They Are Worth It

November has been a blur of activity in the Prevention Department! This month alone, we have presented more than 120 unique lessons with one common mission: promoting sexual integrity as a means to achieve the safest, healthiest life outcome possible.

And you know what? Sometimes it’s a difficult job. When you walk into a middle school classroom with a box full of stuffed animal STDs, you’re not usually met with applause. Some of the topics we cover in the classroom–as important as they are–can be awkward. (Pornography, anyone?)

However, along with the discomfort of discussing sperm, fallopian tubes, and STDs, our students are learning life skills they will need for the rest of their life. We teach topics like assertive communication, setting boundaries, making decisions, and cultivating healthy friendships, just to name a few.

One of the most rewarding parts of this job is hearing from our students. We received some encouraging feedback recently and wanted to share it with you. Knowing we are impacting young lives like these is truly what makes it all worthwhile. Enjoy!

“After you guys came in to talk to us I feel so much more confident on making big choices that I’m unsure about throughout my lifetime.” –Blair, 7th Grade

“I think the best and most awkward part was “REAL Differences” day. It was the best part because I think that this was the day that I finally understood my body and what it does once every month.” –Mia, 8th Grade

“I have learned more in 11 days than what I’ve ever thought I would. I had no clue that there was that many risks of sex. I had no clue that there was that many STDs out there. You are TRULY inspirations to me. I loved the class and not just for the candy. You’ve taught me more than any bucket of candy could.” – Parker, 7th Grade

“I learned that whether you want to or not, you should always set boundaries for yourself, and if your significant other can’t respect them, then they aren’t worth your time.” –Hadyn, 7th Grade

“In my opinion the best part of your being here was the lesson you taught us on pornography. I believe this was the best lesson because I feel that it is a very overlooked subject. Most people my age, including myself, really didn’t know the damage pornography could do to your physical and mental state.” –Ellie, 8th Grade

“I would have never thought of someone trying to kill themselves over a break-up. Now I know that in the future if I want to break up with someone, I will do it in person in a public place.” –Sophie, 8th Grade

“These are things that I will keep in my brain and use for the rest of my life to keep myself on a good path.” –Christian, 8th Grade

“I’ve learned a lot in your class, too much to handle.” –Austin, 8th Grade

“I don’t have a lot of friends, but I feel like you were mine. A close friend.” –Beau, 7th Grade

“I’m glad we’ve been given the opportunity to learn these things, and to do it with great teachers that I can tell really care about how we turn out and the choices we make. This program really helps me have hope for my future.” –Ali, 8th Grade

“What you taught me in the last two years is more important than any school has or ever will teach me.” –Quincy, 8th Grade

“I was a little uncomfortable at the beginning but then I learned that it’s a part of life and is something we needed to learn.” –Gabi, 7th Grade

“This class helped me make my decision to have abstinence until marriage. I think that with abstinence from sex is very important because it will make the healthiest outcome.” –Fiona, 8th Grade

“I didn’t just like this class because we got candy, I liked it because you guys took the time to get to know us and care to teach us.” –Landon, 7th Grade

“It made me think more about the ‘marriage before baby’ thing that my mom and dad enforce on me. I never asked about why, I always nodded along and said, ‘I know.’ I guess that you guys made me understand that more.” –Sara, 7th Grade

Kelli Hansen

Kelli Hansen

Prevention Assistant

The Cost of a Click

People at work have started calling me the “porn queen.” I’m considering adding the title to my resume just as a conversation piece. How did I earn this title, one might ask? When the topic of pornography comes up (and it often does in my line of work), I have no choice but to shift into educator mode and drop some knowledge. My coworkers good-naturedly bob their heads when I launch into one of my animated educational speeches, complete with flailing arms and recent statistics. While “porn queen” might be a funny (albeit misleading) nickname, the truth is that pornography addiction is no laughing matter.

Porn hates God’s design for sex. It creates destruction and tells lies. It infects the minds of its victims, regardless of age, gender, status, or place of residence. To give you an idea, here are some things I’ve heard just this month:

“Sometimes I’m unable to watch it because my phone is too slow, and that makes me very angry.”

“I’m ashamed and confused about my sexual choices.”

