PopSugar – The Difference Between Celibacy and Abstinence (Yes, They’re Different)

Considering the difficulty of navigating the modern dating world, it’s no wonder that many people are entering their “celibacy era.” In fact, the term celibacy has over 268 million views on TikTok alone. Many are now choosing to forgo sex and dating in favor of focusing on themselves and their personal development or goals. (Having spent nearly a decade in a love-hate relationship with the dating apps, I personally can’t blame them.) That said, there are also some considerations about taking a break from sex that some people seem to miss.

It goes without saying that the US has become known for its lack of comprehensive sex education. Rather than offer a well-rounded overview of sexual safety and wellbeing for adolescents already teeming with hormones, many states across the country still require abstinence-focused sex ed. This sex-negative perspective may persuade some young people to avoid becoming sexually active, but ultimately it can never stop the natural curiosity and exploration that comes post-puberty.

Failing to equip them with critical knowledge regarding sexuality can (and does) understandably result in students growing into adulthood with misconceptions and misunderstandings about sex as a whole — including the difference between abstinence and celibacy.

The choice to be celibate or abstinent can be intensely personal for some, but it’s still important to understand what each term actually means, and how they are individually implemented. Ahead, we tapped a certified sex expert to explain the why and how behind abstinence and celibacy

What Is the Difference Between Abstinence and Celibacy?

As someone who writes about sex and dating, I sometimes find it amusing how much it impacts my social media algorithms. Because of this, I’ve noticed just how popular the concept of celibacy has become. Many women, especially, have shared their personal experiences about choosing to be celibate and how it has impacted their lives. There’s just one issue: quite a few of them have misunderstood what celibacy actually means.

According to experts, it’s common for people to consider themselves celibate when they actually mean abstinence. “Abstinence tends to be for a shorter period of time, and celibacy is more of a choice that someone makes as part of their overall lifestyle. There tends to be more of a religious component to celibacy, and it’s a bit broader in terms of what it encompasses,” explains Emily Jamea, PhD, LMFT, LPC, an AASECT-certified sex therapist. She points out that you can abstain from basically anything — eating chocolate, drinking, or having sex — so the word abstinence is “a bit more fluid” and varies from person to person.

Celibacy, on the other hand, is often a decision that requires extra intention and motivation. Rather than simply waiting to have sex or taking a break from it, Dr. Jamea explains that celibacy is more of a lifestyle choice than a temporary measure. “Celibacy is the choice [to refrain] from everything having to do with sex. So not just intercourse, but it could extend to having sexual thoughts or self-pleasure,” she says. “It tends to encompass a bit more compared to abstinence, where people are kind of picking and choosing what component of sex they might be abstaining from.”

Someone who chooses to be abstinent while they’re getting to know a new partner may still masturbate regularly or watch porn, while someone who is celibate is more likely to remove anything sexual from their life and habits altogether.

To read more of the article and to find out why people choose abstinence or celibacy, visit popsugar.com.

You might also enjoy

Welcome Back