Abstinence is a voluntary restraint from indulging in bodily activities that are widely experienced as giving pleasure. Most frequently, the term refers to Sexual abstinence, or abstention from alcohol or food. The practice can arise from religious prohibitions or practical considerations.
Abstinence has diverse forms. Commonly it refers to a temporary or partial abstinence from food, as in fasting. In the twelve-step program of Overeaters Anonymous abstinence is the term for refraining from compulsive eating, akin in meaning to sobriety for alcoholics. Because the regimen is intended to be a conscious act, freely chosen to enhance life, abstinence is sometimes distinguished from the psychological mechanism of repression. The latter is an unconscious state, having unhealthy consequences. Freud termed the channeling of sexual energies into other more culturally or socially acceptable activities "sublimation".
Abstinence in religion
Abstinence may arise from an ascetic element, present in most faiths, or from a subjective need for spiritual discipline. In its religious context, abstinence is meant to elevate the believer beyond the normal life of desire, to a chosen ideal, by following a path of renunciation.
For Jews, the principal day of fast is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. For Muslims, the period of fasting lasts during the whole month of Ramadan, from dawn to dusk. Both Jews and Muslims abstain from pork in their regular diet. In Islam, pre-marital sex is prohibited. Many Christians (as well as other religions) prohibit pre-marital sex as well. Also, Catholics abstain from food and drink for an hour prior to taking Holy Communion, and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and during Lent. Many Traditionalist Catholics abstain all Fridays in the year. Orthodox Christians abstain from food and drink from midnight on the day they receive Holy Communion, and abstain from meat and dairy on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year, as well as during Great Lent. Catholics distinguish between fasting and abstinence; the former referring to the discipline of taking one full meal a day, and the latter signifying the discipline of eating no meat (fish is allowed). Some Protestants have preferred to abstain from drinking alcohol and the use of tobacco. Mormons abstain from certain foods and drinks by combining spiritual discipline with health concerns. Mormons also fast one day a month, for both spiritual and charitable reasons (the money saved by skipping meals is donated to the needy). The Seventh-day Adventist Church encourages the consumption of only clean meats as specified in Leviticus and strongly discourages the consumption of alcohol, smoking and the use of narcotics.
In India, Buddhists, Jains, and Hindus abstain from eating meat and fish (basically, all living animals) on the grounds both of health and of reverence for all sentient forms of life. Total abstinence from feeding on the flesh of cows is a hallmark of Hinduism. In addition, lay and monastic Buddhists refrain from killing any living creature and from consuming intoxicants, and bhikkhus keep vows of chastity. In Theravada Buddhism, bhikkhus also refrain from eating in the afternoon, and cannot accept money.
In medicine, abstinence is the discontinuation of a drug, often an addictive one. This might, in addition to craving after the drug, be expressed as withdrawal syndromes. Abstinence from smoking is also recommended for those who undertake or have recently undertaken cosmetic surgery. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) said about this issue, in a paper about smoking and its affects on cosmetic surgery,
Total absistence from smoking during the peri-operative period still remains the best course of management in order to reduce the negative effects of smoking on wound healing and propensity towards skin necrosis.
Types of abstinence
Fasting is primarily the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time. A fast may be total or partial concerning that from which one fasts, and may be prolonged or intermittent as to the period of fasting. Fasting practices may preclude sexual activity as well as food, in addition to refraining from eating certain types or groups of foods; for example, one might refrain from eating meat. A complete fast in its traditional definition is abstinence of all food and liquids except for water.
Vegetarianism is the practice of a diet that excludes meat (including game and slaughter by-products; fish, shellfish and other sea animals; and poultry). There are several variants of the diet, some of which also exclude eggs and/or some products produced from animal labour such as dairy products and honey.
Sexual abstinence is the practice of voluntarily refraining from some or all aspects of sexual activity. Common reasons for practicing sexual abstinence include:
- religious or philosophical reasons
- material reasons (to prevent conception [undesired pregnancy] or sexually transmitted disease [STD] transmission);
- psycho-sociological reasons (e.g., clinical depression, social anxiety disorder, increasing testosterone in males, or negative past experiences); or,
- legal injunctions requiring conformity.
Smoking cessation is the action leading towards the discontinuation of the consumption of a smoked substance, mainly tobacco, but it may encompass cannabis and other substances as well.
Teetotalism is the practice and promotion of complete abstinence from alcoholic beverages.
Some common reasons for choosing teetotalism are religious, health, family, philosophical and/or social reasons, and, sometimes, as simply a matter of taste preference. When at drinking establishments, they either abstain from drinking or consume non-alcoholic beverages such as tea, coffee, water, juice, and soft drinks.
Contemporary and colloquial usage has somewhat expanded teetotalism to include strict abstinence from most "recreational" intoxicants (legal and illegal, see controlled substances). Most teetotaller organizations also demand from their members that they do not promote or produce non-alcoholic intoxicants.
A general abstinence from pleasures or leisures, either partial or full, may be motivated by ambition, career or general self-respect (excluding the point of view that even the latter examples may be regarded as sources of pleasure).
It is widely accepted that abstinence from addictive drugs gives successful outcome. However, it is not certain whether a general abstinence from pleasures of leisure yields higher productivity. Too much work generates stress and its potential adverse effects. Furthermore, the effort itself to achieve abstinence may consume willpower from its ultimate purpose. Total abstinence from pleasure or leisure is practically impossible and instead an individual work-life balance is necessary.
- "Fundamental Beliefs". 2005. http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/fundamental/index.html. Retrieved 2006-03-07.
- Jewell, M.D., Mark L. (February 2007). "Smoking and Plastic Surgery". ASPS Patient Consultation Resource Book (ASPS). http://www.khouryplasticsurgery.com/download/Smoking_and_Plastic_Surgery.pdf. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
- "The Vegetarian Society - Definitions Information Sheet". The Vegetarian Society. http://www.vegsoc.org/info/definitions.html. Retrieved 2008-09-03.
- "Vegetarian". Compact Oxford English Dictionary. http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/vegetarian?. Retrieved 2008-06-15. "a person who does not eat meat for moral, religious, or health reasons. ['meat' is defined as 'the flesh of an animal as food']"
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Pagans In Recovery
- Narcotics Anonymous
- Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPT)
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