Abstinence is a voluntary restraint from indulging a desire or appetite for certain bodily activities that are widely experienced as giving pleasure. Most frequently, the term refers to abstention from sexual intercourse, 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. 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 may arise from an ascetic element, present in most religions, 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 fast day 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) aim to be completely abstinent from pre-marital sex. Also, Catholics abstain from food and drink prior to taking Mass, and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during Lent. Many Traditionalist Catholics abstain all Fridays in the year. 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 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 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.
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