To abstain means to refrain i.e. to go without something through one’s own choice. In the context of HIV, to abstain means to make a choice to refrain from having sex. This is because in Botswana, more than 90% of the time, HIV is transmitted sexually, which means that the best way one can be protected from HIV infection is by not engaging in sex.
Everyone who is concerned about HIV infection and wants to use the best available method to protect themselves from sexually transmitted HIV infection should abstain. As a matter of priority, however, all young people should ideally or abstain from sex until marriage. If one cannot wait for marriage, for whatever reason, they should abstain until they fully understand the choice they are making when they choose to have sex. This means being psychologically, emotionally, and physically able to deal with the potential after-effects of sexual intercourse, including HIV infection. This is called delaying sexual debut and it is an important part of abstinence.
Remember that even if you are already sexually active, you can still make the decision to abstain from sex. Abstinence does not mean the same thing as “keeping your virginity” although they are closely related.
Abstinence is very difficult because issues around sex are always difficult. As human beings, how we reproduce, how we express our feelings towards one another, and what makes us feel good, is all a part of sex. However, even though abstinence is difficult, it is very possible for anybody, male or female to abstain.
Abstinence is made difficult for young people because of a number of reasons:
Remember that abstinence is a choice and that most importantly, it is your choice. If the people around you are unable to support you in making this choice, then it means they don’t understand you or truly care for you.
Remember that sex is a double-edged sword: it may feel like it is the right time, or you are with the right person, but the consequences of sex can be very devastating and may even affect your future; for example, young girls may fall pregnant making it difficult for them to continue their studies. Pregnancy in some instances may even cause death due to complications related to being too young to bear children. In addition, sex can lead to sexually transmitted infections like HIV, syphilis and herpes, some of which can even lead to death.
Remember that loving someone means caring for and respecting them and not demanding things from them – remember that sex and love is not the same thing.
There are many people and places where you can find support on resisting the pressure to have sex. Just remember that, in the same way that you are unique, where you get your support may be different from where someone else gets there support. Potential sources of support are: your family, your relatives, church, temple or mosque, health care facilities, social workers, counsellors or youth friendly centres (e.g. BOFWA, BNYC, CEYOHO, YWCA), or schools.
Remember that you make decisions on what you do with your body – everyone around you can either help you make the right decision, or pressure you into making the wrong decision. In Botswana certain types of sexual situations are illegal and therefore the police can also be an important source of help. These include offences related to sex with minors, sexual abuse and sexual assault, such as rape.