Displaying items by tag: sexual integrity

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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Above All Else, Guard Your Heart


There is an extraordinary amount of wisdom packed into Proverbs 4:23, which not only directs our lives but our ministry. It says to “above all else, guard your heart,” or watch over it with all diligence, “for everything you do flows from it.” When we think of pro-life ministry, we often think of helping a mother and her baby when the mother is in a situation where she is considering having an abortion. But we know there is a story behind what led to that point. Heartbeat’s vision is to make abortion unwanted today and unthinkable for the future.

Training people to guard their hearts will make this possible. But how?

1. Building Good Relationships

Doing anything that’s wrong starts with evil desires. James described how they lead one to give in to temptation and to sin, which brings about death. One way of avoiding this wrong path involves promoting transparency and trust in relationships, opening up ourselves to others and giving of ourselves. We are designed to be people in relationship who love God – who first loved us – and who love our neighbor as ourself. Whether we have fears, anxieties, sins, or sorrows, they can be overcome through sharing them with God and other wise people. Paul the apostle said that in bringing everything before God, His peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and James said that healing comes through confessing our sins to one another and praying for one another.

Promoting healthy relationships, where we enjoy God and cherish one another, leaves no room for destructive desires. Without such relationships, we end up, as Catholic theologian Blaise Pascal said, trying in vain to fill our emptiness with everything around us, seeking in those things help that they do not provide; they cannot satisfy us, “because the infinite abyss can be filled by an infinite and immutable object...God himself.” Developing relationships with grace and truth, though, gives us moral strength that drives out desires that lead to sins against our own children or others. Consider, then, how you might do this more in your own life, as well as how to encourage others in it.

2. Developing the Mind

A second key way to guard our hearts, or our whole being, is to develop the mind, using both God’s general and special revelation. The ideas we believe in, when we live them out, have consequences. That is why it’s so important to work on identifying and getting rid of false beliefs that we have, learn more true beliefs, and strengthen the true beliefs we have.

In Paul’s terms, we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we can know and live according to God’s good commands. Peter said to be on your guard so that we are not carried away by error, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We must know, for example, that every human being has inestimable moral value, and therefore we should not use someone either mentally or physically as merely a means to our own pleasure. Furthermore, the great good of sexual intimacy is rightly enjoyed only within the context and safety of a lifelong, exclusive commitment to one’s husband or wife. Being equipped to show why these ideas are true is also a critical part of serving others, especially when so many conflicting views influence our culture.

3. Nourishing the Imagination

Finally, we guard our hearts by nourishing our imagination in God-honoring ways. Speaking to his son, Solomon said not to lust after an immoral woman’s beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes. On the one hand, we need to stop taking in images that tempt us toward lust and sin, whether it is movies, television, indecent websites, or immodesty – many things are designed to catch our attention, but we need to not take the bait (or be the bait), even if it is unintentional.

On the other hand, we need to nourish our imagination with good images. For example, consider the beauty of God’s character and His creation, whether it’s getting outside and enjoying a sunset, having pictures of scenic things combined with Bible verses to meditate on, or if you’re married, enjoying your spouse. Watch wholesome movies with good messages. Listen to uplifting music. As Paul exhorted us, focus on whatever is true, noble, and right; whatever is pure, lovely, and admirable; and anything that is excellent or praiseworthy.

Building good relationships, developing our minds, and nourishing our imaginations must be prioritized in our own lives, but we must also teach them to our children and encourage others with these ideas. All of this is part of life-affirming ministry by preventing any inclination toward abortion from even having a foothold.

If this article was helpful, check out the webinar recording, available in our online store, Guarding Hearts.

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Changing the Conversation

by Crystal Kupper, Citizen MagazineValerieHuber

When Valerie Huber tells people what she does for a living, she knows the risk of ridicule she could be facing. “Our critics like to pigeonhole this as a religious issue,” she tells Citizen, “but the truth is that this has value for every student regardless of faith or moral framework—or lack thereof.”

“This” is abstinence education, or, as Huber refers to it, sexual risk avoidance (SRA) for young people. The first term often conjures caricatures of middle-aged teachers lecturing on the evils of sex, but that’s an image that Ascend—formerly known as the National Abstinence Education Association, or NAEA—is working to reframe.

