Aren't they about the same thing? No way! Both are great words to learn but very different.
Abstinence simply means saying “NO.” It means avoiding certain things, whether that is meat on Friday, chocolate before dinner, or sex before marriage. Abstinence says, “Don’t do it!”— for a variety of different reasons, in regard to a many different issues.
Abstinence is a great habit to learn. Those that encourage abstinence are doing so because they believe there is a spiritual, eternal, or even delayed reward in withholding oneself from a particular action at the present. There is an extremely valuable discipline learned through not immediately acting on one’s desires. It keeps humans from acting like animals.
Abstinence is also encouraged so that one learns “delayed gratification”—saving something now makes it more valuable in the future. A child can learn such habit at a young age. For example, there are ten cookies on the counter. Mom encourages the child to only have one or two now, because later, there will be more to enjoy. If the child “abstains” from eating all the cookies immediately, the child is learning the value of delayed gratification.
Viewing abstinence as such, you can see why many people choose to use this term when encouraging young people to save sex for marriage. “Abstinence” has become more commonly known simply as the act of waiting for marriage. A good habit to learn—but is abstinence the best way to understand God’s plan for marriage and the gift of our sexuality? I think not. In fact, many people tune out when they hear “abstinence” because it means, in essence “say no to sex.” The term also doesn’t help us to understand what are appropriate boundaries, short of the act of intercourse. Technically, one could be very promiscuous, involved in many sexual behaviors, and still remain abstinent. Abstinence has certain limitations.
By Heather Gallagher