Displaying items by tag: sexual integrity

Stronger Future Fathers: Escaping the Testosterone Trap

by Joe Malone, PhD, CPT, LWMC, CFETestosteroneTrap

Father’s Day brings pleasant thoughts to some young men especially about time spent with their loving fathers, and unpleasant thoughts to others, whose fathers didn’t do as good of a job raising them. In some cases, this was due to the fathers, who as younger men, were finding themselves attracted to women who were not their wives. In some cases, they acted on that attraction, which led to the breakup of their marriage and the end of their precious family unit. This is such a tragedy to everyone involved when it happens, and it can be avoided if young men can gain knowledge about how their minds and bodies work differently from young women’s in young adulthood.

Biology, psychology, and sociology all influence young men’s sexual behavior. It is especially influenced by brain anatomy and biochemistry. It is so beneficial for males to understand the forces that are at work in their brains and bodies that have both biochemical and societal origins. The circumstances these forces help create can truly fashion a “Testosterone Trap” in which our young men find themselves ensnared. This is to their detriment as well as those with whom they have interacted and particularly the women in their lives.

Males need to learn that they hit their peak testosterone levels at age 17 and overall levels only begin to decline by 1% a year after age 30. The average man has 7 to 8 times as much testosterone as the average woman and some high-testosterone men have up to 183 times as much as low-testosterone women. The male brain has 2 ½ times more space than the female brain devoted to sex drive which is activated by testosterone, and also has a larger brain center for action and aggression. This means that sexual thoughts run through a man’s mind far more frequently that they do a woman’s. A man’s brain chemistry can create a craving for new sexual experiences the same way an addict’s brain craves cocaine or heroin. Its main ingredient, dopamine, plays a major role in motivation and reward, surging before and during pleasurable activities like sex. Dopamine in a man can especially be boosted by novel partners. All of this is only a possibility, though, not a foregone conclusion. Humans are a species that, because of our unique, proportionally large brains and their executive decision-making cerebral cortex, can override our basic instincts.

When males bond with a female and create an ongoing trust relationship their testosterone levels begin to drop and their bonding chemical, vasopressin, begins to rise. When they marry this woman, the love of their life, testosterone levels drop even more as vasopressin rises higher. When this couple has children, the young father’s testosterone levels fall even more, and their vasopressin bond grows even stronger. This leads to many health benefits for both the wife and the husband but by far, it benefits the husband the most. For example, married men have better immune systems, they report lower levels of depression and stress, and they are less likely to commit suicide or murder. Finally, married men are 250% less likely to die prematurely than divorced men from any cause. It seems that God has designed marriage and fatherhood as a strong pathway for men’s well-being.

Socrates’ famous philosophical statement is “know thyself.” When I was a young man, I often wondered what he meant. I believe as I have lived life, I have come to understand his meaning. By learning to know themselves and especially their chemistry young men may be able to better self-manage and forge a more positive future for themselves and our greater society. They are sure to become wiser and better men in the process. And they are sure to become better fathers and raise happier children who will have many joyous and memorable Father’s Day’s with the man they want to grow up and be just like. We all have an opportunity to be that man. Let us take it!

JoeMaloneDr. Joe Malone taught for many years at Middle Tennessee State University and has guest lectured at Vanderbilt, Princeton, Catholic University of America as well as other major universities. He holds a Ph.D. in Health and Human Performance with a minor in neuropsychology and a specialization in women’s health and sexual wellness. He is the former Chair of the Nashville Community Health and Wellness Team and the current Topic Network Chair for Health Promotion for the Study of Emerging Adulthood. Dr. Malone draws from his life experiences as a former model, Division I college football player and coach, celebrity trainer, elected official, and husband and father in his teaching. He has been happily married to his wife Jody for over 40 years. He is coauthor of Battles of the Sexes and founder of Sex IQ.


by Annabelle Nakabiri Ssebakijje

Annabelle Ssebakijje will be presenting a workshop titled Saving Two Lives at a Time at the 2021 Heartbeat International Virtual Conference.Crushed

It is not very common for me to be silent for 3 hours while having a conversation with another person. The staff I serve with always have to remind me of time when we have a meeting. It even gets more challenging when I am talking with girls – I think it comes from a place of wanting to pour my heart out into every conversation.

As I continue to interact and serve survivors of sexual abuse and young women that come through our doors; I have learnt to BE QUIET and LISTEN!