“Since I know he’s watching porn, I never feel like I’m attractive enough to keep him interested in me.”

“I’m heterosexual, but when I see an attractive photo of a member of the same sex, I feel triggered to watch pornography.”

“I live in fear that he is looking at other girls for sexual pleasure.”

“I’m ashamed by what arouses me, like being physically hurt.”

You might be surprised to learn that all of these quotes came from teenage girls. Pornography is often thought of as “a guy problem” when in fact, one out of three porn viewers is female. It’s also frequently touted as “adult entertainment” when the truth is the average age of first exposure to pornography is 10-11 years old. Whether or not your child is searching for pornography, it is most definitely searching for them.

I want to clarify that being curious about sex is a natural part of growing up. It’s a natural part of being human! God created sex—it was His idea! It is a gift meant to be celebrated in the security and commitment of marriage. But pornography preys upon sexual curiosity and tells lies about God’s beautiful design.

When people are engaged in anything addictive (like drugs or pornography), a 4-step brain cycle begins. First, because it is addictive, there is an over-consumption of the substance or activity. Next, the brain is hit with a surge of dopamine. Next comes a release of Delta Fos B, and finally, sensitization of a neural pathway, causing cravings and triggers.

If, like me, your mind doesn’t easily attach to science-y terms, here’s what to keep in mind:

Dopamine tells the brain, “This activity is valuable, let’s do it again!”

Delta Fos B tells the brain “I’ve been here before, and this is what I can expect.”

Let’s use substance abuse as an example. If someone is using cocaine, the dopamine surge tells the person’s brain the activity of snorting cocaine into their nose is valuable, fun, and rewarding. Delta Fos B tells the person’s brain when they see white powder, it means they are going to get high. Even if this person stops using cocaine, they will likely be “triggered” by anything resembling white powder in the future, thanks to Delta Fos B.

But pornography addiction is slightly different from drug addiction. Our brains do not have a built-in circuit for drug use—but our brains are naturally wired for sex. God created us to be fruitful and multiply, so he gave us a built-in circuit for reproduction. Porn hijacks this naturally existing brain circuit and force-feeds it lies.

Because of Delta Fos B, the brain learns the porn on the screen is what to expect from a real-life sexual encounter. And here’s the kicker: the adolescent brain is more flexible than a mature brain (which reaches full development at age 25-26), and also contains a higher concentration of Delta Fos B. That means deeper, longer lasting pathways are conditioning the mind.

So, what lies does porn teach adolescent brains about sex?

  1. Sex should be accessible at any time. If a woman wants a relationship, she must give him whatever kind of sex he wants.
    Unlike a real-life sexual relationship, pornography is never unavailable. Unlike women in real life, women in pornography will never say, “Stop, that hurts.” They will never say, “I feel disrespected.”
  2. A woman is to be dominated and used. Verbal cruelty and physical abuse are normal and permissible in relationships.
    88% of all pornography contains some form of female degradation. This normalizes abuse and teaches the brain to find it arousing.

  3. The only goal of sex is for the man’s physical pleasure. A girl’s self-worth is tied to her appearance and sexual performance.
    Porn does not care about emotional, intellectual, or spiritual connection.

  4. When a guy is no longer fulfilled, he should find someone/something new that excites him. A man can never be fully committed to a woman mentally or physically.
    Among other things, dopamine is triggered when the brain experiences novelty, shock, and guilt. This causes the compulsion to seek new and different types of pornography with each use. When one type of sex act becomes boring, you can search for something else. Sex is viewed from the perspective, “What’s in it for me?”

When this brain conditioning is carried from adolescence into a real-life relationship, it wreaks havoc on the hearts, minds, and bodies of all involved. As a matter of fact, one in three guys between the ages of 18 and 25 suffers from porn-induced erectile dysfunction, or PIED. This causes feelings of shame, inadequacy, and sexual frustration. In many cases, it leads to infidelity and/or divorce.

As if that weren’t enough of a reason to avoid pornography, it is reported that about half of all sex trafficked victims are forced to create porn. There is no guarantee that what is being viewed on the screen has been made voluntarily, even if it appears that way. Because there is money to be made in the porn industry, it creates a demand for people having sex on camera. Sex trafficking is one of the major content suppliers of the porn industry.