As president and CEO of Ascend, a professional association that supports, educates, represents and equips those with a hand in the SRA conversation, Huber has a message for America: This ain’t your grandma’s sex ed.

“Sexual risk avoidance is actually a term taken from public health,” she says. “I bristle at the terminology ‘abstinence only,’ because our programs are so holistic. They contextualize a whole battery of different topics that surround a young person’s decision whether to have sex or not. Rather than someone telling a young person, ‘Do this, don’t do that,’ it’s casting a vision for a young person’s future.”

Huber, meanwhile, envisions a future where Ascend is seen for its focus on SRA as a public health issue, using what she says is an “approach that sits so clearly within a public health model for optimal health.”

Getting Educated

A 56-year-old mother of four, and a Christian since age 17, Huber’s impetus to get involved in public health policy began when her oldest son was in middle school. His health class, in her view, was sending mixed messages about sex and healthy relationships, and ultimately normalizing the age-old myth that “everyone is doing it.”

“I didn’t want to be a parent that complained about a problem,” she says. “I wanted to be a parent that helped with the solution.”

To that end, Huber encouraged the school to introduce a more age-appropriate curriculum in her son’s classroom. The effort was eventually successful. One thought kept returning, however: What about kids in other schools in their Ohio county? What sorts of messages were they hearing in their health and sexual education classes?

So in 1999, Huber founded and directed REACH, a character-building and risk-avoidance educational organization. The program, which Huber ran until 2004, served an average of 25,000 middle- and high school students in southwestern Ohio each year, emphasizing the fact that waiting to be sexually active has major benefits.

From there, Huber made the move to managing the Ohio Department of Health’s Abstinence Education Program. The job, created through a Title V federal-state partnership aimed at improving the health and well-being of women and children, offered the chance to oversee and grant awards to community abstinence programs serving more than 100,000 students statewide every year.

“I kind of started a career that I didn’t necessarily anticipate,” Huber admits. “When I had that first meeting with my son’s health teacher and principal,

I had no interest in having a career in sex education. It never entered my mind; I was only concerned about the well-being of my own child. But I count it as a real honor to today be in that particular place—to have an impact that can really change the trajectory of a young person’s life.”

The two positions culminated in a spot for Huber on the National Abstinence Leadership Council. In late 2006, after meeting to discuss the trends and needs in the field, the Council voted to form the NAEA. Huber assumed the position of NAEA president when the 501(c)4 organization officially formed in 2007. Its board members represented more than a century’s worth of experience in the fields of public health policy and abstinence education.

“Really,” she says, “the organization was a topic expert from the very start.”

Yet NAEA board members noticed an odd quirk about that topic almost immediately: Even though emerging research was proving that teens benefit physically, mentally and socially when they avoid premarital sex, the narrative surrounding the abstinence approach was attacked from the beginning.

For example, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States—founded in 1964 by Planned Parenthood’s medical director at the time, and which maintains strong ties to the abortion-selling group—called abstinence education a “failed approach” in an official February 2016 press release and blamed the movement’s backers for “wasting” nearly $2 billion in related federal support over the last three decades. Advocates for Youth, a reproductive and sexual health organization that often joins forces with Planned Parenthood, says on its web site that abstinence-only programs “ignore youth’s basic human right and the fundamental public health principle of accurate, balanced sex education.”

Huber and the NAEA board knew that they had to, as Huber says, “correct misinformation, and give an accurate portrayal of what SRA is actually about, in terms of making sure the policies are going to help young people thrive.”

What are those policies, exactly?

Just the Facts, Ma’am

First off, Huber wants the nation to know which policies SRA programs are not advocating. For starters, SRA is not a message exclusive to the church; instead, it finds its footing on “a public health standpoint,” as Huber says.

“When we’re talking about any potential risk behavior, the messaging and the skills around that should be designed to help that individual avoid all the risks,” she explains. “We’ve done that for smoking, but we don’t do it for teen sex. When we talk about the merits of sexual risk avoidance, that erases all those caricatures that our critics have tried to attach to our approach.”

