Abstinence: what is behind the phenomenon?

Enthaltsamkeit: Was steckt hinter dem Phänomen?

Abstinence is a very controversial topic in Germany. Some advocate abstinence and the positive effect it has on the body. Others say sex increases the quality of life and doing without it would be unthinkable.

In this article we would like to give you an overview of the importance of abstinence, possible reasons for an austere lifestyle and the effects on the human body. Basically, abstinence can be medically necessary, but a voluntary phase of abstinence can also have positive effects on your well-being.

the essentials in brief

  • Abstinence means giving up something pleasant. In addition to sexual abstinence, there is also abstinence from addictive substances or food.
  • The reasons for a phase of abstinence can be very different. There is abstinence based on conviction or ethnic reasons, but in some cases abstinence can also be medically necessary.
  • Abstinence can have a positive or negative effect on the human body. It can lead to an increase in serum testosterone levels, but the positive effects of sexual activity should not be underestimated either.

Glossary entry: The term abstinence explained in detail

In the following we will briefly explain the term abstinence and then answer the most important questions on this topic. The various forms of abstinence are also briefly presented. However, since abstinence is mostly associated with sexual abstinence, we will also focus on sexual abstinence for the following article.

What is abstinence?

Abstinence is often used interchangeably with abstinence or renunciation. And describes the conscious renunciation of something pleasant. Abstinence is usually lived temporarily for a certain period of time.

This can be a few days, for example due to an upcoming medical examination, or a few weeks to train your own stamina. But lifelong abstinence is also possible and is required, for example, in certain religious lifestyles.

What does it mean to be celibate?

Being austere means that a person consciously renounces something pleasant. There are basically two types of abstinence. On the one hand, the most well-known type of abstinence is sexual abstinence, but also abstinence from addictive substances or food.

There are different types of abstinence.

In the case of sexual abstinence, a person consciously refrains from sexual intercourse or, if necessary, from masturbation completely. It is at your own discretion whether to abstain from all sexual activities or only from intercourse.

When abstaining from addictive substances, an absolute renunciation is lived. This means, for example, that the consumption of alcohol or cigarettes is completely avoided. It should be noted, however, that abstinence does not mean restricting consumption, but total renunciation.


In general, there is not only sexual abstinence, abstinence from addictive substances is also possible. (Image source: unsplash.com / Ali Yahya)

When abstaining from food, the consumption of certain ingredients or food groups is avoided. This can mean, for example, not eating meat or sweets, or even not eating sugar . This type of abstinence often plays a role in diets, but there can also be reasons for this abstinence from a medical point of view. However, you should always make sure that your diet continues to cover your daily requirement .

In general, abstinence describes the renunciation of something that a person likes or consumes.

When it comes to abstinence, there is no right or wrong.

Here, each person can live celibate in their own way and there are no rules on how celibacy works. The possibilities of what can be dispensed with are endless. Everyone has a different feeling as to whether and to what extent abstinence in a certain area can make sense for them.

Why is one celibate?

Basically, there can be many reasons why a person lives celibate. For example, some motives that make a person practice abstinence can be ethnic or medical. But even pure conviction can lead to a person becoming celibate.

  • Conviction: One reason for abstinence can be one's own conviction. Very often people decide to practice abstinence for a certain period of time in order to achieve a positive effect on their own well-being. But strengthening your own stamina can also be a motivation.
  • Ethnic: Ethnic reasons are often decisive for abstinence. In some religions, sex before marriage is forbidden. But even in certain forms of life, such as celibacy, sexual abstinence is mandatory.
  • Medical: In some cases, abstinence is medically justified. Some illnesses, operations or other treatments usually require abstinence for a few days before or after. There can be various reasons for this, one possible reason being, for example, to avoid falsified results.

In most cases, people voluntarily choose abstinence. Living celibate for a limited period of time is seen by many as a way to focus on oneself and calm down. Therefore, abstinence is often practiced in stressful situations in order to increase one's own productivity.

What effect does abstinence have on our body?

Abstinence can have both positive and negative effects on our bodies. There are also some myths about the effects of abstinence. In the following we would like to give you an overview of possible effects and clear up some myths.

Positive effect of abstinence

It has been scientifically proven that abstinence can have a positive effect on the human body in some areas. In the following table we would like to introduce you to the possible positive effects of an austere lifestyle.

Area impact
serum testosterone levels Ejaculation affects serum testosterone levels, causing them to drop. If the man lives abstinent for 7 days, this has a very clear influence on the serum testosterone level. Because this can increase to up to 145% of the initial value with absolute abstinence. (1,2)
wellbeing In some cases, abstinence can have a positive effect on one's well-being. This is especially true if you don't feel in the mood for sexual activity due to stress or other negative influences. In general, forced sexual activity rarely leads to well-being, where a period of abstinence can have pleasurable consequences.

Generally speaking, if you feel the need to refrain from sexual activity for a while, then you should do so. The effects on your body that have actually been scientifically proven are quite small and in most cases slightly different for each person.

Negative effect of abstinence

Sexual activity can have many positive effects on the body. Accordingly, abstinence can also have a negative effect on people in some cases.