(Shared with permission)

A couple of days ago I met this young lady I will call Pat. She got my contact off Facebook and sent me a long message. She needed help.  After a couple of chats I realized I needed to urgently meet with her in person. For the first time, she had found someone willing to listen. She had found a place she can let it all out. I am not sure I was prepared for the 3 hours of deep sighs and tears as I listened to a spirit of a beautiful girl – so crushed and feeling completely helpless.

This young lady comes from a polygamous family. She lost her father at age 13 and this meant she couldn’t continue with school. The step sisters quickly threw her and her mom out of the house. They had to struggle through life to find a place to stay and afford a meal. Left with “not so many options,” she found herself a young sweet love who promised her a life of big dreams. When she shared the news about their pregnancy, the young man offered her money to have an abortion. She took the money but decided to keep her child. The prince of her dreams was not ready to be responsible – so he left.

Now there was a child to care for. There was no family support. There was no baby-daddy and no love. She lost the right to be just a young girl. She had someone calling her “maama” (Luganda word meaning mom) and to society – she was the wasted teenager. This was not the future she had imagined. All her dreams were “crushed.”

One of the most common things that happens to people that have suffered abuse and painful losses is they learn to settle for anything – because they have to get by – they need to SURVIVE. I fail to count the number of times I have heard the statement “I had no other option” during counselling sessions. The pain we experience serval times makes us so vulnerable and desperate – and as a result, there is repeated abuse.

For Pat, she was forced to learn the art of sex trade early. Sleeping with at least 5 men a day. Some paid for her services. Some did not. Some required that they do not use protection. More than 3 times, she got pregnant and felt her only option was to abort. Each time she had to go through this cycle of pain alone. She would remind herself – “I have no option.”

A couple of years later – the “way of survival” was not bringing in as much as she needed to meet the needs of her growing child. Someone introduced her to what sounded like an exciting opportunity. She was to be an escort. Escort is a common term used in the sex trafficking industry. This meant she was expected to walk around with guests that came to Uganda through a tour company, and they needed girls for sexual pleasure. The offer was that for every girl who pleases the “white” clients, they get a pay close to 1m per month, a business set up for them and travel opportunities. Well, this sounded exciting – until she learnt that to qualify for the juicy slot – one needed to go through series of preparation and practice. Her and a group of other younger girls (16 – 25yrs) were always expected to have their nude pictures taken and recorded sex sessions with young men during “rehearsals.”  The madam running the business called this – training. No one expected to be paid for the training sessions. There was no food benefit. No explanations why the sessions were recorded. The pictures were to be sent to potential company clients to choose which girl they want as an escort when they arrive in the country.

One day, as Pat walked out of the training session; she felt a rare deep pain. Whatever her life was is NOT anything she really dreamt of or even wanted. But she felt so trapped and didn’t know how to get out. She kept on convincing herself she needed to do this for her dear child – but she wasn’t sure she would live long enough to raise him.

By the time she was done pouring her pain out; I asked the Holy Spirit – How does one recover from all these layers of pain and abuse?

What Does “Abuse” Mean?

Abuse is defined as “to be misused, used improperly or to be wasted; to use in such a way as to cause harm or damage; to be treated cruelly.” Any time we are misused or used for a purpose other than what God intended, it’s damaging. And I realize many people can relate to this. For some of you reading this article, I’m just telling your story. You know what it’s like to live with a terrible, shameful secret that is eating you alive.

I see me. I see Pat. I see hundreds of girls we serve through our ministry. I see the many texts I receive after television shows and from social media; from parents, youth, older women and men reaching out to seek for help. I read of the thousands of girls trafficked every day and how some human is profiting from that as a trade. The thousands trapped in the red light districts; living off drugs to help them forget the sorrow of the day. I read of the hundreds dying; some committing suicide, many murdered for saying it’s enough – I want out. I see children born without Fatherhood identity – there is just no way their moms can identify who was really responsible. I see daughters that have known perversion as a form of love. They are ashamed of themselves and ashamed of the people that abused them. Constantly afraid and with such a low esteem. Pretending to live a normal life but feeling so lonely all the time and different from everyone else.

I may never imagine the extent of this damage. How many destinies have been crushed? How many more shall it take until we see change?

Even after years of dealing with these experiences almost on a daily basis – I never get used to the pain. I have learnt to allow myself to feel all the emotions. And I encourage you to do the same. It is ok to ask questions. It is ok to cry. It is ok to feel bitterness. It is ok to lash out. It is ok not to have answers. It is ok not to know what to say.