That caricature certainly was a powerful image for Irva Antoine, a 27-year-old health educator in North Plainfield, N.J. As a teenager, she viewed any lesson that discouraged sexual activity before marriage as nothing more than a “Christian message.”

When Antoine graduated high school, however, she had a firsthand perspective on promiscuity’s universal consequences.

“I entered college with six other friends. We were all virgins,” Antoine tells Citizen. “By our sophomore year, only two of us (still) were. I saw the drama that revolved around casual sexual relationships. I also saw the pain and hurt it caused my closest friend.”

It’s a story Huber has heard hundreds of times through her work.

“In terms of health outcomes, what would you rather your child do? Avoid risk?” she asks. “Or do you want to say, ‘Go ahead, engage in everything, and let’s hope you just reduce that risk a bit’ ? ”

Something that often surprises well-intentioned people: SRA talks very specifically about avoiding those risks, including discussions on sexually transmitted infections and contraception. The difference between SRA and “comprehensive” sex education lessons, Huber says, is context.

“We don’t distribute or demonstrate [contraceptive methods]; we educate about it,” she says. “You may be told that ‘sex plus condoms equals safety,’ but it’s not true. We don’t want to over- or underestimate any of the facts.”

At the dawn of 2016, the NAEA changed its name to Ascend, but a key characteristic remained: its reliance on sound, scientific research to back up SRA’s efficacy. So Huber and the Ascend team regularly gather and analyze raw data on teen pregnancy, sexual activity and the like and post the conclusions on the organization’s web site, as well as compile related research-based studies and articles.

The research matches up with Ascend’s stated goal of “providing research expertise to evaluate raw data, interpret research trends, and correlate findings to healthy youth behavior.” Published studies like “Teen Relationship History Linked to Future Romantic Patterns” and “Age of First Sexual Experience Affects Future Relationships” help health and sexual education teachers—as well as parents and youth leaders—quickly navigate the science to find real-life statistics related to SRA.

Peggy Cowan, the founder and president of the New Jersey Physicians Advisory Group (NJPAG), a nonprofit research organization addressing teen pregnancy, STIs and single-parent adolescent families in the Garden State, says the research truly distinguishes Ascend from other teen-focused organizations.

“They’re a phone call away. Ascend really is the premiere organization with information that’s current and targeted on how we can help kids maneuver through the minefield of early sexual decisions,” she tells Citizen. “Sexual risk avoidance is not marginalized anymore—because it is now seen for the true health message it is, just like avoiding drugs, alcohol and violence.”

Besides research, Ascend also certifies SRA specialists—training that Antoine, Cowan and hundreds of others have completed. NJPAG utilizes that training each fall in seven-day conferences held across New Jersey.

J.T., a health teacher in Hudson County, N.J., who completed an Ascend-based educator workshop, told Cowan the message is vital. “Attending this conference taught me more information about keeping students safe than any course I took in four years of college,” he said. “The information debunked many things I was taught that sound true, but are not.”

Working in Washington

Beyond educating parents, teachers and youth leaders, Huber frequently works in the political arena, both nationally and locally. As Cowan says, Ascend “not only deals with issues in Washington, but also has tentacles into every state and supports those people who are looking to build credible support within their state.”
That’s a job the current administration has made complicated. This February, President Obama proposed cutting funding for abstinence programs in the 2017 federal budget by $10 million, while increasing funding for a program that emphasizes birth control and safe sex by $4 million. His reason? According to the official budget, “the [SRA] program is not focused on funding evidence-based models.”

Huber disputes that claim, pointing out that the number of teens who have never had sex has actually increased 15 percent in the last two decades, while funding for abstinence education has been at its highest. Still, Huber is unafraid of the future for the simple reason that SRA education has made great gains in the last decade, even with Obama in office.

“Despite the fact that almost eight years of Obama’s administration, with unprecedented hostility against sexual risk-avoidance education, and despite the fact that every budget he sends to Congress calls for the elimination of our funding, we have seen this field continue to improve,” she says. “That’s because when people understand what our programs actually do, they’re supportive. The more we are able to have that conversation, the more young people are served.”

At any rate, Huber plans to meet with the next president to discuss the future of SRA in America, as she has with Obama’s staff. She doesn’t think we’ll be “in any worse state than we are right now,” no matter who wins this November.

