Abstinence - What is Abstinence?

The word abstinence refers to voluntary prevention of oneself from indulging in bodily activities that provide pleasure. Abstinence commonly refers to abstention from sexual intercourse, alcohol or food. Abstinence can be due to personal preferences, religious practices of practical considerations.

In medicine abstinence also refers to discontinuation of an addictive drug. This may lead to intense craving for the drug and also withdrawal syndromes. Abstinence from smoking is also recommended for those intending to undergo surgery (especially cosmetic ones).

Abstinence may be a temporary or short term goal meant for short durations of time. This includes refraining from compulsive eating or from compulsive drinking. The time and the measure is voluntary and is thus meant to enhance life. This is different from psychological mechanism of repression where the abstinence is not willingly adopted.

Abstinence from food

Abstinence from food refers to fasting. This is the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food or drink for a short or fixed period of time. Partial fasts may continue for prolonged durations. They may involve abstaining from particular foods like meat or sustaining oneself only on fruits, and vegetables or only on a vegan diet. Vegetarianism is thus a form of abstinence.

Abstinence from smoking and alcohol

Smoking cessation or abstinence from smoking includes refraining from tobacco and other smoked agents like cannabis. Abstaining from alcoholism or teetotalism is the practice and promotion of complete abstinence from alcoholic beverages. The reasons cited could be religious, health, philosophical or social. Teetotallers may abstain from drinking or consume non-alcoholic beverages when in presence of alcoholic drinks. They may choose tea, coffee, juice, and soft drinks instead.

Sexual abstinence

Sexual abstinence is the practice of refraining from some or all aspects of sexual activity by self volition. Reasons for sexual abstinence adoption include religious or philosophical reasons, prevention of conception or sexually transmitted diseases, legal injunctions or due to psycho-sociological reasons like presence of mental ailments like depression, anxiety etc.

Abstinence from recreational intoxicants

Abstinence from recreational intoxicants or legal and illegal substances of abuse is another form of restraint placed on self. This is a step towards de-addiction and detoxification in many organizations that help curb drug abuse.

Reasons for abstinence

Complete or near-complete abstinence from pleasures or leisure could be a result of ambition, career or philosophical and religious considerations.

Religious Abstinence

Abstinence refers to the voluntary restraint from experiencing or indulging in bodily pleasures. This includes foods, smoking, alcohol, drugs of abuse and sexual intercourse. Abstinence may be practiced due to several reasons including health, philosophical considerations, social considerations or religious practices.

Spiritual discipline

In most faiths there is an ascetic element that guides towards a subjective need for spiritual discipline. Religion means to elevate the believer above normal life of desire to walk on path of complete renunciation. This is a principle that is shared by abstinence.

Religious fasting

For Jewish people the principal day of fast is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Among those following Islam the period of fasting lasts during the whole month of Ramadan. Each day of the month of Ramadan, people of the faith, fast without anything to eat or drink from dawn to dusk.

Hindus fast on several festivals sometimes going without food or water and sometimes living only on fruits and dairy products. Followers of Hinduism also observe certain days when they may abstain completely from eating meat, eggs or fish. This is called vegetarianism. Some faiths like Buddhism and Jainism may advocate complete vegetarianism.

Catholics and Orthodox Christians abstain from food and drink for an hour prior to taking Holy Communion, and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and during Lent. Many Catholics abstain all Fridays in the year.

For observing Catholics fasting refers to the discipline of taking one full meal a day and abstinence refers to eating no meat (fish is allowed). Some Protestants abstain from drinking alcohol and the use of tobacco.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church encourages the consumption of only clean meats as specified in Leviticus and strongly discourages the consumption of alcohol, smoking and the use of narcotics.

Mormons abstain from certain foods and drinks by combining spiritual discipline. Mormons also fast one day a month and the money saved by skipping meals is donated to the needy.

Both Jews and Muslims abstain from pork in their regular diet. Hindus abstain from beef in their diet.

Sexual abstinence

In many faiths including Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, pre-marital sex is prohibited.