There is a reason why we have the book of Lamentations in the Bible. I want to believe God understands that we experience human pains – that is what makes us human. Sometimes we completely lose it – and ONLY GOD knows how to raise us up!

As I prayed through the session with Pat – I heard the Holy Spirit whisper Ezekiel 37:3 – child of mine (Son of Man), can these dry bones live again?

I find comfort in knowing that there is a God who is able to re-write stories of death – into stories of Life and significance.


Annabelle Nakabiri Ssebakijje

Founder and Executive Director

The Remnant Generation (www.theremnantgeneration.org)

Annabelle is a survivor of sexual abuse and child marriage. She has dedicated her life to rescuing lives of teen moms that have survived sexual abuse in Uganda.

Belief Bias in the “Middle Minded”

by Angela Copenhaver Founder of WeTeachThink and HumanFromDayOne.comMiddleMinded

When does life begin?  Ask this question at a party and you will instantly cause a firestorm of dissenting views.  If you ask a pro-life person that question, you will get a resounding “at conception.”  If you ask a pro-choice person that same question, you will get an answer like “when the child is outside of the mother and can sustain life on its own.”  If you ask a “Middle Minded” person “when does life begin?” you get a myriad of answers “12 weeks,” “20 weeks,” “when it has a heartbeat,” and/or “when it feels pain.”  The answers are all over the board! How are we supposed to get people to protect human life when we cannot even collectively agree on when a human life is a human life?

How did we get to such opposing beliefs?

Throughout our lives, we develop certain biases of which we are likely not aware. These beliefs are called “belief bias.”  This type of personal bias occurs when people see their beliefs as rational and the beliefs of others as irrational. In other words, when opposing sides of a topic perceive the other groups’ decision making as emotionally charged and irrational and their groups’ decision making as rational.  When this occurs, it makes it nearly impossible to come to any type of agreement on an issue.

This is what has happened with the topic of abortion and when human life begins. The pro-choice side thinks that this is a “Woman’s Rights” issue and has no tolerance for what they believe to be the radical pro-lifers trying to shackle them with (emotional) religious morality.  The pro-life side thinks that this is a “Human Rights” issue and has no tolerance for what they believe to be the “emotionally charged” radical left that is blinded by a selfish disregard for human life. The “Middle Minded” have declared themselves neutral, not wanting to be part of either group. However, just because the “Middle Minded” have excused themselves from the issue does not exclude them from having their own personal biases and unknowingly participating with their silence.

The “Middle Minded” individual is likely suffering from “confirmation bias.” This type of bias is the tendency for individuals to seek and find confirming evidence to support what they already believe. This fallacy is clearly illustrated by Trent Horn in his book Persuasive Pro-Life as to how the “Middle Minded” rationalize their position on abortion. They say things like “I don’t believe in abortion myself, but what about…?” 

The thought process of “confirmation bias” is really attempting to find proof in reverse that allows an individual to ease their conscience. We start with what we believe to be true and then go in search of evidence to prove our beliefs by cherry-picking the facts that support our theory and leaving contradictory evidence behind or just ignoring it altogether.

When developing a strategy to debunk years and years of misinformation of when human life begins, it is critical to research the likely biases of the target market. You must clearly understand the descriptive thinking of your potential customer. It is vital to delve into their self-talk as to why and how they rationalize a topic. In this case, rationalizing the normalcy of abortion by confusing the understanding of when a human becomes a human.

Helping the “Middle Minded” to set aside their “confirmation bias” and begin to say “human life begins on Day 1” is the key to sustainable cultural change. We must reach out to this group and give them logical and emotional reasoning to actively support human dignity at all stages of life – Born and Preborn.  We can do this by addressing their deep-seated personal bias and confusion on when human life begins with thought-provoking marketing. 

All marketing is designed to gain agreement from your potential customer that your product is the best choice and for them to become loyal to that decision. When the “Middle Minded” become “Life Minded” and are loyal to that decision, the issue of abortion will become socially unacceptable. Until we gain agreement from the “Middle Minded” that we are Human from Day 1, abortion will continue to be socially acceptable in society.

Angela Copenhaver is the Founder and Executive Director of WeTeachThink an educational marketing organization designing multimedia campaigns to directly influence public education, awareness, and perception of Human dignity and rights. In 2018 Angela felt compelled to take on this mission after a friend asked her to read “40 Days for Life.” She had previously categorized herself as a “fence-sitter” and early in her life, she was very much a Pro-Choice advocate. She is presenting Essential Marketing Strategies: How to Change a Culture at the Heartbeat International 50th Annual Conference.  