In the meantime, celebrities who have publicly announced their commitment to save sex for their future spouses have been making headlines nationwide. Men like NFL quarterback Russell Wilson and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow have kept the SRA conversation in the spotlight. Huber appreciates the support, but continues to depend on the science more than the spotlight.

“Take it back to public health message: We know more today than yesterday on the dangers of smoking,” she says. “Just because someone begins smoking doesn’t mean that suddenly the value of not smoking diminishes. It just means that this is a risk behavior that has an allure.”

Though many church-goers believe in SRA, they sometimes doubt its effectiveness outside Christian homes. Antoine has something to say about that: “I wish that everyone could understand that the Ascend message is not a ‘Christian message.’ It’s a life-saving message. You can live to the fullest if you focus on your goals and enjoy that great sexual life within that loving, committed relationship, preferably in a marriage.”

That sort of talk gives Huber reason to hope for the future of America’s young people and SRA’s “pretty good trend line” that she’s “hopeful will continue.”

“We have to remind ourselves that if we care about the future of our nation and youth, we always have to side on what is in their best interest. SRA education is the only sex ed approach that does that, and does it well,” she says.

“The sexual risk avoidance approach and terminology just opens up the conversation so much differently than in the past.”

For More Information:

To learn more about Ascend, visit weascend.org.

The New Jersey Physicians Advisory Groups website can be found at njphysicians.org.

From the August 2016 issue of Focus on the FamilyCitizen magazine. © 2016 Crystal Kupper. Used by permission.

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The Key to Authentic Intimacy

by Jennifer Minor, Editor/WriterKey

In the follow-up to the Heartbeat International Annual Conference, one of my favorite things is the chance to listen to workshop recordings I might be interested in (Did you know you can order recordings of these workshops here?).

This year, Stephanie Libertore’s "Discover the Key to Authentic Intimacy" jumped out at me.

And I’m glad it did.

As Libertore says, “We have a need to know, a need to be known, and a need for love and acceptancethat’s our need for intimacy. We want intimacy.”

Being a young woman pretty close to the target audience of the pregnancy help movement, I’m always fascinated by how we approach the topic of intimacy. My experience has been so colored by movies, music, television, and the "cool" culture that I couldn’t begin to say what might be an expression of intimacy other than sex.

Though I know intimacy involves much more than one physical expression, Libertore gets it right when she says most young people equate "intimacy" with sex as a one for one.

“If sex is not the indicator of true intimacy, then what is?” she asks.

It’s a great question. If it’s really true that we long for intimacy, to know and be knownand we dothen how can we fulfill that need?

One comfort is the reminder that God wants this kind of intimacy with us. Libertore speaks straight to my heart (with scholarship in etymology) when she points out the Hebrew word yada, most often translated "to know".

Now yes, the first use of the word yada is in Genesis with Adam and Eve where Adam “knew” Eve and she conceived and bore a son. But yada is used for so much more. Yada is about perception, understanding, seeing, experiencing, and willingness. It’s the way God wants to know us and wants us to know Him.

Intimacy, as Libertore points out, is best expressed in the phonetic rendering: "into me see."

“I think the key to genuine intimacy is vulnerability,” Libertore says.

Being vulnerable does allow us to know and be known, and if shared with someone who loves us, to be accepted for exactly who we are. It’s the way the psalmist speaks of God in Psalm 139. “O LORD, You have searched me and known me... Search me, O god, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts.” Psalm 139:1, 23

The same word, yada, being used for both of these instances, tells us something about God, intimacy, and sex. It is the great reminder that sexual intercourse should be a reflection of the kind of intimacy God wants with us.

But sadly, as Libertore points out, young people often fall instead for what she dubs a "virtual intimacy"—an incomplete parody of the genuine article.

This is why so many make the same mistakes over and over again, hoping the same poor decision will lead to a better result next time around. The problem is, between the emotional and physical bonding forged through sexual intercourse, it becomes more and more difficult to form healthy relationships with the opposite sex. 

No wonder the Bible tells us over 100 times to avoid sexual immorality. Maybe this is why some women come to our pregnancy centers over and over again for the same meeting.

