There’s a very important sexual practice that I’ve failed to mention thus far. It’s hands-down the most common sexual practice in the world. Everybody has done it at some time or another. Some people really like it and want to do it all the time. Others think it’s silly and try to avoid it at all costs.

I’m talking about abstinence. That’s right, I mean not having sex.

Abstinence is a sexual choice. Sure, it’s the absence of sex, but it’s still something you can do that’s related to sex. Whether it’s something you strive for or fall into accidentally, abstinence is something we pretty much all have to deal with.

Sure, you might have an awesome partner who wants to bang 24-7, but you’ve got to stop to eat and sleep and maybe attend a few classes. Everybody has to be abstinent sometimes. I mean, you were abstinent until you first had sex, right? Unless you’re having sex while you’re reading this article, you’re being abstinent right now!

Of course, not everyone agrees with me there. There are varying definitions of the word ‘abstinence.” Sure, it means not having sex, but there are some quibbles over what sex is and how long you have to refrain from it to be abstinent. Some people think you’re abstinent if you give a hand job but don’t have intercourse. Others think that you can’t call it abstinence if you even masturbate. If you refrain from having sex for a day, are you abstinent? What about a week? Six months?

While the definition might get a little tricky sometimes, there’s little argument that it’s an important concept. There are a lot of reasons to abstain from sex.

The most medically practical one is that, if you don’t have sex, there’s no possibility of getting a sexually transmitted infection. (Masturbation doesn’t count for this one; it’s totally safe!) Most doctors will recommend that you at least limit your number of sexual partners to reduce the risk of picking up any little genital buggies. If you’re really nervous about disease, you can just skip the whole thing.

A lot of people are abstinent by accident because they’re simply in between partners or can’t pick anyone up to save their lives. I recommend sex toys and practicing in the mirror if you’re in the latter category, but don’t worry about it too much. It’s normal to have slow periods. We all need a break sometimes, and there’s someone out there for everyone.

Some people are abstinent because they want to wait until marriage to have sex. They feel that sex is something special to be saved for their life partner. A lot of religions place a serious emphasis on this kind of abstinence and encourage their members to practice it.

It’s important to respect abstinence as a sexual choice. Pushing people to have sex when they don’t want to for whatever reason isn’t cool. Sure, people change their minds, but it’s a decision they need to come to on their own. Claiming that your genitals will fall off if your partner won’t go to bed with you is just not true, and it’s kind of an unfair tactic for getting laid.

If you and a partner or prospect don’t agree on abstinence, talk it out when you’re safely removed from any sexy activity and be prepared to compromise. Definitely be respectful of the other point of view. Whether you want to be abstinent or can’t live without sex, don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself, but without judgment. Even if you can’t work it out, you’ll come away from the conversation with a friendship still intact rather than a bitter ex who’s going to spread nasty rumors about how you’re a slut or a prude.

Whether abstinence is something you seek or avoid like the plague, remember that it can give you the opportunity to do other things. Try to have fun with it. You can ice skate, see a movie, do a crossword puzzle or play Scrabble. Sure, you can do all those while having sex but, with your full attention, wouldn’t they be more fun?

Waddill is a member of the class of 2009.

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