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A New Sexual Revolution

by Lori Kuykendall, MPH, President and CEO of Medical Institute for Sexual HealthNewRevolution

When the United States Supreme Court made the decision to legalize abortion in 1973, a cultural war had been raging in America for over a decade. Roe v. Wade was another battle won by the sexual revolutionaries who were advancing ironically under the banner of “Make love, not war!”  Their war had as its objective to overturn the cultural values of sex within its God-intended context of marriage.

The so-called “science” of Alfred Kinsey from the 1940s and 50s espousing more sex, earlier sex and sex with multiple partners combined with the pharmaceutical advances of widely accessible birth control to the millions of “baby boomers” coming into their rebellious adolescent years created a perfect storm to set off dramatic cultural change. Sex without commitment or consequences became the norm, and immediately divorce rates climbed from 1 in 6 to now nearly 1 in 2 as did sexually transmitted diseases, then just two to be concerned about and now more than 30.

Consider the many “ills” of our society that have resulted from sex outside its intended context of healthy marriage. Add to climbing divorce rates and STDs abortion, sex trafficking, sexual abuse, cohabitation, pornography, rape, exploitation, out-of-wedlock births, prostitution, and adultery.  We walk daily through the fallout in our own lives and in the lives of our friends and neighbors, and I wonder as we trudge through all the rubble if we can even imagine a different world.

Pregnancy help centers are positioned perfectly to compassionately help those left in the rubble. Other groups are fighting divorce or trafficking or pornography or rape in public policy, media, churches, and schools. Yet, somehow, we have not recovered a lot of the lost ground in spite of our individual efforts. We have not really gotten to the root of the problem. 

Like the Hydra in Greek mythology, we have worked tirelessly to cut off a few heads—only to see more heads grow back in their place. Now, we must strike at the base—and we must do that together. We have the opportunity to join together and attack the Hydra at its core, by working together to restore sex to its intended context and start a “new sexual revolution.”

Ushering in this “new sexual revolution” will require the united strength of all of us—combining our knowledge and efforts and working in close coordination in a stronger, more strategic way. We must step out of our silos, link arms, and wave the victory flag of hope and wholeness as we rebuild the walls of our nation, one family at a time. 

Lori Kuykendall, MPH is President and CEO of Medical Institute for Sexual Health. Her first job in health education was at the Women’s Pregnancy Center in Houston. She later was the director of LifeTalk Resource Center in Frisco, Texas. Together with Medical Institute Founder Dr. Joe McIlhaney, they are leading a national “coalition for a new sexual revolution.” She is presenting A New Sexual Revolution: Positioning for Cultural Change at the Heartbeat International 50th Annual Conference.

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Talking about Sexual Health with Clients

by Pam Stenzel, MA, MFTSexualHealth

Let’s face it, talking about sex is hard. But the conversation has become increasingly difficult in the midst of a culture that is constantly “triggered” and will need extensive therapy when “their truth” is questioned. It is also complicated by a generation that puts far more emphasis on “feelings” over facts and are willing to create their own personal reality while dismissing the evidence of science.

How do we have honest, difficult conversations with the highest risk group for STI infection, unexpected pregnancy and sexual dysfunction? Young people between the ages of 15 -24 currently account for close to 60 percent of new STI infections, according to the latest CDC Surveillance published in October of 2019. [https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats18/default.htm] Since 2014, there has been a 19% increase in cases of chlamydia, an astounding 71% increase in cases of primary and secondary syphilis, and a whopping 185% increase in congenital syphilis. These facts matter, especially to the clients we serve.

When I first began to engage with clients about sexual health and ask them if they had been tested for STI infections, I would get a look of confusion. “Why would I worry about STI’s? I used a condom, most of the time. I have only had 3 partners. I shower right after sex, every time.” I would proceed to provide what I thought was very basic information about sexually transmitted infections, how they are transmitted, how many people were infected and what the possible consequences could be to themselves, or their future fertility, or their unborn baby. Almost every single time, the response was “I didn’t know” or “nobody told me!”

One of the benefits of beginning the conversation about sexual health and hopefully moving to a bigger conversation of healthy relationships, is that we are reaching young women and men amid a crisis. Waiting for the results of a pregnancy test, or certainly an STI test, is the most teachable moment you will ever encounter. All the typical dismissive reasons for not dealing with the consequences of their behavior have flown out the window. I now have the opportunity, by simply and carefully asking questions on the intake, to begin to break down all the resistance to the discussion and the denial that has prevented them from considering consequences, and without judgement begin to give facts. Facts must prevail over feelings.