So, now what? Once a porn user knows this information, is there any hope of recovery? Absolutely. There are support groups, accountability apps, and resources like the ones listed below. Once you know better, you can take the responsibility to do better–for yourself, your relationships, and the entire world.

Fight The New Drug
Your Brain on Porn
These are the info cards we hand out during presentations, complete with resources.

Kelli Hansen

Kelli Hansen

Prevention Assistant

Prevention Services: A Moving Target

Bridgehaven Prevention Services Team

If you ask Trisha Sellers, Director of Prevention, to describe what they do, the first thing she’ll tell you is, “It’s a moving target.” This is why she and her team use the target visual (right) to help describe what they do.

Trisha and Prevention Assistant, Kelli Hansen, as Sexual Risk Avoidance (SRA) Specialists, reach the vast majority of students with their Sexual Risk Avoidance message in area middle and high schools. Certified in the REAL ESSENTIALS curriculum, they are actively teaching SRA for five to ten days in each school, ranging from fourth grade through high school seniors. One of the ten days in the classroom includes a visit from the Veracity Team, a peer-to-peer mentoring initiative led by Veracity Coordinator, Maureen Nolan. Maureen recruits and trains these high school and college volunteers, equipping them to talk about what it’s like to navigate life in high school and answer questions. All of this classroom work is made possible by Prevention Coordinator, Ashley Denker, who prepares materials, collects and inputs data, maintains records and keeps the team up-to-date with medical and culture research.
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A Great Light

“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” Isaiah 9:2 NASB

I was invited to attend the Care Net conference this month in Washington DC. with several other staff members at Bridgehaven. Care Net is the umbrella organization that supports one of the largest networks of pregnancy centers in North America, including Bridgehaven. We soaked up four days of engrossing keynote speakers (like David Nasser and Andi Andrews), current knowledge and instruction from amazing workshop leaders (like Kathy Koch), rich networking fellowship with others from all across the nation, and powerful times of holy worship after each morning devotional.

I have many, many take-aways (I am still deciphering and organizing my notes). But, what has traveled home with me, and what I have found myself talking about more than anything else is a session with Lisa Hosler, President of Susquehanna Valley Pregnancy Services in southeastern Pennsylvania. Her session was called Leading in the Secret of the Productive Pause.
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For many Cedar Rapidians, the images of a flooded Houston bring back painful memories of 2008 in Iowa. Or even 2016 as the city braced again for possible flooding. As we reflect on how the city really came together during those times and we saw love demonstrated beyond what we could imagine, we spent some time in prayer today as a staff looking at the story of Noah and his famous ark. And while I’m not sure we can even conjure up an idea of how horrible the smell must have been on that boat after being shut up for about a year, I think there are even more important things to consider.

As Beth, our prayer leader for the day, led us through the scripture, I wondered about how the family got along during that time…shut up with no sun, no fresh air for so long. I mean, I love my siblings and their spouses but that was waaaay longer than a holiday weekend. It is only through the grace of God all the humans survived the trip, let alone the animals. But then Beth read us a devotional which pointed out maybe Noah’s response to God wasn’t as radical as we imagine it to be. Wait, what? Did she really just say building a huge ship on dry land and trying to convince people there would be a huge flood and the world would be wiped clean was not radical? Now, Beth is typically the voice of reason in the Development area but I was worried she might have hit her head or something. How could the idea of going against all his neighbors and convincing his sons to gather the animals of the Earth to get on a huge boat not crazy? Why did she think this was just a normal day for Noah?
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Teen Conversation

As the clients who walk through the doors of Bridgehaven get younger and my son gets older, I feel like my worlds will soon collide. Wait…that doesn’t sound right. What I mean is I have to start looking at my son, my baby, as a potential client. He hates when I call him my baby. I do it all the time on social media and he is like, “Stop, mom. I am not your baby.” Ah, buddy, you are absolutely wrong. Despite the fact that you grow taller than me daily, you will always be my baby…the one your dad and I prayed to God for for years and years. But you are right. You aren’t a baby. You are a young man. And that scares the crap out of me.

