Genital-genital intercourse (penis in the vagina) can increase a
womans risk to a variety of medical problems. Sexually
transmitted diseases (STDs), including AIDS, and unwanted
pregnancy are obvious examples of problems that can be largely
avoided by not having intercourse. While terms today are more
ambiguous, many people still refer to genital-genital intercourse as
"having sex" and not doing it as "being abstinent."
STDs: The Gift that Keeps on Giving
Women who successfully avoid STDs also avoid the long-term
consequences of them. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PIDS) is the
main example. In PIDS the organisms of the STD cause
widespread, serious infection of the pelvic organs and may get
into a womans bloodstream. It can cause serious illness or even
death. Scarring of the fallopian tubes may not be noticed until
years later, when infertility or ectopic pregnancy occur. Ectopic
pregnancy itself can cause death and diminish or destroy the
remaining childbearing potential.
Cervical cancer is likely triggered by human papilloma virus (HPV).
A woman is exposed to HPV through sex. Even though she may
not contract any STD through this exposure, there is still a high
correlation between rates of cervical cancer, HPV, and having
genital to genital intercourse. While cervical cancer almost never
occurs in virgins, there is a high rate of occurrence in women who
have had multiple sexual partners.
Other Urinary and Genital Infections
Abstinent women have lower rates of vaginitis (vaginal infections
that are not sexually transmitted) and urinary tract infections. These
infections can be caused by bacteria from the skin being dragged
into the vagina or to the opening of the urinary tract inadvertently
during genital intercourse or foreplay. The penis has bacteria on it,
just like all skin does. It is a frequent occurrence for the man's
penis to dangle between the woman's legs during foreplay, where
it can pick up more types of bacteria from around the woman's
anus. These bacteria can cause yeast infections in the vagina and
can infect the bladder as well.
Social and Psychological Benefits
Adolescent girls who are abstinent have higher levels of academic
achievement. Women of all ages experience less depression and
emotional turmoil due to relationship problems. Abstinent women
also experience less domestic or partner abuse and related
Long Term Risks
Long term health risks do not occur from abstinence directly, but
rather because abstinent women are not having children or using
oral contraceptives. Pregnancy and oral contraceptives decrease
a woman's exposure to her own estrogens through her monthly
cycle. Endometriosis, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, and
breast cancer are all increased in women who either have had few
or no children and/or who do not use birth control pills, even if they
are not abstinent.
The protection from disease that is gained from pregnancy and the
pill is much, much smaller than the risks incurred by unprotected
sexual activity. Pregnancy and the pill have many of their own risks.
Abstinence itself causes no harm. A woman whose abstinence
leads to little or no childbearing may elect to take birth control pills
for their non-contraceptive benefits.
What about sex?
Obviously, most women will not be abstinent for their entire lives. That does not mean that these health benefits will not apply. Delaying intercourse in the teen and early adult years avoids most of these STD and relationship-related psychological problems, as these are high-risk years. This is not to say that having intercourse is bad for your health. Intercourse is a normal part of a healthy lifestyle. Avoiding genital-genital intercourse does not preclude other forms of physical affection or sexual activity.