When we begin a discussion dealing with the sexual health information, which is objective and can be discussed in the context of optimal health and concern for the physical safety and wellbeing of the client, we have established a level of care and concern that then allows us to delve into the more subjective area of emotional and relational health. It is on this foundation that we can begin to chip away at so many myths about sex and intimacy that have been foisted upon us by the culture.

Recently, when discussing with a client her chlamydia tests results, she confided that she had tested positive for chlamydia the year before and even once in high school. This college sophomore was now in my clinic to be tested because she had a new partner and wanted to be given the “all clear.” I began to describe the possible consequences of repeated infections to her, especially as a female, which include pelvic inflammatory disease and possible future fertility issues. She said she never knew that information, especially that she would most likely be the one dealing with these physical consequences, not any of her male partners. I asked her directly, “Was the sex worth it?” She paused for a second, then laughed and said, “Definitely not!" With that kind of start, we have the foundation to move the discussion into the deeper issues of healthy relationships.

It is so important that our staff and volunteers are well prepared to not only have these conversations, but make it a priority to provide this information that so many of our clients have never been given. Just as with a pregnancy decision, we are not making choices for the client. The choice is ultimately theirs, but we never want anyone making life and death decisions without having all the information. They deserve to know the truth about the consequences of the choices they are making, both physical and emotional. We cannot let our fear, or our discomfort with discussing sex, prevent us from having these important conversations. Each one deserves our respect and deserves to hear that they are fully capable of making good, healthy choices for themselves and their future.

Pam Stenzel, M.A.; M.F.T.

Pam Stenzel is the current Senior Regional Clinic Coordinator for Community Pregnancy Clinics located in Florida. She has spent over 30 years speaking to students on sexual integrity both nationally and internationally. She is married, the mother of 3 adult children and grandma of 2 beautiful granddaughters.

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Strengthening the Bond between Teens and their Parents

by Melissa HopperTeenwithMom

In an age where technology is king and information is easily accessible, it’s no surprise that young people are becoming more autonomous at an earlier age. Today’s teens are enjoying higher levels of independence than ever before, and it seems like they are comfortable leaving their parents out of big decisions like getting an abortion or accessing medical care. Although teen birth rates are decreasing, lack of parental support means that teens experience increased pressure to choose abortion over parenting. 

How Providing Alternatives to Contraceptives Makes Us More Credible

by Jennifer Wright, Editor/WriterOrdinary
Heartbeat International

Medical science is truly amazing to me. I’m constantly surprised by how well we as a society have come to understand how the human body works and how we can help the body return to health.

But we don’t always work to improve a body’s function with the knowledge we’ve uncovered. Sometimes, our society tries to break something—like a woman’s fertility—in the name of fixing a problem that may or may not have something to do with her sexuality.

It confuses me that stopping a woman’s fertility—a sign of her body working the way it should—is a solution that the medical community is willing to offer so easily to women with acne, endometriosis, PCOS, hormonal imbalances, and more. It’s so common in fact that, as the Guttmacher Institute reports, about 60% of all women of reproductive age are currently using a contraceptive method.

Even when a woman requests birth control from her doctor for the purpose of sex without children or to protect from STI/STDs, the result is rarely, if ever, a completely positive experience.

I hear stories consistently from women about the various side-effects of hormonal contraceptives. Massive weight gain or loss, changes in mood and sexual desires, intense pain, bleeding – it’s no wonder “green, organic” methods of family planning, like fertility awareness-based methods are on the rise.

But then I am reminded of how many doctors and medical professionals treat hormonal contraceptives. It’s not uncommon for a doctor to prescribe a teenage girl with menstrual cramps some form of birth control. After all, the assumption is that she’s probably having sex or about to start anyway, so it’s a good idea to prevent pregnancy too. At least that’s the reason most cite. (Nevermind the psychological effects known to accompany casual sex.)

It can be difficult to find a doctor willing to explore other avenues of treatment.

A few of my married friends dealing with endometriosis have discovered this. After discussing with their doctors their hopes to start raising a family, they are still told that their best treatment option is hormonal birth control. One was even told her period was the real problem and the only way to fix her symptoms was to halt it.

When the world is so dead set (and I mean that in all it’s implications) on preventing children, who is willing to stand for life and women?

