WASHINGTON (BP) -- Heritage Keepers, an abstinence-based sex education curriculum offered by Heritage Community Services in Charleston, S.C., has been approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services after a study found it effective in delaying sexual initiation among youth.
The study involved 2,215 students in grades 7-9 and demonstrated that those receiving the Heritage Keepers curriculum were significantly less likely to become sexually active at the 12 month follow-up than those in a comparison group.
For those in the comparison group, sexual experience increased from 29.2 percent to 43.2 percent, compared to an increase from 29.1 percent to 33.7 percent among those who participated in Heritage Keepers.
The HHS has specific metrics with which to determine if a program is "effective," and Heritage Keepers is the only abstinence-based program to this point to gain this HHS status.
Yet Heritage Keepers is not the first abstinence education curriculum with positive behavioral results, noted to Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association.
"We currently have 26 such studies," Huber said, "but their [HHS] list does not reflect this impact."
Heritage Keepers is on the Web at http://heritageservices.accountsupport.com/abstinence_education.html
The Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based policy think tank not affiliated with Heritage Community Services, points to 17 separate studies that indicate significant positive results from abstinence education, such as delayed sexual initiation and reduced levels of early sexual activity.
According to Christine Kim, a policy analyst at Heritage Foundation, and Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at Heritage, teenagers who are abstinent in high school are "almost twice as likely to attend and graduate from college when compared with sexually active teens from identical social backgrounds."
Kim and Rector also report that abstinence education programs are not simply teaching teenagers to avoid sexual initiation but are "developing character traits that prepare youths for future-oriented goals."
Heritage Keepers abstinence education program states that its goal is not only "to reduce the number of teens initiating sexual activity and increase the number of sexually active teens returning to abstinence" but also to encourage students "to develop a strong sense of personal identity and worth, set protective boundaries," resist negative peer pressure, determine and protect personal values and goals and set high standards for themselves.
Daniel Heimbach, senior professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, said biblical sexual morality, including abstinence outside of marriage, "always works for the best mentally, biologically and sociologically, whether people believe in God or not."
"Not only is there much less risk to human health in avoiding promiscuity," Heimbach, author of "True Sexual Morality," said, "but scientists have found that the human brain is wired to make much stronger attachments when sex is limited to one partner and that promiscuity makes stable attachments harder and harder to achieve."
For Heimbach, however, "the only true and sufficient foundation for moral obligation to keep sex holy is the holiness of God. All men are called to 'be holy as God is holy,' and keeping sex holy requires abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage."
Richard Ross, professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, agreed that as important as the practical benefits of abstinence are in encouraging teenagers to make wise decisions, they are outweighed by helping students remain pure out of a response to the lordship of Christ.
"Sexual purity is a powerful way to acknowledge the supremacy of Christ," said Ross, cofounder of the True Love Waits movement. "It allows students to move out in Kingdom activity with great passion and power.
"Avoiding [sexually transmitted diseases] and not having early babies are good things, but they pale in comparison with a focus on bringing great glory to Christ through a generation who abide in Him in purity.
"The most powerful way to impact prom-night decisions is for parents, leaders and peers to more fully awaken teenagers to God's Son, to invite them to make a promise to Him, and to walk beside them in a shared journey toward purity."
Heimbach believes the home should be the primary place for teaching God's standard for sex.
"Nothing influences the sexual expectations and moral character of children more than the behavior of their parents," he said.
Heimbach also encourages parents "to speak, explain and instruct children to help them understand what sexual purity requires and why it is truly best for all in the long run."
Ross added that, while the home and the church must work together in a partnership, primary responsibility falls to the parents.
"Parents will lead children spiritually, one direction or another. The faith and morality of the children almost always will mirror that of parents," Ross said.
This does not require parents to have perfect pasts, Heimbach said.
"It is never too late to start modeling sexual purity 'from now on.' But what will never work at all is for parents to expect children to 'do as I say, not as I do.' That approach will assure disastrous results every time," he said.
Working with the True Love Waits campaign, Ross is continually reminded of the individual importance of abstinence being encouraged at home, church and school.
"Tens of thousands of students who made purity promises and kept those promises are moving into biblical marriages," Ross said.
"They are finding deep joy in committed sexual relationships, without flashbacks, emotional scaring or guilt. By waiting on sex, they now are experiencing the greatest delight in sex -- just as God planned."
Aaron Earls is a freelance writer in Wake Forest, N.C. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).