What’s the key to unlocking the right conversation—one that might finally open the door to seeing sex as something holy, with a purpose, and only to be shared between husband and wife?

I’ll let Libertore give you the specific keys, but it all starts with understanding where a young woman is coming from. (Here’s a clue: she doesn’t think of sex as holy. She might think it’s dirty, overrated, a tool, or harmless fun, but she doesn’t think it’s a reflection of the type of intimacy God wants with us.)

It’s our job to show her that and help her to unlock authentic intimacy.

Click here to order recordings of this workshop, or any of the 2016 Heartbeat International Annual Conference keynotes or workshops at egami.com.

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Shelf-Help: Hooked

by Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., MD and Freda McKissic Bush, MD

by Ducia Hamm LAS, Associate Director of Affiliate ServicesHooked

Who of us has not heard these comments when addressing the subject of delaying sex until marriage with teens and adults alike...“You just don’t want me to have any fun!” “Everyone is doing it!” “We love each other so what does it matter if we’re married?”

Hooked is a must read for pregnancy help ministry staff, parents, those mentoring teens or young adults – truly for anyone interested in how our bodies were created by God to biologically form lasting, meaningful connections with each other.

Packed full of eye-opening, useful information, Hooked lays out, in easy to understand language, the recent research in the field of neuroscience confirming the adage that our brains are the largest and most important sex/relationship organ humans have.

Because of new state-of-the-art technology, some startling discoveries have been made. We have known for a while the bonding effects that oxytocin has in a woman’s brain when it is released during sex but did you know that men release vasopressin which has a very similar bonding effect in a man’s brain?

Scientists are now able to measure when and how much of specific chemicals are released and the corresponding changes the human brain experiences when we engage in sexual activity.

One of the most important discoveries talked about in Hooked is crucial information needed for a culture so accepting of casual sex, “...there is evidence that when [the] sex/bonding/breaking-up cycle is repeated a few or many times – even when the bonding was short-lived – damage is done to the important, built-in ability to develop significant and meaningful connection to other human beings.” (Pg. 55)

As I read Hooked, Psalms 139:13-14 kept coming to mind – “For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well.”

We are indeed “remarkably and wonderfully made!” It is always exciting to see science corroborate what the Bible has always said – that sex is meant to be enjoyed to the fullest within the context of marriage between one man and one woman.

**One of the authors, Freda McKissic Bush, MD is a member of the Heartbeat International Medical Advisory Council, frequent presenter at the Heartbeat Annual Conference, Medical Director for Center for Pregnancy Choices in Mississippi and CEO of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health among many other activities and accomplishments.

The Fight for This Generation

by Jeffrey Deangeneration

Every young adult is in a battle. Did you know that? If this “battle” talk sounds like a bit of a stretch to you, let me tell you about Rhys.

A few summers ago I spoke at a camp. After an evening session, one of the guy counselors—Rhys—asked if we could talk. Rhys was heading into his sophomore year at a well-known Christian college. There was a sadness in his eyes that I couldn’t fathom. He had a lot of nightmares, he said, and a lot of guilt.

During his senior year of high school, Rhys and his girlfriend, Emily, were fairly typical Christian kids. They were both active in youth group, had pledged to abstain from sex until marriage, and were known in their circles of friends as “good kids.” But on the night of their senior prom, everything went crazy.

At a post-prom party, Rhys admitted, “One thing led to another and we pretty much did it all that night. Fooling around, drinking... you name it.”

Tragically, Emily had too much to drink, went into a coma, and never came out of it. A week later, Emily died.

This is an extreme story, yes, but it happened. As I speak to high school and college-age students around the country, I hear stories you wouldn’t believe. Welcome to the world of this generation. It’s a fight—and every young adult today is engaged in it.

This fight is about a tsunami of information, communication, anything-goes ethics, and the inevitable moral experimentation that results. The world of today’s young generation moves at a pace you and I would never have dreamed of when we were teens. Almost weekly, teens write to me about addictions to types of drugs that weren’t around just five years ago. By the time they graduate from high school, most seniors tell me, they have consumed alcohol and been offered drugs. Most college students I meet say that marijuana is easily accessible, and that there is almost always someone who is willing to have sex with them. It doesn’t matter whether they attend public schools or Christian schools; students know where drugs are used, kept, and sold. Many tell me they know a friend or classmate who has abused prescription drugs, or who is addicted to porn.

