a huge problem among young people.

Consider these reasons that abstinence makes sense in staying safe from STIs:

  • One in 4 teen girls has an STI.
  • Condoms decrease the risk of some STIs, but they are not 100 percent effective.
  • Having an STI increases your chances of getting HIV, too, and there is no cure for HIV.

What if I don’t have "real" sex? top

Different people may have different definitions of abstinence. Some think it means not having sexual intercourse, but others think it means avoiding other sexual acts too. Whatever your definition, remember that intimate sexual contact can lead to pregnancy and STIs. Consider some risks:

  • Even if you don’t have intercourse but semen gets on your vagina, there’s a chance you could get an STI or get pregnant.
  • You can get some STIs from oral sex.
  • It’s easier to get some STIs from anal sex than from vaginal sex.

Abstinence from intimate sexual contact is the only way to avoid these problems. If you are having sexual contact, though, it makes sense to use a condom.

Stats on sex top

As you consider whether abstinence is right for you, think about some research on the thoughts of teens on sex.

Do lots of teens wish they could slow down their sex lives?

Pink pie chart

Do many girls wish they had waited to have sex?

Blue pie chart.

Do most teens think about the risk of getting pregnant?

Green pie chart.

Do teens think boys get the message that abstinence is okay?

Orange pie chart.

Sources: Kaiser Family Foundation, Guttmacher Institute, and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy

Ways to stick to abstinence top

It’s not always easy to abstain from sex. It can help to make a plan ahead of time and get support from people you trust. Get clear about why you've made the choice to be abstinent, and talk to the person you’re involved with about it. Don’t be afraid to take a stand about your decision. If the two of you can’t agree, then maybe you need to find someone whose beliefs are closer to your own.

Your own body may tell you to give up on abstinence. Remember that your body is not in charge! Think about the possible physical, emotional, and financial costs of having sex before you’re really ready.

Consider these tips for staying abstinent:

  • Some people find it helpful to get involved in activities that give them something to focus on other than sex, like volunteering in the community or joining a sports team.
  • When you hang out with your date, it can help to hang out in a group.
  • Always take a phone and cab money, in case you want to get yourself out of an uncomfortable situation.
  • Practice saying “no” ahead of time, so you don’t have to come up with replies on the spot.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol, since they can make you more likely to do something you otherwise never would.

Maybe your partner says, “If you really like me, you’ll have sex with me.” It’s just not true. You don’t have to have sex with someone to prove you care. Sharing time, thoughts, feelings, and mutual respect are what make a relationship strong. And don’t ever feel like you owe your date anything sexually because that person spent money on you. You don’t owe that person anything — except “thank you”!


Content last reviewed October 13, 2010
Page last updated October 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.