Parenting a teenager is not for the faint of heart. I say this like I know even though mine has only been an actual teenager for a few months. The facts are not pleasant to look at. According to the most recent CDC findings ( reported in the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance 2015 report, nearly 10 million new STDs reported each year were among young people between the ages of 15-24; nearly 230,000 babies were born to teen girls aged 15-19 in 2015; 20% of surveyed students nationwide had ridden in a car or other vehicle one or more times with a driver who had been drinking alcohol; 41% of surveyed students had texted or emailed while driving a car; 22% of students surveyed had been in a physical fight one or more times; over 20% of students had been bullied on school property and 15.5% electronically bullied (email, chat rooms, social media); 14.6% of students nationwide had made a plan about how they would attempt suicide; 63% have tried alcohol and 44% had usually obtained the alcohol they drank by someone giving it to them; 21% were offered, sold or given an illegal drug. Kinda makes you feel sick, doesn’t it?
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Loving the Fatherless

If we want to know more about our Creator, the best place we can look is in his Word. Reading through Scripture is a surefire way to decipher what God loves, what he cares about, and what he wants from us. When I read through my Bible, something jumps out at me very clearly: God has a special place in His heart for the fatherless. It is evident he places special focus on children who are not loved well by their earthly parents. Here are just a few examples:

  • “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4)
  • “But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.” (Psalm 10:14)
  • “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

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Holding Your Position

1800s Fire TruckIn the 1800s, back before fire engines made their debut in America, firefighters relied on horses for transportation in emergency situations. But not just any horse could serve as a fire horse. They needed to be resilient, agile, obedient and courageous. At the scene of the fire, they needed to stand patiently while embers and flames surrounded them. It was imperative for them to be still in the midst of distractions, holding their positions while the fire was being fought.

Doesn’t it feel like our world is set ablaze with misinformation, broken promises, and distraction? In this sex-saturated culture, promoting sexual risk avoidance can feel like fighting a fire much bigger than we are.

The good news is that we don’t have to fight alone. We have the Truth on our side. Saving sex for marriage is God’s plan for our bodies but it’s also the safest, healthiest lifestyle choice for our youth. Research shows that saving sex for marriage means enhanced emotional support, vastly lower poverty rates, better academic success, and fewer incidents of crime, child abuse, and domestic violence.

We are living in a culture that screams to our youth that premarital sex is inevitable and STDs are no big deal. Sometimes it can feel like the flames are burning out of control. Sometimes the heat feels like more than we can take, like we might just become enveloped in the blaze. But like the fire horse, we need only to stand firm and strong while the fire is being fought by the Truth.

The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still. Exodus 14:14

Kelli Hansen

Kelli Hansen

Prevention Assistant

Dear Mom

Dear MomDear Mom,

I get it. You were hurt by Dad. You are hurt and angry and wounded. I don’t like what he did…to you…or to our family. It’s confusing. I’m trying to sort all of this out, too. But…he’s my Dad. I need him in my life, like I need you in my life. But you need to know, when you confide in me about your broken relationship with him, I feel expected to take “sides”—I don’t always know if I am your daughter or your friend. When you degrade him to me, I feel guilty for not standing up for him, and guilty for wanting to. When you are jealous of how and where he spends time, or who he spends it with, it confuses me, because you focus all of your energy on this person you say you don’t like. And sometimes, when you criticize him, it spills and splatters onto me, because I am part of him. Do you hate me too?

There’s a guy, at school. His parents are getting a divorce too. We started talking when I asked him why he was in such a bad mood one day. We found out that we were feeling all of the same feelings about family and love and marriage: betrayed. Like, how we thought our parents would be together. Like, how chaotic it feels at home. Like, how it feels as if we are walking on egg shells if we ever talk about one parent to another. How it was easier to drop out of school stuff than to suffer through the two of them having to attend at the same event at the same time.