Here’s a fact: Rhys and Emily could have been anyone’s teens. They are from a generation bombarded by lies, hungry for help, and desperate for truth. Every young adult won’t face exactly what Rhys and Emily faced, but war is the daily reality for all.

You may be asking, “How does this information directly affect me and my work in my pregnancy center?” My experience in ministering to this young generation has proven over and again that the struggles of most students aren’t one-dimensional. A teen dealing with the challenge of a pregnancy, or contemplating having an abortion, is often additionally struggling with a variety of issues such as a low self-worth, an eating disorder, drug usage, cutting, pornography, and, not to mention, a lack of spiritual depth and discipline.

I am also of the belief that as Christians, we should never halt the pursuit of knowledge. Keeping up with what’s up for this generation only better equips us to be ever ready to meet them where they are, as they are, and offer them the hope and true remedy found only in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Every young adult has to navigate the confusing waters of today’s culture. Additionally, the struggles this generation face share a common underpinning: Satan hates these kids. More specifically, he’s their number-one enemy! His task is, as Jesus warned in John 10:10 (NIV), “to steal, kill, and destroy”, and he wants to lure them away from the truth and lead them toward destruction.

It’s our job to grab our weapons, jump into the battlefield, and be ready to give it all we’ve got. This generation needs us. We must be willing to fight and help them win!

Don't miss Jeffrey Dean's workshop at the 2016 Heartbeat International Annual Conference, The Top 10 for This Gen.

Jeffrey Dean is an ordained pastor, evangelist, and author committed to pro-life and pro-marriage family ministry. He has partnered nationally with over 100 Pregnancy Help Organizations offering a wide range of ministry services such as consulting, fundraising, parent and counselor training, evangelism, and discipleship outreach.

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Because You’re Worth It

by Hannah Sapp, Heartbeat InternationalWorthIt

With its slogan “because you’re worth it,” L’Oréal has caught on to a crucial aspect of personhood. Self-worth that shapes how we treat ourselves and others, and a majority of the young girls and women that seek pregnancy help don’t have the understanding that they are “worth it.”

Everyone wants to know they are worth it. The issue is whether or not we are using the right basis to determine our self-worth.

  • Does worth come from looking good with the help of make-up?
  • Does it come from promiscuity and sexual attention?
  • Does it come from acceptance and fitting in with the crowd?
  • Does it come from a father who tells us who we are?

Yes, we know that our identity is found in Christ, and that He calls us adopted daughters and sons, but how can we convey that to a client with a negative pregnancy test? She is usually already disengaged, feeling the relief that, “It’s over. I’m safe this time.”

We have the opportunity to show each woman a snippet of her true value, as both an image-bearer of God and one for whom Christ died. As we labor to show each woman her value, it’s essential that we help her understand how this affects her relationships both with the opposite sex, and with everyone involved in her life.

At the 2015 Heartbeat International Annual Conference, Joneen Mackenzie, President of The Center for Relationship Education, brought a fresh perspective to sexual integrity and self-worth.

In her workshop, “Building Skills for Life and Love,” Joneen shared that caring for young people in a holistic manner includes not only focusing on sexuality, but also, teaches them how to deal with issues of the heart. She presents a view that goes beyond “mere abstinence,” and teaches concepts like life mapping and learning to live and love well—all because, “you’re worth it.”

Using hands-on examples, Joneen’s workshop teaches students to understand and find healthy ways to express their self-worth in relationships.

Helping clients learn to identify their own feelings is key to building healthy relationships, Joneen says. Most teens can identify their feelings simplistically (happy, sad, mad, glad), but few can recognize more complex feelings. Giving them a list of feelings to choose from can help them become more emotionally intelligent.

The more a client can understand her own feelings, the more empowered she is to change unhealthy relationships and address the patterns that cause them. It’s also equally important to help a client understand that feelings themselves aren’t right or wrong, but potential indicators of the deeper realities and beliefs connected to self-worth.

The process of helping a client understand her worth also includes helping her see her value through simple personality tests that point out strengths, challenges, values, needs, and motivators. One fun, engaging test is the Five Minute Personality Test, which Joneen recommends as springboard to help a client grasp that she is a uniquely designed individual who is worthy of self-respect.