We are.

For these and many reasons, Heartbeat’s Commitment of Care and Competence states “We do not offer, recommend or refer for abortions, abortifacients or contraceptives. We are committed to offering accurate information about related risks and procedures.” (Click here for Heartbeat's full official statement.)

Hormonal methods can serve as abortifacients and have negative side effects for women, and it’s been proven that even barrier methods make individuals more likely to engage in “risky” sexual behavior that could lead to an unintended pregnancy, and sometimes, as a result, an abortion. The pregnancy help movement is committed to other solutions – better solutions – for women. It’s one of the primary reasons I love being a part of this movement.

When a pregnancy help organization provides medical services (STI/STD testing, well woman care, ultrasound, etc.) without providing contraceptives, it supports women more than any of the doctors or medical centers out there willing to “solve” a problem by breaking a working part of a woman’s body. Even more, that organization is ready to give a woman the holistic spiritual and emotional care she deserves to make the best decisions for herself that are healthy and empowering - true reproductive healthcare.

Women are waking up to the dangers of hormonal birth control and are relieved to have better options!

Through the compassionate care of the pregnancy help movement and strong sexual risk avoidance programs, a woman is emboldened to make positive choices for her future. Maybe she will find the strength to leave an unhealthy relationship, draw safer and healthier boundaries, or recognize her own self-worth in Christ that she’s never seen before — all because she was offered something different than the secular mainstream line of “just take this pill," "don't think about it," "safe sex."

Nothing beats the credibility that we gain with our clients when we prioritize them, address their real issues, and treat them holistically without treating their fertility as a problem to be solved.

For more information and FAQs about Heartbeat International's official statement on the provision of contraceptives by pregnancy help organizations, click here. 

I'm a Sexual Risk Avoidance Education Success Story

by Jennifer Minor, Editor/WriterClasses
Heartbeat International

In seventh and eighth grade at my Catholic school in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, I went through a program with my class called Operation Keepsake. When I started working at Heartbeat and interacting with the leaders of classes and programs in schools and out, somehow I didn’t make the connection. Then, I attended a presentation by Mary Anne Mosack where she shared about her journey with Ascend and Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE). It was only then that all the pieces fit together at last.

You see, Operation Keepsake was a step on the journey for Mary Anne doing her work spreading SRAE in schools. And here’s the thing, that class affected me in ways I didn’t realize at the time.

Fifteen years after my SRAE experience, I’m about to get married. I’m constantly overwhelmed with excitement (and sometimes stress), and I know that part of it is that my fiancé and I have done things in order.

We’re following the success sequence that SRAE teaches. We both got our educations, we have full time jobs, we’re getting married, and then we’ll think about kids, and we both made the choice to have one partner for life. Not only does this fit both of our Christian values and match up with God’s plan for our sexuality, it has demonstrable, research-backed benefits for society. Following all three behaviors in the simple success sequence (graduate, work full-time, marry before having children) leaves a millennial with only a 3% chance of living in poverty as an adult. The statistics are pretty clear, and you can see all of the data that Ascend has gathered here.

Now, I’ll admit, I didn’t walk out of Operation Keepsake with the success sequence in my brain. I walked out with much more information about STD/STIs than I wanted to know. I was hyper-aware that crossing certain lines would make it difficult to back up. It was the nature of my teenage brain, I suppose, but the success sequence stuck anyway (in part certainly due to my own family’s values).

While I didn’t have much of a dating life in middle school or high school, the dating I did in my twenties did make me think back to Operation Keepsake. I remembered that love is not sex. I remembered that there was a holy and healthy way to approach my sexuality, and while I had certainly learned more since those classes when I was about fourteen, SRAE was a part of my foundation.

That’s why I am grateful that Heartbeat International makes sure there’s opportunities for pregnancy help organizations to dive into Sexual Risk Avoidance Education at the Heartbeat International Annual Conference. My experience with SRAE was certainly supported by family and friends that stood by its teachings, but as I continue to prepare for marriage and my future, I’m so glad that more students will have the experience I did and gain the tools to make healthy and holy decisions for their lives as well.

I’m an SRAE success story, and I fully hope that more and more will be able to say the same.

Mary Anne Mosack, president/CEO of Ascend, will be presenting an In-Depth Training on Sexual Risk Avoidance at the 2020 Heartbeat International Annual Conference. You can click here to find out more or to register for this training opportunity. Additional resources from Ascend can be found at weascend.org.