Area impact
Heart attack It has been proven that sex can have a positive influence on the mortality rate in heart attack risk patients. Accordingly, it is possible that a long period of sexual abstinence can have a negative impact on the mortality of high-risk patients. (3)
Health It has been scientifically proven that sexual activity can have a positive impact on physical and mental health. Accordingly, it is possible that a very long period of abstinence can have the opposite effect.(4)

With regard to the negative effects mentioned, it should be noted that these are positive effects of sexual activity, which are lost in long phases of abstinence. In principle, however, sexual abstinence is not associated with any risk.


There are a few myths about abstinence and how it affects the human body. We would like to clear up these in the following.

Among other things, it is said that abstinence has a positive effect on the masturbation-induced orgasm. However, this approach could not be scientifically proven. It can therefore be assumed that short-term abstinence cannot influence the orgasm. (2)


Some days the libido can be lacking, you should always listen to your body and find out the reasons. Abstinence is not always the solution to the problem. (Image source: unsplash.com / Becca Tapert)

It is also said that abstinence increases lust. This myth cannot be scientifically proven either. A loss of libido can have different causes, one possible cause is stress, for example. So it is not abstinence that helps to increase libido, but rather measures to reduce stress. However, every body is different and measures to increase libido cannot be generalized.

When is abstinence medically advisable?

In some cases, not only one's own will or personal conviction speaks for abstinence. There are also some cases in which abstinence is medically advisable or even mandatory. Some reasons are explained in the table below.

Ground Explanation
PSA tests A PSA test is a methodology used for the early detection of prostate cancer. Blood is taken from the patient and the PSA value is determined. For such an examination, the patient should be abstinent 24 to 48 hours beforehand, otherwise the value can be falsified.(5,6)
seed sample If a couple wants to have children and is planning artificial insemination through IVF or ICSI treatment, the man must submit a semen sample for a so-called spermiogram. A treatment that collects information about the amount of ejaculate, sperm count, sperm cell morphology and sperm motility. An abstinence period of 2 to 7 days is recommended before this semen sample. (7)
prostate MRI Ejaculation affects the volume of the seminal vesicle. Abstinence increases volume, thus improving diagnostic interpretation. For these reasons, sexual abstinence for at least 3 days prior to a prostate MRI scan is recommended.(8)
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) Intrauterine insemination is a form of assisted fertilization. A catheter is used to deliver semen into the uterus. For this method, abstinence of up to 7 days before the treatment should be observed, which has a positive effect on the pregnancy rate. (9)

In addition to these reasons, abstinence can also make sense in some cases after an operation. However, these are mostly recommendations.

pregnant woman

A common reason why abstinence becomes medically necessary is artificial insemination. A semen sample from the man is required for artificial insemination of the egg cell. (Image source: unsplash.com / Anna Hecker)

As a rule, there are no precise regulations as to how long one must abstain after which operation. However, if you are affected by such an operation, the doctor treating you will communicate instructions and rules of conduct to you.


Abstinence means renunciation and can basically affect all areas. However, the most well-known form of abstinence is sexual abstinence. Whether you decide to adopt a celibate lifestyle can depend on many reasons, and in principle there are no regulations in the area of ​​celibacy as to how you have to lead this life.

Whether you decide to abstain for a few days, weeks, months, or even years, you will likely feel changes in how you feel. For example, celibate living can increase your testosterone levels.

At the same time, however, sexual activity also has positive effects on your immune system. Therefore, you should listen to your body, if you want to be celibate for a while, then you can do it and there is nothing scientifically wrong with it.

Individual proofs(9)

  1. Jiang M, Xin J, Zou Q, Shen JW. A research on the relationship between ejaculation and serum testosterone level in men. J Zhejiang Univ Sci. 2003 Mar-Apr;4(2):236-40.
  2. Exton MS, Krüger TH, Bursch N, Haake P, Knapp W, Schedlowski M, Hartmann U. Endocrine response to masturbation-induced orgasm in healthy men following a 3-week sexual abstinence. WorldJ Urol. 2001 Nov;19(5):377-82.
  3. Brandis Kepler S, Hasin T, Benyamini Y, Goldbourt U, Gerber Y. Frequency of Sexual Activity and Long-term Survival after Acute Myocardial Infarction. Am J Med. 2020 Jan;133(1):100-107.
  4. Bartens W. Study: How much influence does sex have on health?
  5. Breuer ES. Prostate cancer: Determine PSA value for early detection only if necessary
  6. Anurekha J. Periyasamy et al. Does duration of abstinence affect the live-birth rate after assisted reproductive technology? A retrospective analysis of 1,030 cycles. Fertility & Sterility, December 2017, Volume 108, Issue 6, Pages 988-992.
  7. World Health Organization. WHO laboratory manual for the examination and processing of human semen. 5th ed. World Health Organization, Geneva; 2010
  8. Kabakus IM, Borofsky S, Mertan FV, Greer M, Daar D, Wood BJ, Pinto PA, Choyke PL, Turkbey B. Does Abstinence From Ejaculation Before Prostate MRI Improve Evaluation of the Seminal Vesicles?
  9. Kably-Ambe A, Carballo-Mondragón E, Durán-Monterrosas L, Soriano-Ortega KP, Roque-Sánchez AM. Effect of sexual abstinence on pregnancy rates after an intrauterine insemination]. Ginecol Obstet Mex. 2015 Feb;83(2):104-9. Spanish.
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