The more we talk, the closer we get. And the closer we become, the easier it is to insulate against the rest of our “worlds.” He says that we will never be apart, and he likes to know where I am all the time. He says this way he knows I’m being faithful. He says that he will always love me, and that I can show him that same love by choosing him over my friends. He says that our relationship will be perfect because we share everything, even our bodies. That making love is a way to keep us together. I wanted to ask you if this is true, but I’ve been watching you with your new boyfriend since he moved in and I guess you’re cool with it…

This is an all too familiar scenario of many of the teens we come in contact with, and representative of how culture is trending toward the “unformed family.” We came across an interesting perspective article by David Blankenhorn* who defined, the 50’s as an era that represented the “married family.” In the 80’s, it became the “divorced family.”

“…The 2010’s may represent movement toward a peak period for the unformed family. It would be an era of lots of families never forming at all…A child in an unformed family can and likely will experience family life over time in a variety of living arrangements. For example, she could live alone with her mother, with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend or partner, or with her mother and father for a short period of time…”

Empowering choices for life through Christ-centered education and support

Our mission at Bridgehaven continues to be one that is impacting Cedar Rapids families. Having the privilege and the presence in schools, intercepting distorted impressions about love and relationships, educating both teens and parents, creating opportunities to change the course of even one life, is leading them to the Most Formed Family: a Kingdom Family, the Family of God.

Trisha Sellers, Director of Prevention
Kelli Hansen-Edwards, Prevention Assistant

*Are We Still Married? Family Structure and Family Policy in the Emerging Age of the Unformed Family by David Blankenhorn.

Children of the Most High King

This week, after my time working with a group of students at a treatment center, I noticed a beautiful young girl from the group, lingering just outside our room looking troubled. Just barely beginning her sixteenth year, “Callie” was quick to acknowledge that it was a difficult day. Her parents were coming for a visit this evening and she was feeling nervous.

“Both of my parents are addicts, and I never really know how it’s going to go. My mom is in recovery, but not my Dad. My mom’s doing better, but DHS has already taken us from her twice before.”

“Callie” went on to tell me about her five year old and twelve year old brothers, and how worried and scared she is for them. I asked her what her drug of choice (D.O.C.) has been and how she was first introduced.

“My D.O.C. is meth and marijuana. My mom taught me everything about it and showed me how to use it. We would use together. Yeah, she said that she would rather me know the safe way to use it and do it at home rather than out with friends where I could get in trouble or get caught with it.

I was up for 28 days straight with no sleep. I lost over 80 pounds in one month. After I finally came down, I slept for two days. When I woke up I was so sick and ended up in the hospital, where I detoxed and went through withdrawals. I self-committed and now all I want to do is get better so I can be there for my brothers.”

She and her mom will be working on a recovery plan that they can do together, which will include going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings, a relapse response plan, and holding each other accountable. At sixteen, she is not only struggling against her own demons, but now co-responsible for her own mother’s success or failure!

As you can imagine, my heart was breaking. I wanted to take her home with me. I wanted to show her, immerse her, in “normal” family dynamics. I wanted to scoop her up in my arms and carry her right up to the throne of God and lay her in Jesus’ arms.

Desperately, silently pleading for heaven’s wisdom, for careful, loving truths to share as a response to her story, God began to put words in my mouth…

“Do you ever think about one day when you might have a little girl of your own? Do you think you will parent differently? Anything you see yourself doing different?”

“Oh yeah, all the time!
I would definitely do a lot different.
I would take care of her and just love her and protect her from all the bad stuff.”

And then again, the God who never disappoints, whispers through me: “Well, Callie. From now on, until the time that you have a daughter of your own: YOU. BE. HER. Let yourself be that cherished little girl, deserving of love and protection. Can you do that? It is not fair that you have to be both the mom and the daughter, but you know how you would treasure and take care of your little girl. Allow yourself the same.”

The biggest smile began to grow on her face, and her eyes brightened and she said, “I’ve never thought of it that way before!”

“Can you do that?” I asked, willing every ounce of love and compassion to move from my eyes to her heart.

“Yeah, I think I can!”

She gave me permission to pray for her and she took down my number to call when she needed a hug. We both agreed that we would look forward to my next visit.

If only we could all be “the child” even as we are mistreated or experiencing those “unfair” moments, for we truly are children of the Most High King. A Father who desires to keep us safe, protect us from the bad stuff, and wants more than ever, to love and cherish us all of our lives.

Trisha Sellers, Director of Prevention

Trisha Sellers

Director of Prevention