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Abstinence-only Education is Failing Us, Students and Public Officials Say

Cumberland County, NJ

Teenagers from the county with the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state say that abstinence-only programs are failing them, a report from the county’s Human Services Advisory Council announced.1

A survey of 209 teens from the Cumberland County, NJ found that one quarter supported teaching about contraception to prevent teenage pregnancy, while one-fifth advocated abstinence. However, no teens believed that sex education should focus on abstinence alone. In an essay contest that asked “What is the best way to reduce teen pregnancy in Cumberland County?” over 50% of respondents asked for “more, better, and more explicit sex education.”2

The teens surveyed were part of a group of 400 young adults in the county who attended the “Children of Children” exhibit, a photomontage depicting the harsh realities of teen parenthood on display at a local arts center.

The Human Services Advisory Council presented its report to the board of freeholders— the county-wide governing body—and suggested that easier contraceptive access, possibly through the distribution by school nurses, would benefits teenagers.  One freeholder, an obstetrician, wants to promote the committee’s report and recommendations to local school boards. “[Abstinence-only sex education] really doesn’t work… You have to do a multiple approach. You have to give teenagers access to contraceptives,” he said.3

Although New Jersey has refused federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funding, local abstinence-only organizations teach in the county high schools. For example, Community Health Care, Inc. uses a fear-based curriculum called Choosing the Best WAY with sixth graders in the area. Educators are instructed to tell them that sexual activity results in feelings of “guilt, disappointment, depression, worry, sadness, loss of self-esteem, loneliness, and fear of close relationships.”4

The obstetrician-freeholder explained that he believes a more realistic approach is appropriate, but that parents often raise concerns.  “That results in school boards being timid in providing sex education and birth control,” he said. “But we have to be pragmatic and realistic about the issue. As politicians and public servants, we have to do what works.”5


  1.   Matt Dunn, “Abstinence-only sex education not working,” Bridgeton News (NJ), 30 January 2008, accessed 1 February 2008, < base/news-13/1201671611313920.xml&coll=10>.
  2.   Ibid.
  3.   Ibid.
  4.   Bruce Cook, Choosing the Best WAY (Chicago: Choosing the Best Publishing, LLC 2001), 25.
  5.   Dunn.