Choosing Not to Be Sexually Active Right Now

Youth who choose to avoid sexual activity eliminate their risk of getting sexually transmitted HIV for as long as they remain abstinent. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), choosing to go without anal, vaginal, or oral sex is the only 100% effective method of protection against sexually transmitted HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). While this could seem obvious, youth might need to be reminded that choosing to forego sexual activities is the most reliable form of protection against HIV.

Different types of sexual activity have different levels of HIV risk and youth might choose to avoid some or all of them to avoid getting HIV. As described by I Wanna Know!, limiting some sexual activity is known as selective abstinence. A selectively abstinent person's risk of HIV infection depends on which sexual activities he or she chooses to engage in. It is also worth reminding adolescents that it is possible to contract HIV through nonsexual activities that abstaining from sex fully or selectively will not protect against.

Statistics on Sexual Activity

While most teens think "everyone is doing it," the statistics show that is not quite accurate. According to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, youth in the U.S. are delaying the onset of sexual activity. From 1991-2013, the survey showed a significant decrease in the prevalence of youth who ever had sexual intercourse:

  • Fifty-three percent of U.S. high school students reported never having had sex
  • The prevalence of having ever had sexual intercourse was higher among Black (60.6%) than White (43.7%) and Hispanic (49.2%) students
  • Thirty-four percent had sexual intercourse during the 3 months before the survey (i.e., currently sexually active)

Strategies to Teach Abstinence

Despite the increase in delayed initiation of sexual activity, adolescents might still need help refining beliefs and skills related to choosing not to be sexually active.

  • Advocates for Youth encourages people working with youth to acknowledge the role of both abstinence and condoms in preventing HIV infection among adolescents, an inclusive sex education approach.
  • The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) supports school-based comprehensive sex education that includes information for youth about how to avoid premature sexual activity. For advocates and educators in states that require abstinence-only education, SIECUS has put together a list of 7 abstinence-only programs that do not include messages of fear and shame related to sexual activity. These programs only contain scientifically accurate information and are all inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth.
  • CDC reports that implementing condom distribution programs as structural-level interventions has been successful in promoting abstinence among youth.
Lesson Plan Resource

Educators can use this 50-minute lesson plan from Advocates for Youth to teach youth what sexual abstinence is and how it can prevent unplanned pregnancies, STIs, and HIV infections.

Messages about Abstinence for Youth

Helping youth choose to avoid sexual activity in the moment (i.e., in the absence of a condom) is also important. Even those who have had sex in the past can choose to not engage in a sexual activity in order to prevent HIV infection. There are a number of resources geared toward adolescents that explain and encourage abstinence.

Page last updated: April 2018