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Not Just a Body


An excerpt from Hooked: The Brain Science on How Casual Sex Affects Human Development 

by Dr. Joe McIlhaney, MD

Editor's note: Dr. McIlhaney will be presenting on the topic of Brain Science and Sex at the 2020 Heartbeat International Annual Conference. You can join him to learn more in his workshop on Wednesday (Day 2) of the Conference. Below is an exerpt from the first chapter of his book on the same subject. 


Now that we have defined sex according to physical activity—according to what our bodies are doing—we’re ready to talk about the rest of the story. In order to truly understand why sex sells and why it is so pervasive in our society, we have to understand that humans are not just sex machines or animals. We, as human beings, are so much more.

If we think of sex as only a physical activity to be engaged in at our pleasure, and only for our pleasure, we will be blindsided by problems produced by the misunderstandings and miscalculations of our human nature. If we think our makeup is limited to satisfying appetites, we’ll conclude that we can engage in sexual activity, enjoy it on a physical level, and totally disassociate these acts from the rest of what we are as human beings—but we’ll be sadly mistaken and be blindsided by what might happen to us.

Going back to the time of sexual awakening, important research into the phenomenon of puberty has yielded some important discoveries. It has been found that teenage boys with high testosterone levels were more likely to engage in sexual behaviors than boys with lower hormone levels.1 In girls, early puberty has been linked to early age of first sexual intercourse.2 Yet research has found that parental relationships had the greatest influence on teen sexual behavior.  

So, what’s the point? It is worth remembering that every child’s body and brain transforms as he or she gets older, and this transformation has a huge physical and psychological impact on all things sexual. An intense fascination and desire for sex often accompanies these changes. Yet simply going through puberty or having a sex hormone coursing through a young person’s bloodstream, or even a specific genetic disposition, does not determine the decisions they make about sex. Beneficial factors, such as home environment and adult guidance, can help shepherd an adolescent through this tumultuous period in life. Negative guidance, if it dominates, from peers or the media can make the journey much more difficult.

Finally, it is clear that the brain is still developing during puberty and will continue to do so far after the external physical changes have reached their conclusion.

A 2017 survey of high school adolescents illustrates that sexual activity has more ramifications beyond the physical. The survey showed that both boys and girls who have had sex are more likely to be depressed than their friends who have not. The survey also asked questions regarding considering making a suicide attempt, making a suicide plan, and actually attempting suicide. Those students who had not had sexual contact consistently had lower percentages than their sexually experienced classmates on all questions regarding suicide.3

In all likelihood, none of these young people were aware that depression and suicidal thoughts might be caused in part by their sexual behavior. Consider the following questions:

  • Why are those who were not virgins when they married more likely to divorce than those who remained abstinent until marriage?4
  • Why are sexually active adolescents more likely to be depressed than their abstaining peers?10
  • Why do married couples report higher levels of sexual satisfaction than unmarried individuals with multiple sexual partners?5

The answers, of course, lie in the fact that human beings are creatures who are much more than physical bodies. We possess the ability for cognitive thought, which includes judgment, abstract thinking, planning for the future, moral intelligence, and other processes that govern our lives. Our decision-making ability, coming from the highest centers of the brain, can guide an individual to the most rewarding sexual behavior—unless bad programming from premature and unwise sexual behavior during the adolescent years has occurred, adversely affecting the brain’s ability to make healthy decisions.6

This is a risk about which most young people and most parents are totally unaware.

Fortunately, modern neuroscience of the past few years has opened a door of understanding that provides incredibly helpful guidance away from trouble. Many of the answers to the questions above, and others, may be found in modern neuroscientific research, the study of the human brain and nervous system, which has revealed startling new information about how sex affects the brain.

In the past, efforts to accurately assess the connection between sex, love, sexual desire, sexual risk-taking, and so on with brain activity were limited. But with the aid of modern research techniques and technologies, scientists are confirming that sex is more than a momentary physical act. It produces powerful, even lifelong, changes in our brains that direct and influence our future to a surprising degree.7 This new neuroscience information, which has greatly expanded over the past three decades, has transformed the scientific discussion about sex. Perspectives from medical, public health, and social science literature will also be utilized in this book to enhance our understanding of sexual behavior in adolescents and young adults in the larger cultural context.

The uniqueness of becoming an intimate part of another person’s mind and body—emotional and physical bonding, both experienced in a healthy way, and the vital role this plays in one’s health, happiness, and hope for the future—are  the central issues we will be explaining in this book. It is probably the most important outcome of healthy, positive sex.


