Play It Safe Or Not At All: Abstinence vs. Safe Sex

Abstinence is 100 percent effective, but it is not the only option.


Abstinence is 100 percent effective, but it is not the only option.



Abstinence is the practice of not engaging in sexual activity. Depending on who you ask, sexual activity can mean many different things. For the purposes of this article, we’ll define sexual activity as any kind of sexual contact.

Unlike most safe sex alternatives, abstinence is 100 percent effective in preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy. The only caveat here is will power. In order for abstinence to effectively prevent STIs and pregnancy, the individual has to practice abstinence 100 percent of the time.

According to Planned Parenthood, individuals who decide to practice abstinence should still have condoms ready to use. Having condoms nearby can act as extra protection against pregnancy and STIs if the abstinent individuals involved have a lapse of resolve. In Planned Parenthood’s opinion, individuals should consider abstinence only when they have knowledge of every safe sex option available to them.

Those who advocate for abstinence-only sex education see it as a method to delay an adolescent’s first sexual encounter. In contrast, researchers from the University of Georgia (UGA) discovered a positive correlation between states with abstinence-only education programs and teenage pregnancy, meaning that abstinence education alone fails to protect individuals from pregnancy and STIs.

A study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found the opposite claim to be true: abstinence-only education delayed sexual activity among the participants within a two-year period.

The study, however, focused on abstinence-only education that was distinct from traditional programs in three important ways. This abstinence-only education never mentioned sex in a moral context, encouraged students to hold off from having sex until they were ready, regardless of whether or not they were married, and referred to condoms positively.

The criticism of this last study highlights all of the factors that can make abstinence a viable option for individuals. Though every person is entitled to their stance on the morality of sex, framing sex in a moral context in sex education programs can prevent important conversations from happening.

Regardless of the moral implications surrounding sex, there are safe ways to have it, and researchers have proven that information regarding safe sex prevents early pregnancy and STIs.

Young adults should see abstinence as a means of ensuring sexual maturity, and sex education programs can achieve this end through urging students to wait until they have achieved the emotional maturity to have sex. Abstinence can also allow individuals to prioritize work or school over sex. Therefore, individuals should pursue abstinence if they are not ready to have sex, but they should also have knowledge of safe sex when they reach that point in time.

Safe Sex

Planned Parenthood defines safe sex as “all about protecting yourself and your partners from sexually transmitted infections. Safer sex helps you stay healthy and can even make sex better.”

Planned Parenthood emphasizes that using a barrier, like a condom, is essential to protecting yourself and your partner from STIs. These barriers function to prevent sexual contact that facilitates the transmission of STIs.

In addition to barriers, getting tested for STIs is also an important aspect of safe sex; testing can also aid in finding potential treatments. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that individuals who are sexually active should get tested about once a year. Unlike abstinence-only approaches to sex, having a comprehensive understanding of safe sex can lower your risk of getting an STI or becoming pregnant.

The UGA study observed that states with “comprehensive sex and/or HIV education” had the lowest rates of teen pregnancy. This kind of sex education mentions abstinence as well as contraception and condom use. This study also referenced research that associated comprehensive sex education with a decreased incidence of sexual activity and STIs/HIV infections among adolescents.

Though abstinence is 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy and STIs, these studies show the benefits of knowledge about safe sex alternatives.

If students are interested in getting themselves tested for STIs, Fordham University Health Services will treat all STIs, but they do require insurance or payment. Other less expensive options include the New York City Sexual Health Clinics. The Chelsea Clinic is the closest one to Fordham at 303 Ninth Ave. 

Alternatively, the Riverside Clinic provides the same STI screening services on 160 West 100th St. Both clinics are open Monday through Friday, but the Chelsea Clinic is also open on Saturday. The NYC Clinics see patients on a first-come, first served basis. In terms of payment, individuals between the ages of 12 and 18 receive free services, but the NYC Clinics charge a fee for individuals who are older than 19 and make more than $16,000 a year.

Cheaper STI screening options are also available at Planned Parenthood, which has its NYC location at 26 Bleecker St. in Greenwich Village. The Planned Parenthood is open six days a week, Monday through Saturday, and its services include abortions, access to birth control, STI and HIV testing, LGBT services, men’s and women’s healthcare, emergency contraception (morning-after pill) and pregnancy testing.

Planned Parenthood has an app called Planned Parenthood Direct, offering urinary tract infection treatment and access to prescription birth control without an in-person appointment. This app is not available in some states, but it is available in New York.