Celibacy Vs. Abstinence: What's The Difference?

It's easy to use the terms celibacy and abstinence interchangeably, but there's actually a subtle difference between the two. Abstinence, at its core, is the avoidance of either partaking in a certain behavior or consuming a substance completely. If somebody cuts down on their smoking or drinking, perhaps just having one or two at the weekend, they wouldn't be practicing abstinence, but somebody who cut out smoking or drinking entirely would be abstaining from smoking or drinking (via GoodTherapy). 

The term abstinence is often used in reference to sexual behavior. Someone who is refusing to have sex until marriage, for example, is abstinent until marriage. We often think of abstinence as something practiced by teenagers and young people, often promoted by schools or religious programs — it's the only surefire way to avoid pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease and infection, but abstinence-only sex education is something that's controversial (via GoodTherapy). 

But, what's the difference between abstinence and celibacy? Let's take a look.

Celibacy has purely sexual connotations

The main difference between celibacy and abstinence is that celibacy has almost exclusively sexual connotations, whereas abstinence just means not engaging in an activity, sexual or otherwise. Being celibate is specifically to abstain from sex — and perhaps marriage — for potentially a lifetime, like a vow of celibacy. In comparison, someone who's abstinent, while deciding not to have sex for the time being, isn't necessarily celibate — there are instances in which they would be prepared to partake in sexual behaviors (via GoodTherapy).

There are various reasons for celibacy. For many people, it's a religious decision, or to develop deeper relationships rather than committing to one person. For others, it might be a medical decision, or just a way to empower themselves or for personal development (via Healthline). There are a number reasons as to why people — like singer JoJo — might choose abstinence or celibacy, but don't forget that they're slightly different.