Joneen’s contribution to the sexual integrity conversation is compelling and safe, as valuable tools to building a healthy life in all aspects. When a client feels loved and respected, she may return for more guidance, open up, and trust you to speak into her life.

These hands-on models help to build relationships, relationships, relationships!

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Motherhood or Marriage?

by Hannah Sapp, Heartbeat Internationalmarriagemotherhood

Motherhood and Marriage: The Disconnect

Women seem to be willing to choose to mother, but not to get married. What would cause a woman to be more comfortable being a single mother than finding the support of a husband first and then becoming a mother? How can her desire to mother overcome her desire for a stable father for her children?

At the 2014 Heartbeat International conference Lindy Dimeo, a center director in Virginia, presented a workshop called "Why Women Choose Babies over Marriage." Dimeo used information found in Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood before Marriage written by Maria Kefalas and Kathryn Edin to inform the way low-income women think about the issues of motherhood and marriage. Based on a survey of women with low socioeconomic status taken in Philadelphia, Edin and Kefalas propose that poor women will usually put mothering before marriage.

While the reasons that impoverished women choose to mother and not to marry may vary in different regions of the country and world, there are shared characteristics that can be helpful to understanding the motivations and thoughts of clients who desire to mother alone.

Understanding her Point of View

Crucial for understanding this trend of motherhood disconnected from marriage is acknowledging an inherited cultural notion that marriage is unsuccessful. More and more women are choosing single parenting because they see so few strong, lasting marriages today. They see the low or non-existent success of marriage, and they are not finding partners (or even potential partners) who would make good candidates for long term relationships or fatherhood.

For some women, fatherhood is a test of trust to decide if he has the potential to be a good husband. Some think "if he is a good father, then I can marry him." Dimeo discusses her experiences with a client in this very situation who expressed that if she chose to mother, she would experience unconditional love, because a man may not always be by her side, but her child would never leave her.

Wow. Can you imagine how much pressure that child will feel, to have their own mother rely on them for unconditional love? Yet, this is a common mentality. Women who view motherhood as a source of unconditional love and purpose are also searching for the same fulfillment as women who are bouncing from relationship to relationship looking for their heroic prince to love them.

These women are looking to satisfy the God-given desire for relationship and love.

How Can You Help?

Your conversation with a client is the perfect opportunity to pour into her the truth of her identity in Christ and share that He can fulfill better than anyone that desire for unconditional love. Dimeo mentions a demonstration using a set of three cups to tell a woman of her value as given in Christ.

The first cup is Styrofoam. It is disposed after only one use. This cup represents a woman who has had a one night stand or a friend with benefits.

The second cup is an everyday mug which one might use for a time, but after repeated use, disregard for another newer mug. The mug represents serial monogamous relationships.

The third cup is a valuable china teacup–a family heirloom. This teacup is priceless. Someone would put this teacup on display for all to see and would only use it for the most special of occasions, washing it thoroughly with much care after each use. The beautiful teacup is irreplaceable.

It is difficult for women to see the benefits of marriage when there is such a disconnect between the love God intended for marriage and what is found in the greater culture. Since magazine quizzes engage teens and young women, a couple of helpful tools to get them thinking beyond present circumstances and personal gain in having a child can be utilized from the appendix of the Sexual Integrity Program:

  • What About Your Future
  • Your Choices Affect Your Child's Future
  • Marriage: The Right Choice for the Best Future

Each of the materials may act as a guide for a woman who doesn't see the fruit of marriage to understand those fruits by acknowledging facts derived from research about marital relationships and parenting. Using these tools helps to free the peer counselor from the temptation to use opinions to convince a client of the value of marriage for herself and her baby.

Lindy also mentions one final point important for every counselor to take into every conversation: Your job is not to just talk to her about sex– it is to care for her future. You have the opportunity to find out what the heart issue is that motivates her bad decision making. Usually, those bad decisions are tied to a desire for love, they are just misdirected decisions. Above expressing concern for her future, you have the ability to help care for her heart. You can point her to her identity in Christ and her value as His child: loved and adored.

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