Abstinence is a self-enforced restraint from indulging in bodily activities that are widely experienced as giving pleasure. Most frequently, the term refers to sexual abstinence, or abstinence from alcohol, drugs, or food.
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.
Abstinence in religion
Abstinence may arise from an ascetic over indulgent, hasidic point of view in natural ways of procreation, 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.
Both Jews and Muslims abstain from pork in their regular diet.
In both Christianity and Islam, amongst others, pre-marital sex is prohibited.
Also, Catholic Christians abstain from food and drink for an hour prior to taking Holy Communion, and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during Lent. Many Traditionalist Catholics abstain from eating meat all Fridays in the year. In the Anglican Communion, the Book of Common Prayer prescribes certain days as days for fasting and abstinence, "consisting of the 40 days of Lent, the ember days, the three rogation days (the Monday to Wednesday following the Sunday after Ascension Day), and all Fridays in the year (except Christmas, if it falls on a Friday)." 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, especially Methodists and Baptists, 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, Sikhs 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. Jains abstain from violence in any form, and will not consume living creatures or kill bugs or insects.
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. In the Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous, a large fellowship following the 12-steps outlined by AA, NA is outlined to be "a program of complete abstinence from all mood or mind-altering substances." This description includes alcohol, because alcohol is a drug, and is widely known to include any kind of prescription narcotics, like pain-killers (opiates), anti-anxiety medicine (benzodiazepines) or diet pills (amphetamines). The practice of abstinence is a learned behavior, and comes slowly over time - time spent listening and sharing in NA and AA meetings, behavioral health psychology group or individualized therapies, and hanging out with people in the recovery support community.
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, marine mammals and slaughter by-products), poultry, fowl, fish, shellfish and other sea creatures. There are several variants of the diet, some of which also exclude eggs or products produced from animal labour such as dairy products and honey.
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 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 alcoholic intoxicants.
A general abstinence from pleasures or leisure, 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.
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
- Pagans in Recovery
- Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPT)
- O'Brien, Jodi (2009). Encyclopedia of Gender and Society. SAGE Publications. p. 155. ISBN 9781412909167.
In this subset of abstinence-only education programs, young people vow chastity until marriage and wear a "purity ring" to demonstrate a commitment to sexual abstinence.
- Buchanan, Colin (27 February 2006). Historical Dictionary of Anglicanism. Scarecrow Press. p. 182. ISBN 9780810865068.
In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, there is a list of "Days of Fasting, or Abstinence," consisting of the 40 days of Lent, the ember days, the three rogation days (the Monday to Wednesday following the Sunday after Ascension Day), and all Fridays in the year (except Christmas, if it falls on a Friday).
- "Fundamental Beliefs". 2005. Archived from the original on 10 March 2006. Retrieved 2006-03-07.
- Ahimsa in Jainism
- "The Vegetarian Society - Definitions Information Sheet". The Vegetarian Society. Archived from the original on 1999-11-28. Retrieved 2008-09-03.
- "Vegetarian". Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 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']
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