  1. Harden, K. Paige. "Genetic influences on adolescent sexual behavior: Why genes matter for environmentally oriented researchers." Psychological Bulletin 140.2 (2014): 434.
  2. Pringle, Jan, et al. "The physiology of adolescent sexual behaviour: A systematic review." Cogent social sciences 3.1 (2017): 1368858.
  3. Kann L, McManus T, Harris WA, et al, “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance – United States, 2017,” MMWR Surveillance Summaries/ Vol. 67/No. 8
  4. Wisnieski, Deborah, Renee E. Sieving, and Ann W. Garwick. "Influence of peers on young adolescent females' romantic decisions." American Journal of Health Education 44.1 (2013): 32-40.
  5. Wilcox WB and Wolfinger NH, “Men and Marriage: Dubunking the Ball and Chain Myth”, Institute for Family Studies, https://ifstudies.org/ifs-admin/resources/ifs-researchbrief-menmarriage-083117.pdf accessed June 2018
  6. American College of Pediatricians, “The Teenage Brain: Under Construction,” May 2016 http://www.acpeds.org/the-college-speaks/position-statements/parenting-issues/the-teenage-brain-under-construction
  7. Jensen, Frances E (2015) The Teenage Brain, New York, NY Harper Collins
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What Changed the Way I Think About My Body

by Jennifer Minor, Heartbeat Editor/Writerlightstock 186030 small lauren bell

I didn’t really think a lot about my body growing up—unless it was to lament that I wasn’t as pretty as someone else, but that’s another story. Later, I came to see that most people thought about their bodies in one of two ways: as something like a cage for the soul full of temptation or as nothing more than a tool to make them feel good.

When I did start thinking this way, as a good Catholic girl, I went with the first. Yes, my body is a “Temple of the Holy Spirit,” but it’s also a stumbling block on the way to Heaven, right? Yes, it’s “fearfully and wonderfully made,” but that’s more about ME than just my body.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I was first introduced to Pope St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.” Discovering that changed everything.

The basic concept is simple. John Paul II spent about five of his years as Pope sharing his reflections on the creation story in Genesis, which just goes to show you there’s always more to scripture. These short reflections that he shared were eventually gathered together under the title Theology of the Body—and widely ignored for about 20 years.

Fortunately for me, “Theology of the Body” is currently all the rage in the Catholic Church, so I got introduced to the concept about eight years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

In the reading that I’ve done, the talks that I’ve attended, and the homilies I’ve heard on the subject, I’ve been reminded of many things that are often simply overlooked by Christians with “body as cage for the soul” mentality.

The “resurrection of the body” is an explicitly stated belief in the Apostle’s Creed. Jesus, after His resurrection, still has a body and can eat and drink, but it isn’t bound by space or time in the same way we are now, and his followers don’t recognize Him immediately in it. It’s been glorified.

Our bodies matter! And more than that, our bodies are a symbol of our whole selves. My body is a reflection of myself, and I am made in the image and likeness of God.

Knowing this, how could I continue to act as if my body didn’t matter? Or worse, as if it was merely a cage or stumbling block to living a holy life?

No. The way I express myself with my body means so much more than that. The way I dress can tell the people around me how much I respect myself. The way I care for my body—exercising, eating well, getting stronger—is as important as the way I care for my spiritual life—regular prayer, time with God, and practicing silence.

And of course, this means that my body can’t be nothing more than a tool to make me feel good. It’s no mere object for pleasure; if I make it that for any reason, I’m doing myself and everyone involved a great disservice.

I’m grateful to be a woman, and I know that my body is made to be able to bring life into the world. That is an incredible thing!

It’s extremely empowering to know that your body is built to create and sustain life.

But when I look around me, I see that my peers don’t see themselves that way. Their fertility to them is an obstacle, a prohibition against some kind of free expression of their sexuality. But then again, was my perspective so different when I saw my body as only a cage and a temptation?

Falling into thinking of ourselves as only body or only spirit doesn’t work.

I’m living best, and acknowledging the best in others when I remember that human beings are body AND soul. Both have eternal significance, and for me, “Theology of the Body” helped me discover that essential truth, and change the way I think about—and treat—my body.

For more information on the Theology of the Body, check out Fr. Joel’s recorded workshop from the 2018 Heartbeat International Annual Conference How “Theology of the Body” Helps Us Today. You may also be interested in Pia de Solenni’s keynote from the same Conference.

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