‘There is no such thing as safe sex’

Abstinence counselor takes faith-based approach to sex ed in local schools

Many teenagers today would probably tune out yet another sex education lecture in school, thinking they’ve heard it all before.

But they might pay attention to a talk given by local abstinence counselor Erin (Falce) Shubik, when they hear her say things that may well shatter some of their long-held ideas about sex.

Shubik has spent the past three years talking to middle and high school students in Blair, Bedford and Cambria counties as a representative of the pregnancy care center Precious Life, which has offices in those three counties.

The idea of a pregnancy care center having an abstinence or purity counselor demonstrates that the center isn’t just concerned with babies once they’re conceived, Shubik said.

“We want to show the community that we’re trying to prevent pregnancy, too,” she said.

One of the common concepts Shubik disputes in her talks to teens is that if young people use condoms they can safely engage in sex. Shubik, who has a bachelor of science degree in health and physical education, said even if people take those precautions, they still face powerful physical and emotional consequences when they have sex.

When they engage in sexual relations, their bodies release chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin. Those chemicals cause people to want to form bonds of lasting relationships, which can leave damaging emotional issues when teens have one-night stands or short-term relationships, Shubik said.

“There is no such thing as safe sex,” she said. “We push marriage as the safest place for sex because you have to know the person is going to stay with you.”

She said studies show that people who engage in teen sex in general have decreased school attendance and overall attain lower levels of education and income later in life. They also tend to have higher rates of depression and suicide.

As they grow older, people who engaged in premarital sex as a teenager often are more likely to have higher divorce rates, which rise in proportion to the number of partners they had as a teen, Shubik said.

Shubik said God led her not only to Him but to the job as an abstinence counselor at Precious Life. A native of Blair County, she grew up as a stand-out star in both soccer and basketball, and was once featured in the “Faces in the Crowd” segment in “Sports Illustrated” magazine while a college soccer player at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

But her life took a different direction after college when she moved to Connecticut. There, she not only met, but fell in love with Drew Shubik, a professional basketball player from Stoystown, who had graduated from Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.

The changes in her life didn’t stop there, though. She began a spiritual journey that would turn her life in a completely different direction from what she ever dreamed, starting with a deep, personal relationship with God for the first time in her life.

Shubik worked as an abstinence coordinator at a pregnancy care center in Connecticut, so when she and Drew moved back to Blair County, she talked to board members at Precious Life about becoming its official abstinence coordinator. Husband Drew oversees a youth group he calls “Above the Rim” at Pleasant Valley Assembly of God Church, Altoona, where he helps counsel teenaged young men about character and goal-setting.

Precious Life had always offered talks about purity by one of its staff members to area churches, schools or youth groups if asked, but the center never had a specific person designated for the job of purity counselor, said Precious Life Director Scott Manganella. The group has always seen the need for supporting the concept, which he said is not just a negative approach merely telling people not to have sex before marriage.

Rather it’s a positive, freeing outlook that allows people to make informed choices about their sexual behavior, he said.

“We present purity as a whole-person view rather than just saying no to sex,” Manganella said.

Precious Life started a purity counselor program overseas in Romania seven years ago at the suggestion of a board member who had contacts there. After spending a few years getting the program started, Precious Life has now trained counselors in three major cities in Romania — Iasi, Botosani and Oradea — which are cities of about 150,000 to 200,000 people each, Manganella said.

The three presenters, who are Romanian, are training others to be counselors. They reach thousands of school students every year, Manganella said.

As for Shubik, she’s been asked to speak to youth in 15 school districts. She also speaks at area youth summer camps, retreats and other teen gatherings.

“There have never been as many school districts involved and we’ve never had a sustained program like this,” Manganella said. “We’re very, very pleased with her. She does an excellent job and the students respond well to her. She is now established as the person to call at our center.”

School districts are calling, Shubik said, because while they provide much of the sex education required by law, several leave it up to someone like her to provide another necessary part, the section on abstinence. State law requires school districts to “provide sexual health education” that meets criteria including “the benefits of and reasons for not engaging in sexual intercourse” and information that “not engaging in sexual intercourse is the only certain way to prevent pregnancy and to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV,” according to the state statute.

Shubik calls her presentation “Why Wait?” because she said she was always asking that question herself when she was a teenager, why did she have to wait to have sex. She also is candid with the students when she tells them that she didn’t wait, that she had premarital sex, but that she believes God gives people second chances if they seek them.

She said that’s why she prefers using the word “abstinence” instead of “purity,” because some teens may think if they’ve already had premarital sex that they are no longer pure and just give up.

“Some teens think they’ve already done things, so they’re not pure anymore, but I believe in second chances,” she said. “Satan messes with you and tells you that you can never be healed. But I got healed in my heart and they can, too. God is a God of second chances.”

Shubik also gives practical tips to the teens to help them avoid premarital sex. She suggests young people, especially couples, avoid being alone together and set boundaries if they’re in a relationship. She also tells young people to have a vision for their lives and focus on that, such as a goal to go to college or head to the work force and land a certain job.

“Be selfish,” she said. “You have the right to be selfish and have your own vision for yourself at that age.”

She also urges teens to think logically about the social media images they see and hear. They should ask if the sexually-explicit lyrics and promiscuous behavior reflect reality.

“What is the purpose of entertainment?” she said. “It’s to entertain. They’re getting paid to entertain, not to tell you the truth. That doesn’t mean it’s reality.”